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Cunningham Falls is a very busy State Park in Maryland with hiking trails around & over gigantic rocks & roots, plus a full-service campground.
History & Location
Cunningham Falls State Park is in the Catoctin Mountains of Frederick County in Thurmont, north-central Maryland. The park includes a lake, waterfall & observation area, abandoned mine, ruins of an iron furnace and campground.
Cunningham Falls became a state park in 1954. The area just north of it became Catoctin Mountain National Park, which famously includes presidential retreat Camp David.
Cunningham Falls itself was originally called McAfee Falls for an early family of settlers, but the name was later changed to honor a photographer.
Cunningham Falls State Park campground is divided into two sections- the William Houk Area & Manor Area. Collectively, they have close to 130 sites, and 43 of those have electricity. Each of the Loops has its own bathroom/shower house.
We stayed in Site #1 in pet-friendly Loop 1 of the William Houk Area, located on the left of this map:
Our site was private and a short walk to the Loop’s bathroom/shower house.
I am happy to report that this shower was quite modern with REALLY hot water and absolutely NO TIMER BUTTON!
PRO TIP for the Campground
The trash receptacles for the entire campground are located about a quarter mile from any loop, so make sure you take some durable bags for your trek to take out the garbage!
Trails & Wildlife
Cunningham Falls State Park is BUSY.
I mean busier than any park we’ve ever visited.
On every trail we hiked, we encountered families with lots of children, entire boy scout troops, even bachelorette parties – it was crazy busy!
If you have dogs who aren’t into crowds, I’d seriously skip this one or leave them at home. Our reactive cocker spaniel Franklin had a rough time.
That being said, it was a beautiful park!
We made a loop using the Campground, Cliff and Lower Trail that totaled around 3 miles once we hiked some of the lake shore, too.
In addition to your dog being crowd-friendly, make sure he or she is really sturdy on his or her paws. The rocks & roots along the trails are large & uneven.
It had rained in the morning before we started hiking, and some of the rocks were damp & quite slippery- so be careful if you are hiking early in the morning or after any wet weather.
We found the falls at the bottom of the Lower Trail, but it was so congested that Russ & Franklin couldn’t even get a look (without Franklin inflicting serious harm on innocent waterfall viewers).
I’m not sure who this girl and her dog are, but understand thatthere are about 30 more people standing to the right of her that I managed to leave out of the photo!
We also tried to find Old Misery Trail, but traffic was intense along the road and we couldn’t find trail head, so we gave up. (With a name like Old Misery, maybe it was better that way.)
We didn’t see any wildlife (with the exception of a few caterpillars), but it wasn’t any wonder with the crowd & noise.
We did see some interesting plants and one cool ‘shroom.
3 Best Things About Cunningham State Park
1. HOT Showers
Real hot, with complete temperature control.
2. Nice Campground Views
The area behind our site was gorgeous and quiet.
3. Short Challenging Hikes
Short hikes with slippery rocks make for a quick, challenging afternoon.
Side Trip: Antietam National Battlefield
On the way home from Cunningham Falls, you can stop and visit the place where the “Bloodiest Day in American History” happened, and it’s only about 45 minutes from the park.
During the Civil War, Antietam hosted the worst day in terms of casualties – 23,000 were either killed, wounded, or missing after the South invaded the North on September 17, 1862.
At the National Battlefield, you can walk the well-kept grounds yourself or take a guided tour to see artillery, monuments, and plaques that explain and commemorate the battle.
Be sure to stop at the Visitor Center when you arrive to get tour times and grab a few hiking maps that feature facts about different sections of the park and indicate where points of interest are.
We decided to do the mile-and-a-half West Woods Trail.
The trail visited several monuments in the park, plus it wound in & out of the forest, which we appreciated given the late summer sun.
These are just some of the monuments we saw- the place is packed with them! You can get a full rundown of them here if you plan to walk around on your own, or you can have an experienced guide show you around during a free tour.
The Last Word
Cunningham Falls State Park in Maryland has some challenging short hikes, but just be ready to deal with the crowd on the weekends.
Antietam National Battlefield makes for an interesting (although a little more somber than usual) side trip.