Cunningham Falls, Maryland

Cunningham Falls in October 2012

Maryland has a number of waterfalls, but they are sporadically dispersed throughout the state. Each impressive waterfall is unlikely to be near the other falls in the state. Cunningham Falls is the falls for those found near Frederick and Hagerstown.

It’s mid-October, and the trees are just beginning to change colors in the region. The drive to the falls was dotted with regions of colorful promise. Even without the fall colors, the drive is really very beautiful. Once at the parking area, you’ll have a pretty easy hike to the falls.

There are two different trails to the falls, and unless I’m mistaken, both lead directly to the same viewpoint. You can choose the easy yellow-blazed trail, or the apparently difficult red-blazed trail. I really had no wish to do a difficult hike if unnecessary, so I chose the easy path (and I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss out on anything). There is a wood boardwalk that leads to a view of the falls, but it is honestly not a good view. You can (carefully) rock-hop to get a much better view of the falls. They advise against it, but I didn’t find it to be particularly problematic, though I didn’t “climb” up further along the rather steep rocks.

Directions:

  1. Take US-15 north from the Frederick area.
  2. Veer right onto the exit for MD-77. (There are numerous signs indicating where this turn is. It does appear rather abruptly.)
  3. Turn left onto MD-77, and follow the signs for Cunningham Falls State Park.
  4. Turn left onto Catoctin Hollow Road, and drive the short distance to the entrance to the park.
  5. There is an entrance fee. There is a parking area for the falls/lake, but if you continue just a little bit further, there is also parking on the left for just the falls. On a Friday in mid-October, there was absolutely no lack of parking.

Accessibility: 7/10 (easy/moderate) for hiking, 10/10 (easy) for the handicapped-accessible boardwalk along MD-77
Height: 78′
Length of Hike: 1 mile round-trip

Where in the World is Cunningham Falls?

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Great Falls of the Potomac, Virginia/Maryland

The first time I visited the Washington, D.C. area, I didn’t visit the Great Falls of the Potomac. It wasn’t until the second time I visited the area that I took the time to visit Great Falls Park. The falls are truly impressive in their span and in their fury.

The falls are immensely popular too, though. It doesn’t approach Niagara Falls popular, but it can be pretty busy. Luckily, I went in early December when there were far fewer people. There was nobody at the gate to even collect a fee. This changes dramatically in the summer months. Updates on their Facebook site often indicate that the parking area is completely full on the weekends, and the roads into the park are often shut down until more parking becomes available. So choose when you visit carefully.

Even in early December, the falls were flowing impressively. Only four or five days later, a rainstorm had caused the falls to almost reach flood stage. So I’m guessing a visit any time of the year will work. There are even markers in the area to indicate the levels previous floods have reached.

Even though I think the falls are impressive, they aren’t in my favorites category. I just don’t particularly find these falls to be as impressive as other falls in the area. Could it be that since they are so blocked off, the falls can seem a little…distant? It’s also one of those cases where it’s truly difficult to capture the true magnitude of the falls, as they are spread out over a distance.

Directions:

  1. Here’s the link for directions: http://www.nps.gov/grfa/planyourvisit/directions.htm
  2. At the entrance, you may be required to pay a $5 entrance fee, if you show up at the right time of the year…

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Height: 40′
Length of Hike: 0.4 miles round-trip

Great Falls of the Potomac (on the Virginia side) in early December 2011

Where in the World is Great Falls of the Potomac?

Kilgore Falls, Maryland

On Black Friday, instead of braving the shopping masses, my extended family and I instead went and visited Kilgore Falls. My uncle knows the area around his hometown (York, PA) fairly well, but he had never realized that a waterfall was so nearby. We undertook the winding and curving drive to the falls, which are located in an offshoot of Rocks State Park in northern Maryland, not far from the Mason-Dixon line.

After getting to the parking area, the hike to the falls was relatively short. The trail splits off in two different directions, one leading to the river below, and the other heading above the falls. If you want to get better views, the first option will be the best choice. The hike is not difficult at all, but you will most likely have to cross the river to get the best viewpoint. The river is not particularly deep. I’m guessing you will get just a little bit wet, though. After crossing the river, it’s a very short distance before you’re standing directly in front of the falls.

Directions:

  1. While Kilgore Falls is located in Rocks State Park, it is in a norther offshoot that is near the intersection of MD-136 (Harkins Rd) and MD-24 (Rocks Rd).
  2. If you’re at the intersection of MD-136 and MD-24, head south on MD-24 for an EXTREMELY short distance. You will turn left onto Comfort Mill Road.
  3. Head south on Comfort Mill Road for a mile or so.
  4. Turn right onto Falling Branch Road. It is easy to miss, so pay attention and drive slowly.
  5. Drive a short way down Falling Branch Road to the parking area that leads to the falls. This part is not hard to miss.
  6. From the parking area, head to the left corner of the parking lot to access the trail.

