Over the weekend, my family and I headed out to Cunningham Falls State Park in Maryland for an autumn hike to the waterfall. This Maryland state park nestled up against picturesque Catoctin Mountain Park is best known for the Cunningham Falls waterfall. The state park includes some of the most popular Maryland hiking trails in spring through autumn, but especially in the summer months.
There is a lake you can swim in or kayak, plus fishing in the lake and streams. Cabin, tent and RV camping sites are available with reservations, and yes, pets are allowed as long as they are on a leash.
Table of Contents
Where is Cunningham Falls State Park?
Cunningham Falls State Park, 14039 Catoctin Hollow Road, Thurmont, MD 21788
Cunningham Falls State Park is located in Thurmont, Maryland in Frederick County. It is about an hour drive (sometimes an hour and a half depending on traffic, and do expect to hit traffic) from Washington, DC. It butts up against Catoctin Mountain National Park, giving you a huge area to explore.
Directions to Cunningham Falls State Park
- I-495 North (the Capital Beltway) OR GW Memorial Parkway North
- I- 270 North towards Frederick, MD
- US-15 North in Frederick
- Continue onto US-15 North
- Follow US-15 N to Cunningham Falls Park Rd in 15, Thurmont
What hours is Cunningham Falls State Park open?
- 8 a.m. to Sunset, April-October
- 10 a.m. to Sunset, November-March
Is there a fee to enter Cunningham Falls State Park
Yes, if you want to access the Manor area and Houck Area (near Cunningham Falls parking lot and the lake), you will need to pay a nominal daily fee. Your Maryland State Park pass will also work in this state park.
Maryland State Park Passport information: dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands
Please keep in mind that if the park hits capacity, you will be turned away. Don’t stress, there is parking along Catoctin Hollow Road, as well as in Catoctin Mountain National Park, where you can explore the Big Hunting Creek and Bear Branch.
What Park Services are in Cunningham Falls State Park
- Shower house
- Concession Stand
- Boat Rentals
Cunningham Falls State Park Hikes
While our favorite hike is the Cliff Trail that takes you to Cunningham Falls, there are easy through difficult trails throughout the state park. Whether you want short and leisurely, or strenuous and uphill, there is a hike for you.
Check trail conditions and openings before you depart. Also, go early if you can before the crowds start to pull into the parking lot.
There are two trails you can take to Cunningham Falls, the Cliff Trail (yellow marker/blaze) and the Lower Trail (red marker/blaze). Each are beautiful, but if you want more of a challenge head up Cliff Trail to do a little rock climbing (optional) and scrambling through rougher terrain to get to this cascading waterfall. There will be steep climbs, so keep that in mind before you commit.
Lower Trail is a very well-maintained gravel trail with a slow incline and decline. It is perfect for families with young children, anyone with mobility issues (not wheel chair accessible) or just looking for a leisurely stroll.
Read our full guide to Cunningham Falls
Campground Trail: Orange marker
Just under a mile long, this trail is tough but connects with the Cliff Trail. Perfect if you are camping in Cunningham Falls State Park.
Old Misery Trail: Orange marker
A steep trail that is about 2-miles long with multiple switchbacks.
Bob’s Hill Trail: Yellow
You will get to see a number of wildflowers on this almost 4-mile moderate trail.
Cat Rock Trail: Yellow
About 3 miles, it’s a great spot to do some bird watching or take a steep hike through the woods (elevation 1560 feet) to scenic views.
Catoctin Trail: Blue
This is an almost 11-mile point-to-point trail running north to south through the park. There are multiple entry points if you don’t want to do the full trail. It is part of a larger 27-mile trail that runs from Gambrill State Park through Frederick City Watershed, Cunningham Falls and Catoctin Mountain Park.
Catoctin Furnace Trail: no marker
You can take the Catoctin Furnace trail to Cunningham Falls. It’s just over 6 miles with almost a 1600-foot elevation gain.
Hunting Creek Lake
Explore the South Beach Nature Center from the lake lot. There are also restrooms and a shower building with restrooms in it. Both have separate family rooms.
Grab a snack from the concessions building by the lake or enjoy a picnic behind the concessions or on the beach.
There is a playground just off the beach, as well as a boat rental dock. You can also launch your boats right off of Catoctin Hollow Road in a separate parking lot near the beach and park office before you enter the state park and pay the fee.
This is a great spot for overflow parking if you are looking to hike around Cunningham Falls. Simply walk around the lake to the trailhead.
The Manor Area of Cunningham Falls State Park
The Manor Area off Route 15, three miles south of Thurmont, has the hiking, swimming, fishing and canoeing/kayaking guests can enjoy throughout the year. It is also home to the Scales and Tales Aviary and Catoctin Iron Furnace.
Scales and Tales Aviary
Get up close and personal with some of the park’s most fascinating creatures at the Scales and Tales Aviary. These animals can not be released back into the wild due to injuries and medical issues, so they have become ambassadors for the park.
- Memorial Day to Labor Day, the aviary is open every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- After Labor Day: weekends only
Check the park website for closings.
Love waterfalls? Don’t miss these waterfalls near DC!
Camping in Cunningham Falls State Park
For those who love to camp, there are two campgrounds inside of the park (and several others close by) you can book. Whether you are looking for a cabin, tent camping site or RV parking, there is a Cunningham Falls State Park camping spot for you.
The William Houck Campground
The William Houck Campground is open from early April through October. As you might have guessed, it’s located in the William Houck area just west of Thurmont on Route 77 inside the park.
You must check-in at the camp office, where you can also find firewood and ice for sale. Camp site reservations are highly recommended as this is a popular camping spot in Maryland.
There are 33 electric sites and 106 basic sites that each come with a fire ring and picnic table. A restroom with flush toilets and hot showers is located in each loop. Pets are permitted in Addison Run and Bear Branch Loops.
You can also reserve one of the 9 four-person or 4 six-person camper cabins in the campground. Keep in mind that cabins do not have heat. You are allowed to bring an electric heater or fan though. All guests must bring their own linens.
The Manor Area Campground
The Manor Area Campground opens early April through mid-December. After summer months, campsites usually are on a first come, first serve basis. Check in at the registration shed at the entrance of the campground, whether you have a reservation or not.
There are 10 electric sites and 21 basic sites available. Each site comes with a picnic table and fire ring. Pets are allowed throughout the campground, and there is a restroom with toilets and hot showers.
Black Bears in Cunningham Falls State Park
- Yes, there are Cunningham Falls State Park black bears, and they will visit your campsite. Remember to:
- Never EVER feed the wildlife, especially bears. They are not your pet or friend. ‘
- Keep food (including pet food) in a bear-safe container or your car.
- Double check that your kids (and you) have not left food or wrappers in your tent.
- Never leave trash out; always put it in a dumpster.