City dwellers often counter the argument for county life and its more plentiful open spaces with some variant of the line, “But the entire city is my backyard!” While this rebuttal conveniently overlooks certain realities of city life—traffic; crime; noise, light, and waste pollution; having to occasionally, you know, share—there is also a lot of truth to it. Does a suburban backyard have free outdoor concerts, two zoos (yes, two), five golf courses, miles of hiking and biking trails, an ice-skating rink, Chesapeake Bay access, an arboretum, and literally dozens of pools?
Indeed there is much to celebrate in Baltimore’s park system, probably more than you know, and it’s all right outside your door. With summer bearing down on us, here’s our guide to exploring the best of your own backyard—all 4,905 acres of it.
Druid Hill Park
2600 E. Madison Ave., druidhillpark.org
Special Features: The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, a disc golf course, and one of the city’s 29 public pools. Druid Hill Lake, aka the Reservoir, and Boat Lake also draw walkers, bikers, and birders to their scenic shores. The 125-year-old Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory & Botanic Gardens is a jewel box of flora with five distinct greenhouses (including orchid and tropical rooms), plus a half-acre garden.
Summer Events: Every Wednesday from June through September, the park hosts an evening farmers’ market. The zoo is open daily from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and offers its much-loved Breakfast with the Animals program on select weekend mornings. The park lives up to its pagan namesake on June 21 with a Summer Solstice Celebration with hayrides, live music, tarot card readings, and storytelling.
E. Baltimore St. and S. Patterson Park Ave., pattersonpark.com
Special Features: The 1891 octagonal pagoda, open for climbing on Sunday afternoons through mid-October, is one of the city’s most photographed landmarks. The Boat Lake is stocked with catchable fish. Though an ice rink in the winter months, the Dominic “Mimi” DiPietro Family Skating Center hosts floor hockey rec leagues all summer. Two adjacent dog parks—one for small pooches, one for large dogs—get lots of use. For a measly $2 admission fee, gain access to the park’s recently renovated swimming pool.
Summer Events: Spy up to 200 species during Patterson Park Audubon Center’s twice-monthly free bird walks. Cast your rod in the Boat Lake June 7 at the kid-friendly Fishing Festival. The ever-popular Friends of Patterson Park Concert Series returns with two to three concerts a month in June, July, and August. And LatinoFest celebrates its 34th year June 21-22.
Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park
1901 Ridgetop Rd., friendsofgwynnsfallsleakinpark.org
Special Features: The 15-mile Gwynns Falls hiking and biking trail runs through the park. The Victorian Italianate manor house of railroad baron Thomas DeKay Winans still stands, as does his carriage house, and an American Gothic-style chapel built for his workers. For kids, a miniature steam-powered railroad with 3,400 feet of track provides free rides every second Sunday through November.Though smaller, the Carrie Murray Nature Center gives Druid Hill’s zoo a run for its money with fauna ranging from raptors to an albino Burmese python named Fluffy. (All animals are rescues or orphans.) A new “Rainforest Room” exhibit housing Madagascar hissing cockroaches, a Blue-fronted Amazon parrot named Cupid, and other exotic critters, opens June 7.
Summer Events: Carrie Murray offers nine weeks of summer camp for kids, plus regular kids’ programs focusing on owls (June 6), bees (June 21 and Aug. 30), and nocturnal insects (July 11 and Aug. 1).
2801 Harford Rd., bmgcgolf.com/-clifton-park
Special Features: The oldest of the city’s five municipal golf courses offers 18 holes for rates starting as low as $10. Elsewhere in the park, Civic Works’ Real Food Farm is making a go of urban agriculture with several hoophouses, an orchard, beehives, an herb garden, and field crops.
Summer Events: The golf course is open every day, weather permitting. Real Food Farm welcomes volunteers from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. every Wednesday and Friday, plus the first and third Saturday of the month from March through November.
4915 Green Spring Ave., cylburn.org
Special Features: Trees! From Kentucky coffeetrees to redwoods, Cylburn’s got you covered. Over three miles of trails will also take you through several gardens including daylily and rose plots. The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future is conducting research in a cutting-edge agriculture practice called aquaponics on the premises. The farming method combines aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (soilless plant farming) in a waste-free sustainable growing cycle. Regular tours of the project’s greenhouse are starting soon.
Summer Events: Enjoy outdoor yoga (June 7, 14, 21, 28); the Celebration of Art event (June 14-15) with exhibitions, lectures, and children’s activities; and a firefly walk (June 26).
Middle Branch Park
3301 Waterview Ave.,410-396-3838.
Acreage: Six miles of shoreline, marshes, and meadows.
Special Features: One of the city’s best-kept secrets, the park is the launch site for many area collegiate and high school crew teams. The two concrete boat ramps can accommodate anything from kayaks to large boats.The Gwynns Falls Trail runs through the park, and The Maryland Vietnam Veterans Memorial sits on a rise above the main parking lot.
Summer Events: The recs and parks department hosts periodic “open paddle” sessions, providing all equipment, a tutorial, and a guided tour for a nominal fee.
Mount Pleasant Golf Course
Acreage: approximately 110.
Special Features: In addition to the links, which have been played by the likes of Arnold Palmer, the park is home to the Mount Pleasant Ice Arena, the city’s only year-round skating pavilion.
Summer Events: Public skate times are held every day. Hockey and figure skating classes and clinics are held regularly, as well. Summer skating camps for ages 5 to 18 run from June 23 to July 25.
Canton Waterfront Park
3001 Boston St., bcrp.baltimorecity.gov/ParksTrails/CantonWaterfrontPark.aspx
Special Features: A boat ramp and fishing pier provide stellar access to the water.The park is also home to Maryland’s Korean War Memorial.
Summer Events: WTMD’s popular First Thursdays concert series has relocated here from Mt. Vernon due to restoration of the Washington Monument. Upcoming shows will feature national acts such as Los Lonely Boys (June 5), Strand of Oaks (July 3), JD McPherson (Aug. 7), and The Hold Steady (Sept. 4)—all for free!
1221 W. 36th St., bcrp.baltimorecity.gov/ParksTrails/RooseveltPark.aspx
Special Features: One of the nicest public aquatic centers in the city can be found here, boasting a large outdoor pool, adjoining splash pad with towering water features, and a renovated pool house. Last month was the official grand opening of the first phase of the Skatepark of Baltimore. The gaping concrete bowl is ready for skateboard use and development of a street plaza landscape is in the offing.
Summer Events: Roosevelt Park and Recreation Center keeps a robust calendar of events, including coed volleyball on Wednesday and Thursday nights, community movie night (July 18), family game night (Aug. 8), and an environmental camp for ages 5 to 12 from June 23 to Aug. 15.
2400 E. Fort Ave., nps.gov/fomc
Special Features: The city’s only national park is steeped in history. View the fort, barracks, the 1814 Guard House, and those immortalized ramparts.
Summer Events: Twice-monthly bird walks take advantage of the fort’s waterfront setting. As part of the ongoing bicentennial celebration of the War of 1812, the park is hosting Fort! Flag! Fire! Baltimore’s Star-Spangled Summer! with living history performances, cannon firings, fife and drum concerts, and lectures.