Five cool hikes to Maryland waterfalls

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More great MD waterfall hikes

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Get an up-close look at the waterfall made famous in the Disney movie "Tuck Everlasting" at Kilgore Falls in Rocks State Park. This short, family-friendly hike on the Falling Branch Trail (1.2 miles) of Rocks State Park leads to Maryland's second-highest vertical drop waterfall of 19 feet.

The Susquehannock Indians used Kilgore Falls as a meeting place, and remnants of an old state coach road and stagecoach outbuilding remain along the trail. Wade in the surrounding pools of the falls, but be sure to wear shoes, as the bottom of the pool is rocky and can drop to a depth of 10 feet beneath the falls. Kids can climb the rocks behind the falls to gain a watery perspective.

To find the trail, head north of Rocks Park on Route 24. Turn left at St. Mary's Road, then right onto Falling Branch Road and proceed to the parking area. Take note: There are no restrooms in this area and the parking lot can fill by mid-day on weekends.

Rocks State Park
3318 Rocks Chrome Hill Road, Jarrettsville
Hours: 9 a.m.-sunset March-October; 10 a.m.-sunset November-February
Cost: Some areas free; others weekends $3 per person, weekdays $2 per vehicle Maryland residents

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Families searching for the ultimate waterfall hike need look no further than Great Falls, a spectacular natural landmark located along the Potomac River in Maryland and Virginia. Watch the Potomac cascade over rocks to form 20-foot waterfalls, creating the steepest fall line rapids of any river on the Eastern Seaboard. The park is 800 acres and part of the National Parks Service.

Enter the park from the Maryland side in the C&O Canal National Historic Park and park at the Great Falls Tavern Visitors Center. Check out the falls from the Aqueduct Observation Deck or further south on the Olmstead Island Bridges before picking up the Billy Goat Trail at lock 16. Follow this 1.4-mile trail before looping back to the parking lot or continue further down the trail through section C (1.6 miles).

For families with older children who aren't afraid to scramble over a rock or two, the Billy Goat Trail offers panoramic glimpses of some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in the Washington area.

C&O Canal National Historic Park
11710 MacArthur Blvd., Potomac
Hours: Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center open 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, closed Mondays and Tuesdays; park open daylight hours year-round.
Cost: Three-day pass $10 per vehicle

Waterfall safety tips

The thrill of a waterfall can tempt even the most watchful of children, but it's important to exercise care and restraint when approaching a waterfall. Hidden dangers can lurk in even the shallowest of pools and minor cascades. Always practice caution and keep in mind these tips when visiting a waterfall:

  • Keep a safe distance from cascading falls; the water is more powerful than it appears.
  • Stay clear from the edge of a waterfall, and avoid slippery rocks.
  • Wear stable footwear and take careful steps when approaching the pools and falls.
  • Always know the depth of the cascade pool, and test the waters before sending little ones in for a closer look.
  • Do not allow children in the water alone, and never allow diving from rocks into the shallow pools.
  • Avoid waterfall pools and cascades after a heavy rainfall, when the water is deepest and the current at it's strongest.
  • Keep a safe distance from large and powerful falls. Observation platforms, fencing and restricted areas exist for a reason.

For more information about waterfall safety, contact a park ranger for accurate, up-to-date information at each venue.

Looking for other places to explore with your kids? Click here for Five Great Maryland Parks to visit.

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Top photo by Katie Riley.

Falls photos provided by state and national parks.

Updated June 2017

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