Off the Beaten Path – Little Bennett Regional Park

Photo: Jonathan Bird

Little Bennett Regional Park in Clarksburg is the largest park in Montgomery County, encompassing over 3,700 acres of Maryland wilderness. The good news for runners is that this green space also boasts approximately 25 miles of trails, all of which have natural surfaces. Countless loops and out-and-backs make Little Bennett the perfect place to get lost on a weekend when trail running is on your schedule.

In addition, you won’t have to compete with mountain bikers, because they’re not permitted on any of these trails. Horseback riders, however, do frequent some parts of the park, so it’s best to use caution when approaching.

The loop outlined below provides a small sampling of what the park has to offer, including thick wooded forests, brilliant meadows, vibrant streams and boggy wetlands.

First: getting there. Little Bennett is 23 miles north of where interstate 270 meets the Beltway. There are nearly a dozen different parking lots in and around the park, but I like to start my adventures at the Froggy Hollow Trailhead Parking Lot off Clarksburg Road, the first point of access you’ll intersect if you’re coming from the south. Grab a paper map from the kiosk — trust me, you’ll want it — and head east down a long winding hill.

You might catch a glimpse of some stone ruins during your descent. Up until the turn of the 20th century, families lived and farmed the lands throughout this valley. In fact, today there are 14 different historical sites and points of interest inside the park. The first prominent structure you’ll run across is the old Kingsley Schoolhouse, located two-thirds of a mile from where you parked. Built in 1893, the one-story center for learning served the area until it closed in 1935. Because we’re all runners here, it’s also worth noting the seasonal port-a-john located close by.

Cross Little Bennett Creek, a favorite for brook trout, and turn left on the Kingsley Trail, which resembles a gravel road more than a trail. Eventually the trail will intersect Clarksburg Road, approximately a half mile north from where you parked. Cross the road when it’s safe to do so and continue west along the gravel road, though note that the path is now called the Western Piedmont Trail on your map. As you continue your trek west, you’ll pass a number of trails intersecting from the right and left, all of which are worth exploring at a later date. Pass the small picnic area on your left and continue until you reach Little Bennett Creek.

There are no bridges at this stream crossing, so you’ll have to put on your adventure cap and ford your way across. There always seems to be a place to do so a short distance up or down stream. If rains have driven the water too high, head back toward the picnic area you’ve just passed and pick up with the directions further down in the article.

Once safely across the creek, continue down the dirt road, ignoring the other trails and roads that intersect on the left. Eventually you’ll arrive at Hyattsville Mill, a site that once boasted a number of grist and saw mills, some of which were operational well into the 1930s. You’ve amassed over three and a half miles since starting your run, so now it’s time to turn around and head back, but not before exploring a bit more of the park.

Return to the campground you passed about a mile ago and look for the Pine Grove Trail, which will now be on your left. Although the ascent up Pine Grove Trail is sure to get your heart beating, the hills throughout the park are relatively tame and this one is no exception. Because you’ve made it this far, head west and follow signs to the Prescott Road Parking Lot, which doubles as a starting line for a 10k cross country race that the Montgomery County Road Runners Club holds here in the summer. Loop around the 1.2-mile Dark Branch Trail before returning to the Pine Grove and Timber Ridge intersection.

For the remainder of the run, you’ll be heading east on a variety of rolling trails — Timber Ridge, Tobacco Barn and Browning Run Trail. Follow Timber Ridge as it passes a number of dilapidated out-buildings, which double as crude motels for eastern rat snakes during the spring and summer months. The Timber Ridge Trail intersects with the Tobacco Barn Trail just before a beautiful meadow, which seems to appear out of nowhere in these thick woods. The remains of the Norwood Tobacco Barn and additional buildings can be seen on your left as you make a steep descent towards a creek crossing. Once you cross the water, begin an arduous climb–the hardest of this run, and possibly the park — until you reach the Browning Run Trail. Take a left and continue to follow the trail as it gradually descends toward the Browning Run Parking Area and across Clarksburg Road. Make a right and cruise down the often steep Purdum Trail until you arrive at the Kinglsey Schoolhouse, where you may or may not have used the bathroom earlier in the run. Then use the Froggy Hollow Trail to ascend the roughly half mile back to your car.

The run will likely leave you hungry. The Clarksburg Grocery is located just a mile and half away and there is a short order cook who works the greasy spoon grill in the back. They have everything you could possibly want after a 10-mile run through the wilds of northern Montgomery County.

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