Cunningham Falls: A cool, summer escape

Near the trail to Cunningham Falls, a babbling brook — popular with fly fishermen — breaks the silence of shady glen. Catch and release only is allowed here.

Near the trail to Cunningham Falls, a babbling brook breaks the silence of shady glen. Big Hunting Creek attracts fly fishermen though only catch and release is allowed.

Two paths take lots of visitors to Cunningham Falls. One heads to the foot of the falls. The other, a little longer, goes to the top. I've never been there.

Two paths take lots of visitors to Cunningham Falls, also known as McAfee Falls. One heads to the foot of the falls. The other, a little longer, goes to the top. I’ve never been there.

In any other summer, Cunningham Falls has been a go-to place to escape the summer heat and humidity. Summer 2014 has been cool, clear and unlike any summer I can recall.

But still, I wanted to see Cunningham Falls before summer ended. Tucked in the woods of Cunningham Falls State Park near Thurmont, the cascading waterfall, at 78 feet, is Maryland’s highest. It’s easy to get to by following the signs along Route 15, 28 miles north of Frederick.

This is one of those laid-back days away. A mile round-trip walk that’s only slightly difficult in street shoes, we took our time. And we took the lower, less hilly trail. Another trail, about 1.5 miles round trip, takes visitors to the top of Cunningham Falls.

The trail winds through a second growth forest, with lots of tiny wildflowers, rocks big enough to climb on and, sometimes, bright red mushrooms that make you want to look for the leprechauns and fairies residing there.

The path is far from peaceful. It’s a popular summertime walk, filled with families, teenagers and day campers. Many of them come ready to play in the chilly falls or the pools at the bottom. In the past, I’ve been one of the people coming with kids who tore their shoes and socks off the minute we reached those shallow waters among the rocks and roots. This time, watching the kids was enough.

Cunningham Falls Lake is the other great reason for this trip. A place to picnic, swim, canoe or just enjoy the summer day.

Cunningham Falls Lake is the other great reason for this trip. A place to picnic, swim, canoe or just enjoy the summer day.

And then it was time for the rest of our day. Lunch of course at one of our favorite roadside restaurants along Route 15.

No trip along Route 15 is complete without a stop at one of the orchard stands. Flowers are in bloom now but the apples are getting ripe and we even saw a few pumpkins approaching jack-o-lantern size. A reminder, sigh, that fall will be on its way soon. (And when the leaves start changing colors we’ll be back up Route 15 again.)

© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman

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