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A Lens Focused On Maryland: Prettyboy Reservoir

Updated on November 2, 2014

Day Trips to Prettyboy Reservoir

There are many amazing places to spend your day in the mid-Atlantic region, but the Prettyboy Reservoir area has to be one of the most beautiful. Prettyboy has something for every outdoor enthusiast. Boating, hiking, kayaking, mountain and road biking are just a few of the things you can enjoy here. Bird watchers and photographers are also happy to visit this area.

Prettyboy Reservoir is the 1,500 acre reservoir within the 50,000 acre Prettyboy Watershed area. A "watershed" is the area of land that drains into a particular body of water. The Prettyboy watershed consists of a small portion of southern York County, PA with the remainder located in northeast Carroll County and northwest Baltimore County, Maryland. Prior to living in this region, I had never understood the importance of watersheds.

Prettyboy Reservoir was created when the dam was built, and the reservoir is part of a system that provides water for Baltimore City.

The Origin of the Name.

Legend tells us that the Prettyboy area gained it's name when a local farmer's prized horse, Prettyboy, was lost during a storm and was later found, perished, in an unnamed tributary of the Gunpowder River. Some versions of the legend include the bit that the farmer's daughter was out calling repeatedly for the horse, and that some claim they have heard her calling in the distance.

Image Credit: These photographs are my personal photographs from my travels. Images are Dawn Rae - All Rights Reserved.

An Area Trail Guide - Written by a local man who uses the trails.

"I must admit that when I drive the one hour it takes from my home in Catonsville to this area, I tend to hike Hemlock Gorge, the Gunpowder below the dam, or canoe from Masemore down. The scenery for all three of these venues is in my personal top five for central Maryland."

Bryan MacKay - 2010

The Dam History

Prettyboy Dam construction was completed in 1932

During all of my wonderful visits there, nearly every week in warm weather, I had somehow imagined that the dam had always been there. But it hadn't always been there, In fact, according to "drowned towns" sites, I am reminded that Prettyboy watershed area was farmland and a small town prior to the creation of the impounding dam.

Shamburg was a small town that is now deserted, and somewhere at the bottom of the reservoir.

The Prettyboy Reservoir reportedly contains approximately 19 million US gallons of water and provides about 61% of the drinking water to the Baltimore metropolitin system. This is done by funneling the water from Prettyboy to Loch Raven Reservoir, down Gunpowder Falls, then to the Montebello Filtration plant through a tunnel.

Another Visitor at Prettyboy Dam - Thank you for sharing this video with us.

I've been up and down these stairs many times. There are a lot of stairs. On extremely hot summer days, the trail area at the base of the dam is many degrees cooler and misty from the spray. Not an easy climb down and up, but well worth the effort.

I am glad that someone filmed their climb down so that you can get a feel for how tall this impressive dam is. It is a bit exhilarating being under this dam, knowing that only a bit of cement and engineering is between you and a gigantic wall of water.

Masemore Bridge - A highly rated catch and release fly fishing area.

There is a popular section under the dam on Masemore road. This area is used as a kayak put in/take out, hiking, and fly fishing. Other than the boat ramp above the dam, it is one of the few areas with waterside parking.

The Masemore portion of this area is famous for fly fishing. On June 11, 2012, 7.2 miles of this area was dedicated the Lefty Kreh Fishing Trail. It seems that at any given time, you can pass over the Masemore bridge and see fly fisherman wading in the water.

The Mister began fly fishing in this area by his 21st birthday. I love the concept, wading in the water, flicking the lure back and forth in nature’s near silence. Because I love regular fresh water fishing, I thought fly fishing would be a logical addition to my outdoor pursuits. Unfortunately, I am not able to master the movements needed for successful fly fishing. I get the line going back and forth in what I think will result in an adequate cast but every time I let go, plop, the fly lands at my feet. I had given up on that adventure, and as the Mister fished, I sat in the sun and read. Or I hiked the boulder strewn trail. The trail was called Gunpowder South Trail at that time; and may still be referred as such in older writings.

