Take a hike at Cunningham Falls

July 08, 1999

Cunningham FallsBy GREG SIMMONS

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

Words can't really do Cunningham Falls State Park much justice.

The park near Thurmont, Md., in Frederick County has two big attractions. A 44-acre lake and a 78-foot waterfall, all within a half-hour's drive of Hagerstown.

The small, winding Md. 77 out of Smithsburg guides you through the dense forests of the Catoctin Mountains to the entrance for Cunningham Falls.

Saturday, July 3, was the kind of day you would sweat in the shade doing nothing, not to mention hoofing it around the 40 miles of wooded trails at the park. But regardless of the heat, the park still had 2,800 visitors. More than 800-plus were swimming in the stream-fed lake.


Maryland Ranger Dan Harbaugh said the number of swimmers is up because the lake at nearby Greenbrier State Park is closed for swimming this year.

Cunningham Fall's two swimming sections, which are about the size of large swimming pools, teemed with water-winged toddlers, bikini-clad girls and their bare-chested fathers.

I took a quick hike to the falls after a burger at the park service grill, which is good for those like me who are either too time pressed, or too lazy, to pack a picnic and use any of the park's multiple grills.

There, easily 100 people scampered about the rocks that the falls cascade over. The water drops 78 feet in elevation, but the actual length from top to bottom is much more than that.

Hunting Creek, which feeds the falls, slowly tumbles over the first rocks, collects in a small pool a few feet below only to spurt through a series of boulders, and eventually collects at the bottom.

Some nature lovers perched on the dry rock faces adjacent to the falls to catch the sun's rays, others stood directly in the falls, drenching themselves in the small showers created by the falls.

Bob Langston, an X-ray technician from Baltimore, brought his three children and Mahmuddin Abu Bakar, another X-ray technician visiting from Singapore, to show him what CNN doesn't cover in its evening news, he said.

"I'm happy to show him something other than Baltimore City," Langston said. "You get out of the city and it's pretty nice."

Bakar had visited a gun show the week before, and also was carrying a full pack of Wrigley's DoubleMint gum - indulging in two things that are illegal in Singapore.

Bakar noted the cleanliness and organization of the park, and I pulled out the plastic trash bag the attendant had given me when I entered the park.

"People follow the law and rules," Bakar said. "They love the park."

I'll have to agree with Bob and Dean: Cunningham Falls is definitely not the city. As Ranger Harbaugh said, aside from the lake and the falls, "All there is to see is trees." Next time, I'm coming back with hiking boots, a swimsuit, and some hot dogs for the grill.

-- Cunningham Falls tips

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