As a marine biologist dating a fly fisherman, you can imagine I spend nearly every weekend on or near water. From the rivers of Western Maryland to the marshes of the Eastern Shore, we’ve spent many hours exploring the remote corners of the Old Line State. This year, we decided to take some time and explore the more accessible waters around Baltimore.
On a recent spring Saturday, we set out to see how many Maryland waterfalls we could hike in one day along the Northwestern edge of the Chesapeake Bay. After some cursory internet searching, a clear plan of action developed: we would see one we’d heard nothing about, one we’d only heard of briefly, one that was falls-ish, and two popular waterfall areas. With a mapped plan, we headed north from Queen Anne’s County.
Gilpin’s Falls – Elkton, MD
Best Roadside Waterfalls
Our first stop of the day was the least known to us. Gilpin’s Falls is a great spot to pull off and have lunch directly on the side of North East Creek Road in Elkton, Maryland (just off of Route 95). If you like to boulder, this waterfall is a wonderfully shaded spot with incredible boulders both along the water’s edge and set just off of it.
We parked along the pull-off by Gilpin’s Falls covered bridge, a red, wooden covered bridge originally built in the mid-1800s. Trail markings to begin the hike are easy to find and the trail is easy to follow until you are in the well-shaded woods. At that point, trails begin to diverge and it can be tricky to see where they pick back up over different bouldered areas. However, the water is very easy to follow and you should be able to see the falls nearly the entire time.
This was the least swimmable waterfall of the day but made for a great spot to relax.
Kilgore Falls – Pylesville, MD
Best Overall Waterfall
Crossing the Susquehanna River we headed south to Harford County, home of Kilgore Falls. At 17 feet, this is Maryland’s second-highest vertical drop waterfall in the state, and easily the prettiest one we went to on our day trip.
While we visited for free in April, visitors from Memorial Day to Labor Day need to reserve a parking spot at this Eden-esque waterfall. The walk from the parking lot to the waterfall is about half a mile of well-maintained trails and wooden bridges over swampy areas. Even in the cooler spring temperatures, dogs and children played in the pools and adults explored the river banks and laid out on the boulders along the water. There are benches throughout the area to sit and watch from, and the waterfall itself is easily accessible for the more daring explorers.
We climbed up a natural stone ladder-like cut on the far side of the waterfall and crossed the water above the falls to meet back up with the trail.
If you’re looking for a reason to take a personal day and read in the woods this summer, Kilgore Falls is your spot.
Raven Rock Falls – Parkton, MD
Best Quiet Pull-Off on a Hike
Raven Rock Falls is a waterfall for those who prefer babbling brooks over raging rivers. In the Hereford Area of Gunpowder State Forest, Raven Rock feeds into the Gunpowder along the Gunpowder North Trail. We accidentally parked on the further end of the trail from the falls, turning our 40 minute round trip hike into more of a two-hour round trip hike.
If you are not interested in a long hike, parking along York Road will bring you closer to Raven Rock. However, I would make sure you have other plans for your day than just seeing these falls. Personally, they qualify as a soft cascade in our book. While chasing waterfalls in the Hereford Area, we filled the bulk of our time with fly fishing, mushrooming, wildflower viewing, and photoshoots of trails through bushes taller than either of us. On a warm day this would be a great spot for swimming or floating in an inner tube.
Cascade Falls – Elkridge, MD
The last waterfall we made it to on our day trip was Cascade Falls in Patapsco Valley State Park. We entered the park via South Street in Ellicott City and followed River Road to the end. Here, the trail to the falls is directly across the street from the bridge (and there’s a bathroom at the trailhead). Stick to the left of any trail forks and you will see the first, smaller falls (of two total) within minutes of the beginning of your hike.
Patapsco Valley was the busiest park we visited and charged a $3/person fee to enter. The cost was well worth it in our opinion — we watched people doing everything from their afternoon dog walk to a long, sweaty hike to barbequing and swimming in the local river — all with space to spare.
Cascade Falls is the perfect destination for visitors desiring a satisfying dip in a natural pool. We noticed many of the people on the trail stopped to rest and chat at the pool while admiring these falls. This also means it may be less of a spot to set up for the day at, though the spot where the Patapsco River runs under the bridge across from the beginning of the hike looked great for that. An extra bonus about this spot is that it’s just down the street from the Guinness Open Gate Brewery in Baltimore.
Other Maryland Waterfalls Worth Seeing
While we were only able to make it to these four waterfalls today, we had planned for a fifth, Big Gunpowder Falls, but ran out of time with the Raven Rock falls taking longer than expected.
There are also plenty of incredible waterfalls elsewhere in the state. Just west of where we day-tripped is Cunningham Falls, the largest vertical falls in Maryland that ends in a 43-acre lake. Nestled in the Catoctin area of Maryland, this park also hosts campsites from April to October and a Scales and Tales aviary.
And finally, what would a Maryland waterfalls article be without mentioning the famed Swallow Falls of Garrett County?
If you’re looking for a beautiful Western Maryland experience, this park should be at the top of your list. The thunderous noise of Muddy Creek Falls within the Swallow Falls Park travels throughout the local forest of ancient hemlocks. The air is cool even at the height of the summer and the vibe there is nothing short of magical.
Lead Photo: Cascade Falls in Elkridge, MD. Photo by Dylan Taillie