October Fieldtrip-Hiking in Cunningham Falls State Park

An adventurous threesome (Gayle, Diane and Sue) drove to Cunningham Falls Park after a two week delay. The intended week, I slipped and took a direct hit to my kneecap so we put off going for two weeks. It was just as well because the foliage was much more dramatic later. I’d never been to see the falls before, so I looked up some information:

After two hundred years of agriculture, bark stripping, harvesting trees to feed the iron works and other uses (moonshinin’)  the Catoctin Mountain area was pretty run down and was considered to be an area of marginal use. President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration was creating public works projects to employ citizens during the hard times of the Great Depression. Catoctin was earmarked as an area suitable to provide a recreational spot for the greater Washington area.  The WPA and the CCC went to work building cabins and trails, reforesting the area and creating a man-made lake. Roosevelt also had a camp built t that he used as a health getaway from muggy DC–nicknamed Shangri La.  Later on, President Dwight Eisenhower divided the Catoctin Mountain Park in twain, so we have Catoctin National Park, Shangri La  renamed as “Camp David” for his son, and the separation of Cunningham Falls State Park. Today we can enjoy swimming, (gentle) boating, hiking, camping and naturalist activities there. SInce the 1930’s, the deer over-population has impacted the ground level shrubs and forbs, invasive plants have taken hold in areas and pests and diseases have taken a toll on native trees. However, it is still a beautiful place to visit and recommended.

We walked the lower trail to the falls which is quite easy going. You can look around and up at the sky–no problem. The viewing area at the falls in built out on a raised platform with warnings not to disturb the area by going off direct to the falls. However, there were guys who paid no attention who were climging the rock outcropping of the falls. Being used to New York State waterfalls, I found Cunningham to be much tamer but charming, as it drops from ledge to ledge into a poll at the base.

Diane, who loves hiking, talked us into attempting another trail up the boulder strewn section near the falls. So, we were game to try. I had no idea how I would do as I have not pushed my knees into much purposeful hiking for several years. This Cliff Trail was one where you had to watch your step as there were rocks, roots and boulders strewn everywhere. It turned out to be great fun testing ourselves. The only challenging part physically was coming downhill on tall steps and washed out areas to find footholds. We ate bagged lunches at one of the picnic tables overlooking Hunting Creek Lake, enjoying the scenery. Afterwards, we stopped by Pryors Orchard where they were selling Baugher’s Cider. Go figure!

Scenes from Cunningham Falls  (Lower Trail and Cliff Trail)

Click to enlarge