The Serpentine Trail in Owings Mills, Maryland. Photo by Marcus Dieterle.

Maryland is encouraging people to start 2021 on the right foot by participating in the annual tradition of the First Day Hike, which will be self-guided.

Park staff will not lead hikes due to physical distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus. But visitors will be able to go on self-guided hikes from Jan. 1-3 at Maryland’s state parks, state forests and wildlife management areas.

Maryland offers hundreds of miles of trails that range in difficulty level for various levels of hikers and walkers, and that feature cultural, historic and natural resources. There are opportunities for education and stewardship, as well as some hikes where pets can tag along.

A record 5,000 hikers trekked more than 10,000 miles of trails at Maryland state parks and public lands on New Year’s Day 2020.

This year, Maryland’s state parks have seen a “tremendous uptick” in attendance during the pandemic, with visitors breaking the parks’ annual attendance record of 14.9 million in September and now surpassing 20 million visitors, Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) spokesperson Gregg Bortz said.

With record attendance this year and First Day Hikes growing in popularity over the past decade, Bortz said DNR expects hiking activity to increase even more into New Year’s weekend.

“The department is pleased to provide safe outdoor activities close to home for every Marylander, as our visitors continue to exercise personal responsibility in order to enjoy those outdoor recreation opportunities,” Bortz said.

Maryland State Parks is asking hikers to fill out an online survey after their visit to track where they hiked and how many miles they covered.

People can find a list of hikes by county on DNR’s website.

The Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks also has a list of trails and maps.

Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford, who has committed to visiting all Maryland state parks and other public lands before he leaves office, and Maryland Secretary of Natural Resources Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio hiked at Patuxent River State Park at the beginning of 2020, according to a press release.

Rutherford said he will once again be going on a hike to start the new year.

“First Day Hikes are a wonderful tradition; they start the year off on the right foot with fresh air, exercise, and the appreciation and enjoyment of Maryland’s beautiful state parks and public lands,” Rutherford said in a statement. “With all the challenges of the past year, participating in a socially-distant, self-guided First Day Hike and enjoying quality time outdoors is the perfect way to welcome 2021.”

Haddaway-Riccio also encouraged people to kick off 2021 by visiting Maryland’s natural treasures.

“Over the past year, Maryland’s amazing natural resources have provided us with safe recreation and quality time together which many of us needed,” Haddaway-Riccio said in a statement. “As we begin 2021, we want to remind everyone that there are many great winter activities to take advantage of on our public lands. Hiking on our world-class trail systems is a great way to get a healthy start in the new year.”

While participating in self-guided hikes, officials urge hikers to follow Maryland State Parks’ guidelines, including maintaining at least six feet of distance from people outside of their household and wearing a face covering when close to others outdoors and when indoors.

People should stay home if they are sick or have been sick in the past two weeks, officials added.

America’s State Parks sponsors the First Day Hikes and other nationwide events.

Avatar photo

Marcus Dieterle

Marcus Dieterle is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. He returned to Baltimore in 2020 after working as the deputy editor of the Cecil Whig newspaper in Elkton, Md. He can be reached at