Accessibility: 7/10 (easy/moderate, crossing the river is the most difficult part)
Height: 18′
Length of Hike: 0.5 miles round-trip

Kilgore Falls in late November 2011

Where in the World is Kilgore Falls?

Swallow Falls, Maryland

Swallow Falls is the namesake of Swallow Falls State Park, and it’s not a half-bad waterfall. In the park, there are three waterfalls, the others being the impressive Muddy Creek Falls, and the smaller Tolliver Falls. I’m not sure whether I enjoyed Swallow Falls as much, but that may have been due to the lighting conditions at the time.

Whereas Muddy Creek Falls was at angle where the sun didn’t cause problems, Swallow Falls was more difficult to photograph at the time of day that I visited. The sun was intense enough that it was washing out much of the interesting features surrounding the falls. I also visited in late October, when I’m assuming that there is a lower flow. In March or April, this falls might be more impressive. Still, at these water levels, it was pretty easy to explore at river level and try to get interesting shots at different vantage points.

Directions:

  1. There are multiple ways to get to the falls, but the clearest way might be to access the park from US-219 in Maryland.
  2. In between McHenry and Oakland (two villages/towns) along US-219, you’ll find the road that leads to the park, Mayhew Inn Road. If headed south, you’d turn right onto this road.
  3. The road twists and turns, veers a bit left and is called Oakland Sang Run Road, and then turns right and is called Swallow Falls Road. This road will lead you into the state park.

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Height: 16′
Length of Hike: 0.5 miles round-trip

Swallow Falls in late October 2010

Where in the World is Swallow Falls?

Tolliver Falls, Maryland

Tolliver Falls in October 2010

Muddy Creek Falls and Swallow Falls are the main attractions at Swallow Falls State Park, but I think that Tolliver Falls is just as interesting as its larger relatives. Tolliver Falls is only a few feet tall, and yet its location in the park is very scenic.

I visited the park in late October, and the trees were beginning to change colors. The fallen leaves created a blanket around the falls, which only enhanced the colors of the rock in the falls. It also helped that while the sun made it more difficult to photograph the other falls, the canopy above Tolliver Falls allowed for better photographs.

Directions:

  1. There are multiple ways to get to the falls, but the clearest way might be to access the park from US-219 in Maryland.
  2. In between McHenry and Oakland (two villages/towns) along US-219, you’ll find the road that leads to the park, Mayhew Inn Road. If headed south, you’d turn right onto this road.
  3. The road twists and turns, veers a bit left and is called Oakland Sang Run Road, and then turns right and is called Swallow Falls Road. This road will lead you into the state park.
  4. Tolliver Falls is on a side trail that’s very easily accessed. You may have to wander around a little to find it, though.

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Height: 6′
Length of Hike: 0.5 miles round-trip

Where in the World is Tolliver Falls?

Muddy Creek Falls, Maryland

Muddy Creek Falls in October 2010

Last year, my uncle took me to Gunpowder Falls…River, that is. I was excited to think that I would see a waterfall in Maryland, and yet when I got there, it was just a river with a series of very minor rapids. There may be a smaller falls somewhere along that river, but not where I was. So it was time to finally visit a real waterfall in Maryland. Swallow Falls State Park has three waterfalls that at least qualify as waterfalls.

Muddy Creek is the largest and the most interesting of the three falls in the park. It is believed to be one of the largest waterfalls in Maryland, not that it is terribly large. It is still very pretty. It’s also very easy to visit. The waterfall is even handicapped accessible. There is a boardwalk that leads to a relatively good view of the falls, but to get the full experience, head down the stairs/trail to get much closer. If you keep following this trail, you can see the other waterfalls very easily. It’s a very nice park, and it’s an added bonus to be allowed to explore around the falls. (Too often, waterfalls at state parks are blocked from better exploration…often with good reason.)

Directions:

  1. There are multiple ways to get to the falls, but the clearest way might be to access the park from US-219 in Maryland.
  2. In between McHenry and Oakland (two villages/towns) along US-219, you’ll find the road that leads to the park, Mayhew Inn Road. If headed south, you’d turn right onto this road.
  3. The road twists and turns, veers a bit left and is called Oakland Sang Run Road, and then turns right and is called Swallow Falls Road. This road will lead you into the state park.

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Height: 52′
Length of Hike: 0.5 miles round-trip

Where in the World is Muddy Creek Falls?