Training: Frederick Watershed

The off-road trails at Gambrill State Park and neighboring Frederick Watershed are the steepest, rockiest, and most technical riding within an hour drive of DC. I’ve had so much fun riding off-road in this area than I went almost a year without discovering a second biking gem within this pristine natural preserve: the access roads.

Towering slabs of flatrock layer on top of eachother, forming 30 ft tall pillars on top of a hill alongside the road

A stately rock outcropping along Mountaindale Road

Hardpack dirt and gravel road with fallen leaves from 50 ft trees covering both sides of the road and the forest floor

An overcast fall day on the quiet access roads in the Frederick Watershed

The dirt and gravel access roads within the watershed parallel Steep Creek and Fishing Creek as they gradually flow down 1,000 ft slopes to the Fishing Creek reservoir. There are only a handful of trucks on the road at any given time, allowing visitors to really lose themselves in the surrounding nature.

View of the winding gravel road and a tree with deep red leaves among trees with barren branches

A final flash of fall cover along Delauter Road

The map below shows a recent ride that started at the base of Gambrill State Park Road off of Route 40.

Elevation profile shows four climbs and descents from 1,000 to 1,700 feet in the first 18 miles, then two 1,200 climbs and descents in the next 15 miles, and a 700 foot descent in the final few miles

Elevation profile of the ride, which included two loops in the watershed

Gambrill Park Road has a bicycle-friendly 35 mph speed limit and climbs over 600 ft in the first mile and a quarter after the Rock Run Recreation Area. Shortly after the climb, riders are rewarded with the a panoramic view of the city at the South Frederick overlook.

Partly cloudy sky and mostly barren trees in late fall, with a panaromic view of Fredrick below

View of Frederick from the hills of Gambrill State Park

Another three miles on the undulating Gambrill Park Road leads to Hamburg Road, which in turn leads to the Fishing Creek gravel access road. This is where the real fun begins. As traffic is virtually non-existent, the Frederick Watershed is the perfect place to safely build an aerobic base and log quality training miles. Fishing Creek Road descends 600 ft to the intersection of Fishing Creek and Mountaindale Road. A half mile north on Fishing Creek Road is the intersection with Delauter Road, which heads west and climbs 600 ft back to the paved Gambrill Park Road. Fishing Creek Road continues north and climbs an additional 500 ft to the top of the watershed, where it intersects with Gambrill Park Road, a gravel access road within the watershed. Gambrill Park Road heads east and then south following Little Fishing Creek to the Fishing Creek Reservoir, where it merges with Mountaindale Road.

An overcast sky above the reservoir, with red, yellow, and orange trees on the hillside

Some remaining fall color on the hills overlooking the Fishing Creek Reservoir

On a bridge overlooking a 20 ft wide, shallow creek littered with rocks, and trees with red and orange fall color as well as some green leaves and barren branches

View of Little Fishing Creek from Mountaindale Road

Mountaindale Road intersects with Putman Road, which continues along Little Fishing Creek and leads to the unique views of a fish hatchery. From here its a 1,200 ft continuous climb back up either Gambrill Park Road or Fishing Creek Road to the top of the watershed.

Winding, narrow road with numerous shallow pools dug out in the surrounding flatlands, trees in fall color visible in the distance underneath a whispy layer of cloud cover

A view of Eaton’s Fish Hatchery from Putman Road

More shallow dug out ponds along the level ground adjacent to Putnam Road, with a line of fall colored trees in the distance

Another view of the fish hatchery

I find the long climbs to be great for building strength in the off-season and for interval training in-season.  When I’m not feeling my best, I chalk the climbing up as building gravitational sweat equity, which I immediately cash out on the fast and winding descents.  Overall, the ride is not technically challenging, but the descents let me practice the fine art of high speed cornering.

The lung-busting climbing and thrilling descents of the low-traffic watershed access roads combined with the unparalleled technical challenges of the off-road trails in the watershed and Gambrill State Park make Frederick my favorite destination for DC area mountain biking.

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One Response to Training: Frederick Watershed

  1. Oshri says:

    Beautiful photos, Alex! Glad you found such a great spot.

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