Cunningham Falls State Park, nestled in the picturesque Catoctin Mountains of Maryland, will appeal to families of all ages. Just a little over an hour outside of Washington D.C., Cunningham Falls State Park is a nice escape from the city.
Cunningham Falls State Park is divided into the William Houck area and the Manor area, which both offer unique activities. I haven't visited the aviary or iron furnace at the Manor area yet, but we enjoyed hiking to a waterfall, swimming, and camping at the William Houck area.
Hike to the Waterfall at Cunningham Falls State Park
My eight-year-old son loves to hike, but we look for hikes that my three-year-old can still manage. The short cliff trail to the 78-foot cascading waterfall at Cunningham Falls State Park was a perfect hike for us. The path is well marked and easy to follow. There were some huge boulders along the way that my older kids loved stopping to climb on and explore while those with smaller legs caught up.
When we reached the falls, the little ones threw rocks in the stream while the older kids scrambled up the rocks closer to the cascading falls. While there wasn't a lot of water at this time of year, the falls were still beautiful and the rocks along the way made this an enjoyable hike for my teenagers. There is a boardwalk from Route 77 that goes directly to the base of the falls for those who need to bring a stroller or who are mobility impaired. We looped back to the parking lot along this boardwalk.
There are plenty of longer hikes at Cunningham Falls State Park for those who want to venture further. Here is a trail map.
Play in the lake at Cunningham Falls State Park
The picnic areas are shaded and clean. Charcoal grills are available for those who want to barbecue. If you would rather purchase food, there is a nice concession stand on the beach from Memorial Day to Labor Day, which is also when the beach is lifeguarded.
I hate to admit that we got to know the lifeguards well on our visit to Cunningham Falls State Park, but they took good care of my son when he fell on the playground and bit through his tongue. My daughter swallowed some lake water while swimming and began coughing and gasping enough that the lifeguard ran in to make sure she was fine. It was rather embarrassing for her, but since I was trying to manage five kids in the water without my husband there, I was grateful for attentive lifeguards.
The beach has plenty of sand and also a nice grassy area, trees and shade, and a fun playground. In the summer months you can rent row boats, canoes, kayaks, and paddle boats to enjoy on the lake. Each boat must have someone older than 18 on board, so plan accordingly if you want to take your family out.
Camp at Cunningham Falls State Park
Cunningham Falls State Park has campsites and camper cabins available between April and October. I love fall camping on the East Coast as the leaves start to change, and we camped here in September one year and had a wonderful time. Like most state parks, the campsites are close together but are well maintained.
There is a bathhouse with hot showers and flush toilets, which is convenient if you plan to stay a few days. Reservations are recommended because the campsites often fill up.
Good to Know
Location: Thurmont, Maryland. Cunningham Falls State Park is divided into two areas, the William Houck area and the Manor area, which are a few miles apart. Check a map carefully to make sure you know where are headed.
Cost: $3 for Maryland residents, $5 for out-of-state visitors for day use. Anyone in a car seat or booster seat is free. Campsites are available for a fee.
When to go: Summer is the most popular time to visit, but the park is open year-round.
Trash-free park: Maryland state parks have gone trash free, meaning there are no trash cans in the park. You can find trash bags, but need to plan to carry out all your trash.