Now, I am the biggest fan of this MTB area. I don't think I have ever had a bad ride here and I am always thrilled to start a ride and even more thrilled to finish it!!
The Marsh is not technical in the terrain sense, but it does involve a lot of climbing. If you are a flatlander, plan on doing an out-and-back the first few times until you get your climbing legs. We clocked the 24 mile loop at 2500 feet of climb and the 32 mile loop at 4000.
Mostly, we start at Stiller's Basin and climb the access road to get onto the trail system. The way we typically go is Counter-Clockwise around the lake to take advantage of the easier climb scopes in this direction. Clockwise will find you dismounting more due to the steep shale and gravel climbs on the south side. They are easier to descend than ascend, and always remember, you will always go to the same height no matter which direction of a hill you choose to attack.
The Northeast area is picturesque with many fallow fields and plenty of color. There is a bit of climbing in this area but the downhills are splendid and do not end in steep turns. There is plenty of hikers here and even hunters, so use common sense. Once you have passed onto the Southgoing side, you will find yourself in a Fir Tree area which is very pleasant Cross Country.
If you choose to cross the road to do the 8 mile option on the Northwest area, you will be passing near Blue Marsh Ski area. This is the site of an annual bike race for the Mid-Atlantic Super Series MTB race every April. An important thing to note is that you will be climbing the same amount of height as the ski slope and the climb to the top is the most challenging of the park. We have a name for this particular climb and it is not repeatable here. (Grin) Whether you take this area Clockwise or Counter, make note that the area of climb coming off the road is called Road Kill Hill. I don't know about you but it gets me psyched up.
The Western and Southern areas involve a lot of climbing. I don't describe these climbs as steep or treacherous but they are long. They sort of "dog" you in that you are usually tired by that point and they don't relent. When I reach the Calipher trees (so marked by a sign) I always stop and smile. 7.5 miles to go. From there remain are three or four climbs which take my breath away but always fall to a good granny gear, good spin cadence, and simple take-no-prisoners persistence. The last 2.5 miles when leaving the dock area tend to seem like the park is laughing at you with more dogging climb but of a lesser caliper.
If we get back on the 24 in 3 hours, we have really accomplished a good ride. The 32 usually requires a solid lunch stop so bring a sandwich. On this loop, expect 5 or more hours out, unless you push hard and don't stop for long. On a hot day, 75 oz of water will likely be needed, adjust for your personal needs. A cool day can let you by with 50, allowing for a smaller water pack. Some cyclists set up food drops with coolers for later retrieval. I usually carry all my requirements in my larger camelback. Two water bottles are ok if you train with water restriction (not recommended unless you are a professional with a skilled trainer), but I usually exhaust the bottles before I finish.