Discover the Tallest Waterfall in Maryland

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Written by Erica Scassellati

Updated: July 26, 2023

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Maryland is home to amazing towns and picturesque outdoor locations. It’s known for many things, like blue crabs from the Chesapeake Bay and the city of Baltimore. However, Maryland boasts more than a handful of incredible cascading waterfalls, enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.

These natural wonders form from streams flowing from soft rock to hard rock. Over time, the soft rocks erode, while the hard rocks stay in place, leaving behind a ledge for the stream to flow over. Maryland has several of these natural wonders, but where can you find the tallest waterfall in the state?

Cunningham Falls, Cunningham State Park Near Thurmont, Maryland Horizontal

Cunningham Falls is the tallest waterfall in Maryland at an impressive 78 feet.

©Mary Terriberry/Shutterstock.com

What Is the Tallest Waterfall in Maryland?

The tallest waterfall in Maryland is Cunningham Falls, which cascades for an impressive 78 feet. The waterfall is a part of Cunningham Falls State Park, which is located in the picturesque Catoctin Mountains.

Getting to the falls involves a scenic 2.8-mile round-trip hike on the Cunningham Falls Nature Trail. Visitors can access the trail from the gravel parking lot directly across from the visitor’s center. The Falls Nature Trails is the most popular trail in the park. The hike does feature hills and uneven and rocky surfaces, but the view of the falls makes everything worthwhile.

History of the Falls

Locals know Cunningham Falls by another name — McAfee Falls. According to HMdb.org, the McAfee family was one of the original settlers in the area near the waterfall.

In the 1930s, the federal government acquired this land from the family when it was being developed into what was then known as Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area. The falls were later renamed after a photographer from Pen Mar Park, whose many photos of the area helped to make it a popular spot.

Where is Cunningham Falls Located on a Map?

Cunningham Falls is located west of Thurmont, MD, a small, historic town in the northern part of Frederick County. Thurmont is only a short drive of about nine miles from the border crossing into Pennsylvania.

The waterfall is a part of Cunningham Falls State Park, within the Catoctin Mountains. The park is also right beside Hunting Creek Lake, a popular spot for swimming, fishing, and boating.

Wildlife Around Cunningham Falls

Maryland is home to an estimated 90 species of mammals, 93 species and subspecies of reptiles and amphibians, and hundreds of species of birds and fish.

Cunningham Falls State Park offers incredible wildlife viewing opportunities. Whether you’re keeping an eye out for bears from rocky outcrops, or fishing in the Cunningham Falls Reservoir, there’s plenty for animal lovers to see.

Birds

Cunningham Falls State Park is a birdwatcher’s paradise. According to the Birder’s Guide to Maryland & DC, over 120 species have been reported on eBird in this area. Some of the most common species include woodpeckers, red-eyed vireo, common ravens, and various small woodland birds. 

The park also has breeding populations of several species, such as the worm-eating and Kentucky warblers and the Baltimore oriole. During migration season, a variety of additional warbler species, migrating hawks and thrushes can be seen. The winter months are a good time to watch for the purple finch and kinglets.

Mammals

A variety of small mammals such as raccoons, rabbits, and squirrels make their home in Cunningham Falls State Park. You can also spot larger mammals like whitetail deer. It’s worth noting that the state park is also located in black bear country.

Visitors may spot black bears while hiking, camping, or enjoying other recreational activities, so it’s important to know how to minimize conflict between humans and bears. Visit this page from the Department of Natural Resources for more information.

Black bear

Keep an eye out for black bears living around Cunningham Falls.

©Menno Schaefer/Shutterstock.com

Reptiles

Many species of snakes live in Cunningham State Park, but only two are venomous: the eastern copperhead and the timber rattlesnake

The eastern copperhead has a tan to brown body with distinct hourglass blotches and juveniles have a bright yellow tail tip. Timber rattlesnakes have a large, spade-shaped head and are often yellow, tan, brown, or grey in color with dark blotches or chevrons down their back.

Fish

The Cunningham Falls Reservoir is home to several species of warm-water fish. The most common include largemouth bass and panfish such as bluegill, redear sunfish, and black crappie. Since the reservoir is a popular fishing location, it is also stocked with adult trout during the spring and fall.

Visiting Cunningham Falls State Park

Cunningham Falls State Park is nestled in the Catoctin Mountains and is split into two separate areas. Hours of operation are 8 am to sunset from April-October and 10 am to sunset from November-March.

The William Houck Area is west of Thurmont and gives visitors access to camping areas, the lake, and Cunningham Falls. Day-use fees are by person and vary between $3-$7 depending on the day of the week and whether you are a Maryland resident or not.

The Manor Area off Route 15 is just a few miles south of Thurmont off Route 15. It features additional camping sites, the Scales and Tales Aviary, and the historic Catoctin Iron Furnace​. Day-use fees are $3 per vehicle for Maryland residents and $5 per vehicle for non-Maryland residents.

Activities in Cunningham Falls State Park

The Cunningham Falls State Park offers plenty of fun and exciting activities that are noted on Visit Frederick City & County. Here are a few that you should check out.

Fishing

There are several locations to fish in Cunningham Falls State Park. A Maryland Freshwater Sport Fishing License is required for those 16 years of age or older. Hunting Creek Lake offers opportunities to catch trout, bass, bluegill, sunfish, crappie, and catfish.

Big Hunting Creek and its tributaries within Cunningham Falls State Park are restricted to catch-and-release fly fishing only. The creek has a flourishing population of brown trout. Little Hunting Creek offers fish such as catfish, carp, perch, and largemouth bass 

Brown Trout

Big Hunting Creek is well stocked with brown trout.

©iStock.com/KevinCass

Swimming

Cunningham Falls State Park offers three beautiful swimming spots on Hunting Creek Lake. Swimming is permitted from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, though lifeguards are only on duty at certain times. Due to safety concerns and for the protection of natural resources, swimming is not allowed at the waterfall itself.

Hiking

Both the William Houck area and Manor Area offer a number of hiking trails. The terrain varies from short, flat hikes to challenging rocky ascents. Routes can be as short as a half mile one way, or as long as 7 miles one way. Several of the trails lead to exciting locations, such as the Lower Trail, which takes visitors to the waterfall.

Catoctin Furnace Trail is a half-mile route that leads to Catoctin Furnace Historical Village. This location is preserved in time, offering a glimpse back into the lives of the enslaved Africans, free African Americans, and European immigrant laborers and families that lived there.

Camping

Cunningham Falls State Park offers both the William Houck campground and the Manor Area campground. Both campsites offer bathhouses with flushing toilets and showers. Camping via tent, RV, or camping trailer is allowed in the areas, and cabins are available for rent as well.

Boating

Hunting Creek Lake allows visitors to bring their own watercraft. The lake has a boat ramp available to use for a small fee. The fees are $3 for Maryland residents and $4 for non-residents. Only electric motors are permitted and boats are available for rent on the lake during the summer season.


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About the Author

Erica is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on history, food, and travel. Erica has over 3 years of experience as a content writer and holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, which she earned in 2018. A resident of Kansas City, Erica enjoys exploring her home town and traveling around the world to learn about different cultures and try new food.

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