How to Conquer Cunningham Falls Hiking Guide

Anyone who loves waterfalls will want to visit Cunningham Falls, the tallest waterfall in Maryland. At 78-feet, this cascading waterfall pours into pools as it makes its way down to the bottom basin and eventually making its way into Hunting Creek Lake. 

Best visited April through October, this Maryland state park is especially crowded in summer and on the weekends. Park services included clean restrooms, a concession stand near the lake, maintained trails and even a boat rental at the lake. 

But you aren’t here for the lake. You want to know how to get to Cunningham Falls.

Cunningham Falls State Park

Where is Cunningham Falls? 

Cunningham Falls is located in the William Houck area of Cunningham Falls State Park in the Catoctin Mountains just outside of Thurmont, Maryland. It is an easy drive from Frederick, MD, and about an hour northwest of Washington, D.C. (more if there is traffic).

How to get to the Cunningham Falls hike in the park

Cunningham Falls is located west of Thurmont on Route 77. You will pass the entrance to Catoctin Mountain National Park and have to pay the fee at the state park ranger station to get to the closest parking lot by the trail. 

Directions from Washington, DC: 

  • I-495 North (the Capital Beltway) OR GW Memorial Parkway North
  • I- 270 North towards Frederick, MD
  • US-15 North in Frederick
  • Continue onto Route 15 North
  • Left onto Pryor Road
  • Left onto MD-77 West
  • Left onto Catoctin Hollow Road
  • Turn right toward William Houck Drive
  • Continue onto William Houck Drive
  • Continue onto N Beach Circle
  • Park at the Lower Trail-Red Blaze Parking lot or across the street at the Hunter Creek Lake parking lot

Is there a fee to hike Cunningham Falls?

Yes, if you want to access the parking lots closest to Cunningham Falls, you will need to pay a nominal day rate. 

Cunningham Falls Packing List

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Parking at Cunningham Falls

There are several parking options in the William Houck area when you want to hike Cunningham Falls. There is a small lot right at the trailhead along William Houck Drive on your left. 

You can also park just across the street at the Hunting Creek Lake parking lot. It may be called “Parking Spot at Cunningham Falls” when you search for it on Google Maps. 

Cunningham Falls State Park

Are dogs allowed on the Cunningham Falls trails? 

Yes. You can take your dog on the Cliff Trail or the Lower Falls Trail. 

You dog must always be kept on a 6-foot leash. You will also need to bring doggy bags to pick up any droppings on the trail. Bring a few extra dog bags to grab trash you might find along the way. 

Our little dog loved the Cliff Trail to Cunningham Falls (she’s only 12-14lbs), and we saw plenty of small dogs on this tough terrain. She was tuckered out by the time we got back to the car.

Be prepared to carry little dogs a bit if they stop in the middle of the trail and refuse to budge. Their little legs just can’t go any farther. 

Cunningham Falls State Park
Cunningham Falls with more water than we saw.

Cunningham Falls Hikes

Cunningham Falls is known as the tallest waterfall in Maryland. This beautiful 78-foot cascading waterfall is perfect for exploring down below with little ones and those who don’t like to climb slick rocks. 

It is fairly easy to get to the Cunningham Falls hike, especially if you know which trail you want to take. Lucky for you, both trails start at the same parking lot. You just have to look out for the signs and trail markers. 

Cunningham Falls State Park

Cliff Trail

The Cliff Trail is by far our favorite hiking trail to Cunningham Falls. It is filled with giant boulders you will find all around Catoctin Mountain. A steep climb takes you above the Lower Trail through a forest filled with deciduous trees. 

If it has recently rained, you may want to skip this trail with smaller children as it does get slick. If you are sure-footed, start the trek up, following the yellow rectangle markers until you come to a split in the trail. One will continue on to the left towards the Campground Trail and Catoctin Trail northbound, while the other heads down to the right to connect with Lower Trail. 

Lower Trail

If you are looking for a leisurely walk, you have babies in a baby carrier or you aren’t as keen to tackle uphill climbs and obstacles of rocks and trees, stick to the Lower Trail. While it is not stroller or wheelchair friendly, it is a gravel path that is clearly marked from the trail parking lot. There is no way to get lost unless you really, really try. 

Cunningham Falls Overlook

Most people view the falls from the Cunningham Falls Overlook. You can get to it from the Lower Trail and Cliff Trail. It is also wheelchair accessible via a boardwalk trail across the creek you can get access a parking lot on Foxville Road just down from the main trail parking lot. 

Want more waterfalls? Check out these waterfalls near DC and even a few in the city!

Cunningham Falls State Park

Can you climb up Cunningham Falls? 

There are two boardwalks that overlook Cunningham Falls, but may people choose to climb up the rocks that create the waterfalls that splash down into little pools before moving down thanks to gravity.

The park does not advise you climb up the waterfall, and is not liable for any accidents that occur, so please climb at your own risk. 

If it has rained recently the rocks will be very slick. We saw a lot of people sliding on the rocks as they scrambled up. 

Weekends also draw big crowds and not everyone is patient enough to let others get up and down safely. Keep a close eye on children (mine scrambled up in a blink of an eye), and know when to skip the climb. It will still be there when there are less people. 

Secret trail :If you really want to get up the waterfall, but don’t want to deal with all of the people at the bottom of the rocks trying to scramble up, there is another way.

If you are looking at the waterfall, go to the right. You will find a small trail that brings you part way up the waterfall, so you can avoid all of the crowds at the bottom.

Cunningham Falls State Park

Cunningham Falls with Babies and Toddlers

Cunningham Falls is very kid friendly, and easy for families with babies and toddlers. While you won’t want to bring a stroller, you can easily walk along the Lower Trail to see Cunningham Falls. 

Those who have adventurous toddlers can give the Cliff Trail a try. Please keep in mind that this trail is not as smooth, there are a lot of rocks, boulders and trees, as well as uphill climbs along the way. If it has recently rained, avoid this path as it will be slippery. 

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