Recommended Tire Size
Immerse yourself in Maryland’s largest tract of public land on a meandering loop through the rugged Green Ridge State Forest. This route features many of the state’s biggest unpaved climbs, thrilling tree-lined descents, sweeping views, creek crossings, three unique rural restaurants, a variety of camping options, and very little traffic.
Get off the beaten towpath on this in-depth tour of Green Ridge State Forest, Maryland’s largest tract of public land. Despite bordering the C&O Canal — one of the most popular bikepacking routes in the United States — the more rugged terrain of the forest remains largely unexplored by bicyclists.
With countless miles of lightly traveled forest roads punctuated by scenic vistas and creek crossings, Green Ridge State Forest provides ample opportunity for solitude and off-route exploration. Plus an added bonus of a solid test of your climbing legs and descending skills as you conquer many of Maryland’s biggest gravel climbs and scream down the corresponding descents.
Designed for 45–60 mm tires, the route is 75% unpaved with a wide variety of surfaces including smooth gravel, rough gravel, 4×4 road, doubletrack, and brief singletrack. Short, steep pitches of 15–20% are common. Paved connections use a rail trail and low-traffic rural roads.
The primary riding season is April through November, but the route is possible year-round. Green Ridge is sometimes snow-free in winter, but a fat bike may be required after significant snow. In spring or fall, be aware of Maryland hunting seasons (https://dnr.maryland.gov/huntersguide/Pages/default.aspx). The route sticks to established roads and trails, so you should not have any issues with hunters but consider wearing blaze orange for extra visibility.
The route features three unique restaurants that are local institutions within their respective communities: Road Kill Cafe at mile 41, Schoolhouse Kitchen at mile 71, and Bill’s Place at mile 127. A short detour into the town of Paw Paw at mile 87 offers an additional opportunity for resupply. Potable water is otherwise rarely available, so be prepared to purify water from one of the many streams or non-potable water pumps.
- Paved: 25%
- Smooth Gravel: 50%
- Rough Gravel: 18%
- 4×4 Road: 6%
- Singletrack: 1%
The route Ride with GPS page contains important POIs and logistical information.
Numerous camping options are available along the C&O Canal (easiest logistics) and in Green Ridge State Forest (greater solitude). Many camping options are marked as POIs, and here are a few other details:
C&O Canal camping — All hiker/biker campsites are free with no reservations. Sites have a portable toilet, non-potable water pump (as of 2023, wells are no longer treated with iodine), picnic table, and fire pit. Sites are typically not accessible by motor vehicle, so they offer a reasonable blend of convenience and seclusion, but are popular enough among C&O riders that you’ll likely have company during peak season. You may hear occasional trains on the tracks across the river. There are also a couple paid drive-in campgrounds, but those are not worth it other than as a quick stop for potable water.
For more info on C&O water pump status, see https://www.nps.gov/choh/planyourvisit/conditions.htm
For more info on C&O camping, see https://www.nps.gov/choh/planyourvisit/camping.htm
Green Ridge State Forest camping — Camping without a motor vehicle is allowed throughout the forest but requires contacting the forest headquarters (301-478-3124) and paying a $10/night fee. Designated sites with motor vehicle access are spread through the forest and are also $10/night. Many of these sites offer a surprising degree of solitude, but the best sites are often occupied during peak season (visit or call headquarters for same-day reservation; advance reservations available only for a limited number of large group sites). Not all campsites are near a stream, so consider topping off your water before you hit camp.
For more info, see https://dnr.maryland.gov/forests/Pages/publiclands/Greenridge/Recreation-Camping.aspx
Below are a couple sample itineraries, but possibilities for customization are endless, and the route steward is happy to help with any trip planning questions.
- For a challenging 2-day ride, camp along the C&O Canal at Potomac Forks (mile 72) or Town Creek (mile 76) after tackling the most technical sections of the route, racking up 8,000 ft of climbing in the first 55 miles before the route eases slightly.
- For a 3-day ride, spend night 1 in the northwest portion of Green Ridge State Forest (see numerous POIs near route miles 45-52, which include designated sites, a large Adirondack shelter, and the MTB trailhead). After a hilly but slightly less rugged day 2, spend the night along the C&O Canal at Sorrel Ridge (mile 90). This remote hiker/biker campsite is at the base of one of the biggest gravel climbs in Maryland (which you’ll climb the following morning as you finish off the route).
A high-water detour is available for the rare times when Sideling Hill Creek (mile 21) is running too high and fast to cross safely, but the detour can also be used to skip the most challenging and remote section of the route and shorten the overall route by about 10 miles: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/42679032
For a shorter or longer trip, alternative route options that range from 63 to 239 miles are available (all have been fully scouted via multiple trips, but don’t yet have as much rider feedback as the main route): https://ridewithgps.com/events/201264-green-ridge-gravelcoaster-2023
For a much longer trip, this route seamlessly connects to the C&O Canal, Great Allegheny Passage, and Segment 5 (Hellbender) of the Eastern Divide Trail (see EDT POIs northwest of route start and southwest of route midpoint).
- Go directly to the main route on Ride With GPS.
- This route is part of a curated collection of routes by Geoff Patterson, providing a wealth of bikepacking options of varying length just off the popular C&O canal. Check out his website: https://canalbyways.com/
- Here’s a 13-minute video Hugh Bayard created of his ride on the Green Ridge Gravelcoaster: https://www.
This route was created and is stewarded by Geoff Patterson. Here’s a little bit about Geoff in his own words:
“As a child, learning to ride a bicycle meant freedom to explore my surroundings. As an adult, pedaling through a forest is a great way to recapture this feeling. Plus it’s just fun!
I created and maintain C&O Canal Byways (https://canalbyways.com/), a collection of routes ranging from a few miles to 500+ miles that intersect the C&O Canal but primarily feature more adventurous terrain. For the last few years, I have been specializing in routes that are possible without car for riders who can get to Amtrak or other regional transit.
I enjoy all aspects of creating routes, including poring over maps, scouting and refining a route, seeing a place in different seasons of the year, hearing feedback from other riders, and spending hours thinking about each little choice that defines the route. Route creation is both a rewarding personal experience and a way to share that experience with riders who might otherwise stick to the comfort of the most well-traveled roads and trails.”
Geoff has offered to be available to answer questions if you are planning a trip on this route. We encourage you to be respectful of Route Stewards time though and to review publicly available materials first before reaching out with questions.
Please also get in touch with any updates on route conditions that may be relevant to other riders.
Please submit your questions and comments on the route via the contract form below.
This route traverses the traditional lands of the Massawomeck and Shawnee people.