Five cool hikes to Maryland waterfalls

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WaterFalls-Cascade2WBy Katie Riley

There's no better way to entice your kids on hike than picking a route that leads to a waterfall.

On a Sunday morning at Cascade Falls in Patapsco State Park, the shrieks of delighted children were the only sounds to disturb the surrounding woodlands.

"Awesome!" shouted my daughter as we spotted our first glimpse of the falls from the Cascades Hiking Trail. "Cool!" echoed my 7-year-old, as he flung his shoes and jumped off a craggy rock into the pool of water at the base of the falls.

The allure of waterfalls has been documented for centuries, but they are never more enticing than on a hot summer's day. Here are five hikes in Maryland where your family can experience the magic of a waterfall.

Admission prices may have changed. Call before heading out.

Cascade Falls

Cascade Falls at Patapsco Valley State Park is the ideal destination for kids of all ages. It has falls, pools of water and a trickling stream perfect for splashing.

Head to the Orange Grove area and park near the swinging bridge. The Cascade Falls Trail begins across the street from the swinging bridge. Walk just 300 yards up the trail before catching a glimpse of the first series of falls. The slightly hilly terrain is easy for little ones to traverse, and kids will love scrambling over the rocks to wade in the pools below. Three different waterfalls offer a shallow splashing area for kids to gather rocks and get close to the falls.

At the last set of falls, climb the rock staircase to continue on for a longer hike on the Cascades Trail (2.2 miles), a serene and moderate-level hike through the woods along a babbling brook. This popular trail can get busy on weekends, so catch the falls early in the day before continuing on this 60-minute, family-friendly hike. Afterwards, cool off with a refreshing swim in the Patapsco River, which runs just beside the parking lot.

Patapsco Valley State Park

5120 South St., Baltimore
Hours: 9 a.m.-sunset
Cost: $2 per vehicle weekdays; $3 per person weekends for Maryland residents April-October
Avalon/Glen Arney/Orange Grove area

Cunningham FallsWaterfalls-CunninghamFallsW

Head west to Frederick County and Cunningham Falls State Park, which offers everything from breathtaking waterfalls to a natural lake and miles of trails.

Little ones are sure to be awestruck at the 78-foot Cunningham Falls, the largest cascading waterfall in the state. Enter the park at the William Houck area, located 3 miles west of Thurmont off Rt. 77, and park near the lake area.

For the quickest route to Cunningham Falls, hike the easy Lower Trail (1/2 mile) or take a rockier route on the Cliff Trail (3/4 mile) to the boardwalk and viewing platforms surrounding the falls. For a longer and more strenuous route, connect to the Campground Trail or head out on the more challenging Old Misery Trail, which provides a rocky terrain and breathtaking views of the surrounding Catoctin Mountains.

Swimming is not permitted in Cunningham Falls for safety reasons, but cool off after a satisfying hike with a dip in Hunting Creek Lake, just a short walk from the falls. Lifeguards are on duty daily during summer hours. The park may fill to capacity on summer weekends and holidays.

Cunningham Falls State Park
14039 Catoctin Hollow Road, Thurmont
Hours: 8 a.m.-sunset April-October; 10 a.m.-sunset November-March
Cost: $3 per person weekdays; $5 per person weekends for Maryland residents Memorial Day weekend-Labor Day weekend

Waterfalls-SwallowFallsWSwallow Falls

See some of Maryland's most beautiful scenery at Swallow Falls State Park in Garrett County.

Swallow Falls is north of Oakland and is home to the Youghiogheny River and Muddy Creek, two whitewater rivers that flow through the surrounding Appalachian Mountains.

From the parking lot, take the moderate Swallow Falls Canyon Trail (1.25 miles), a slightly hilly terrain that runs alongside the Muddy Creek and past four sets of rapidly moving falls. Muddy Creek Falls is a crashing 53-foot waterfall, Maryland's highest free-falling waterfall. Because the rivers have strong currents and swiftly moving rapids, swimming is discouraged.

After hiking the Swallow Falls Canyon Trail, families can choose a longer hike on the 5½-mile Swallow Falls Trail that leads through the Garrett State Forest, past 300-year-old hemlocks. The trail connects with Herrington Manor State Park, a nearby park that includes a 54-acre lake with a beach and lifeguards on duty during the summer.

Families can stay for a weekend by taking advantage of Swallow Falls' on-site camp store, modern bathhouses and 65 campsites, each with its own fire ring, picnic table, lantern post and stabilized pad.

Swallow Falls State Park
2470 Maple Glade Road, Oakland
Hours: 8 a.m.-sunset year round
Cost: $3 per person Maryland residents; $5 per person out-of-state Memorial Day-Labor Day plus weekends in May, September and October
All other times $3/car for Maryland residents, $5/car for out of state residents

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