Walking in a winter wonderland

It's always kayaking season at Swallow Falls State Park in Western Maryland.

It’s always kayaking season at Swallow Falls State Park in Western Maryland.

I find myself whispering under the hemlocks of  Swallow Falls State Park. Snow covers the tree-lined paths. Sunlight filters through the delicate green-needled branches.  There’s a church-like hush that comes over the trails that meander through the old growth forest. In the distance, though, you can hear a rushing sound, the power of the park’s three waterfalls.

Muddy Creek Falls on a very cold day.

Muddy Creek Falls on a very cold day.

As beautiful as the paths themselves are, it’s the extraordinary views of Muddy Creek and Swallow Falls that I come to see. During a cold snap — and Garrett County has had a few of those — the water seems to freeze in mid-fall, with jagged icicles trimming the nearby rocks.

Muddy Creek Falls is the tallest waterfalls in Maryland. At 53 feet, it’s no Niagara, but visitors can get so close and see it from various angles. It never fails to leave me awed.

But don’t stop at one waterfall now that you’ve made it this far. The paths, even when snow covered, aren’t difficult — do wear your boots, of course. There are viewing platforms overlooking the falls and steps down to the river level.

Near Swallow Falls, a giant rock, shaped by the river stands guard in the icy water.

Near Swallow Falls, a giant rock, shaped by the river stands guard in the icy water.

Turn down the path where Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs camped in the summers of 1918 and 1921 — you’ll see the sign pointing it out. A fairly easy trail leads to the second falls, Swallow Falls. A viewing deck offers a good vantage point to see the water rushing over the rocks.

And, if you’re lucky, and the kayakers are adventurous, you’ll probably see a few hardy souls piloting their little plastic boats through those white waters. Cheer ’em on. They’ve earned it.

Swallow Falls State Park has the last stand of virgin hemlocks and pines in the state.

Swallow Falls State Park has the last stand of virgin hemlocks and pines in the state.

Now Tolliver Falls is a little more difficult to get to. In fact, I have only gotten as far as the main pathway. I wasn’t feeling sure-footed enough for the rocky, icy and steep path down toward it.

What is it about the combination of green trees, gurgling water and a hint of blue sky to make me feel at peace? Yes, I whisper in Swallow Falls State Park. And I look forward to the chance to go again.

© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman

The stream that leads to Tolliver Falls.

The stream that leads to Tolliver Falls.

Advertisements