Masemore Area

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The scenic approach from I83; Mt. Carmel exit to Masemore Road.My December 2011 hike in the Masemore area.Masemore Bridge, a one-lane, steel bridge.The plaque at the top of the bridge.
The scenic approach from I83; Mt. Carmel exit to Masemore Road.
The scenic approach from I83; Mt. Carmel exit to Masemore Road.
My December 2011 hike in the Masemore area.
My December 2011 hike in the Masemore area.
Masemore Bridge, a one-lane, steel bridge.
Masemore Bridge, a one-lane, steel bridge.
The plaque at the top of the bridge.
The plaque at the top of the bridge.

Helpful Items

These are a few items that may be helpful during your visit to Pretty Boy Reservoir and surrounding areas. In addition to GPS, I like to have a printed map. Initially, I had difficulty finding my way around the curving roads along the water's edge. If you want to fish or hike, these are valuable resources.

Baltimore City & County Maryland : Street Map
Baltimore City & County Maryland : Street Map
The winding roads of rural Maryland can be a bit confusing and out of some GPS range. I also carry a printed map.

Kayaking - A visitor kayaking from the dam to Falls Road.

It's A Beautiful Day.

My opinion of the ingredients for a beautiful day.

I have had many wonderful days at Prettyboy. The best days are those days (no matter the time of year) that I dress appropriately, pack my pack full of my necessities, and wander off for the entire day.

There are days that I walk the long trail, through the pine trees, and back to the fishing hole. Even though I call it the fishing hole, I rarely catch anything there. I can predict that the fishing will be slow. But since the trail is so long, I can predict that it is likely only the infrequent horseback riders will end up at my spot. I spend the day with my hook in the water, but my nose in my kindle.

There are other days that my goal is to come home with enough fish for a fish fry. On those days, it is a fairly short hike to the banks of the reservoir. I catch bluegill, sunfish, bass, and perch (yellow and white although old timers have told me there is no such thing as yellow perch in this reservoir. I know there are. Because they went from the reservoir to my tummy).

On the days that I want a hike for the sake of a hike, I head to Masemore. The boulders strewn about give plenty of places to stop and sun, like a lazy lizard on a cool morning.

Historically, I would head to a place I call "woodpecker rocks" (due to the presence of so many busy woodpeckers, tapping and cackling through the day). But I don't tend to go there as regularly anymore. That particular trail has become the illegal swimming hole and gathering place for nearby college students. When I'm in the woods, I prefer not to be one in a crowd. And besides, if they ever get ticketed for swimming in the drinking source, I don't want to be anywhere near.

One final word of advice, like many water-related places I've been in Maryland, do watch for the copperheads. They are plentiful and at Prettyboy, they are not shy. I've never had one chase me (like blue racers were rumored to do back home) but I have had some who have brazenly watched me until I've moved from their spot. They say that a copperhead bite is not fatal to an adult human, to your small dog perhaps, but not to you as an adult. Yet the bites are excruciatingly painful. I'd rather not find out thank you.

Image Credit: this is a photo of me and is my property. It was taken by my son, R.B, during an outing to Prettyboy. He had gifted me a Sony a37 camera and we went to practice.

My Must-Have Items for a Day at Prettyboy.

These are a few of my necessities. I always need a backpack, and have found that my Osprey Atmos 35 has been a wonderful purchase. In that backpack, I always bring some sort of sheet or towel for sitting, my kindle, snacks and drinks, and my camera. The shoes I wear depend on the time of year and if i'm planning more hiking or fishing.

Osprey Kode 30 Backpack, Blue Smoke, Small
Osprey Kode 30 Backpack, Blue Smoke, Small
Osprey makes amazingly durable and comfortable packs. I'm sure you can find one that suits you.
Sony SLTA37K 16.1-Megapixel DSLR Digital Camera
Sony SLTA37K 16.1-Megapixel DSLR Digital Camera
An amazing camera that I was lucky to be gifted (thank you RB!). I am still learning all of the special features.

I spend much time in this area hiking, fishing, and relaxing in the woods. I hope that more people are able to find this hidden gem. Please remember, pack out what you pack in. No one likes a littered trail.

Hope you leave a comment or two.


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