Late summer fun at 6 Maryland state parks

From the mountains of western Maryland to the salty marshes of the Eastern Shore, Maryland is ripe with cool state parks to visit. And late summer is an ideal time to check them out.

SPFishingatGunpowderWFishing on the Gunpowder River in Gunpowder State ParkThe Walsh family of Columbia loves Rocky Gap State Park so much they visit twice every summer — first for Memorial Day weekend and then again for a week in late August before school starts.

"We love Memorial Day weekend and all the activities and people, but there's something really special about the end of the summer when it's quieter," says Karen Walsh, mom of two boys ages 7 and 12. "We might be the only campers in our loop for most of the week."

Each year Maryland's 66 state parks welcome nearly 10 million visitors, according to Sarah Milbourne, a park ranger of 10 years currently stationed at Rocky Gap in western Maryland.

"Every single one of our state parks is a gem. They all have a following," Milbourne says. "We create hands-on, adventure-type experiences for families. We want to create inspiration."

Rocky Gap is a favorite for the Walsh family because of its lake with boating and a beach, hiking and ranger-led activities.

"It's a great chance for our family to unplug from electronics and spend time together," Walsh says.

Late summer and fall are great times to visit a state park. According to Milbourne, all the parks offer just as much — and sometimes more — after the crowds have disappeared in late August and September.

"We slow down once kids go back to school. But it's a great time to come spend a quiet weekend," she says. "All of our services and programs are still going strong and we've really hit our stride in terms of working with the public."

If you are looking for someplace new to explore, here are a few state parks from the mountains of western Maryland to the marshes of the Eastern Shore that have plenty to offer. Pack up the family and head out for the day or for a long weekend of camping fun.

WESTERN MARYLAND 

Rocky Gap State Park, Allegany County

Located in western Maryland, Rocky Gap encompasses 3,000 acres of public land, including a manmade lake.

A large campground with more than 278 individual campsites sits on one side of 243-acre Lake Habeeb, while the day-use area is on the other side of the lake. Both areas include a large beach section with lifeguards through Labor Day, playgrounds, snack bars and boat rentals. Even at the height of the summer, the lake is quiet, thanks to a "no gas engine" rule.

The lake is fed by Rocky Gap Run, which flows through a mile-long gorge lined with hemlocks and mountain laurel. Both hiking and mountain biking are popular here, and by mid-August, the crowds disappear.

The park includes a small aviary, and rangers lead programs covering a variety of topics. All programming, such as the evening traditional campfire, nature walks and ranger-led programs, continue at the campground long after the bulk of the crowds have left.

The park is located at 12900 Lakeshore Dr., Flintstone. Open 7 a.m. to sunset. Day use fees are $4/person Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. All other times, fees are $2/vehicle. 301-722-1480, dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/western/rockygap.aspx

Greenbrier State Park, Washington County

Located in the Appalachian Mountains, Greenbrier State Park offers families a great getaway during those last hot days of summer.SPPlaygroundWPlaying on the playground at Greenbriar State Park

The park's 42-acre lake includes a swimming area complete with lifeguards through Labor Day, a beach, playground, picnic area and camp store. The lake is stocked with trout, largemouth bass and bluegill for fishing. Hiking paths are well marked and not overly strenuous. An unpaved path around the lake is perfect for beginning mountain bikers.

For a little more adventure, the Appalachian Trail is located just a ¼ mile east of Greenbrier. From the trailhead, follow the AT to Annapolis Rock — a moderate 2.2-mile hike that includes a great view of Greenbrier Lake and Cumberland Valley.

In addition to the day use area, there are 165 campsites available to reserve.

The park is located at 21843 National Pike, Boonsboro. Open 8 a.m. to sunset. Entry fee through Labor Day is $3/person during the week and $5/person on the weekends. Fee on weekends after Labor Day is $3/person. 301-791-4767, dnr2maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/western/greenbrier.aspx

CENTRAL MARYLAND

Gunpowder Falls State Park, Baltimore/Harford counties

Covering more than 18,000 acres, Gunpowder Falls is one of Maryland's largest state parks. Six separate areas feature streams perfect for canoeing, a swimming beach, historic sites, and 120 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.

The popular Hammerman area has a sandy beach with paddleboards, kayaks, windsurfers and small sailboats for rent. There is a recycled tire playground kids will love.

The Hereford area offers river tubing where water depths average 2-3 feet. Late summer and early fall are ideal because the chilly water has warmed up a bit.

For a biking enthusiast, the Torrey C. Brown Trail in the Hereford Region has 21 miles of crushed stone path on an abandoned railroad track from Ashland to the Pennsylvania line.

The Jerusalem Mill historic village, in the central area of the park, offers a glimpse back to the 1770s when the mill first opened. Visitors will find historic reenactments, costumed interpreters and hand-on learning activities.

Park headquarters is at the Jerusalem historic area, 2813 Jerusalem Rd., Kingsville; Hammerman area is at 7200 Graces Quarters Chase; and the Hereford area is at the end of Bunker Hill Road in Parkton. Open sunrise to sunset. Entry fees through Labor Day are $3/person weekdays and $5/person weekends. After Labor Day through Memorial Day fees are $3/vehicle. 410-592-2897, dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/central/gunpowder.aspx

Click next below for more state parks.


EASTERN MARYLAND

Janes Island State Park, Somerset County

Janes Island is one of the quietest and most remote state parks in Maryland. The park is divided into the mainland, with campsites and cabins, a conference center and a small marina, and the island, which includes 2,900 acres of saltmarsh, more than 30 miles of water trails and isolated beaches.

The water trails are protected from the current by the marshes so they are suitable for both expert and novice paddlers. Anglers can fish for striped bass, sea trout, spot, croaker, flounder and bluefish. Blue crabs are plentiful for those who prefer crabbing.

Visitors may fish and crab from the docks at the marina or launch a boat. Kayaks and canoes are available to rent at the marina for $10 an hour or $50 a day.

An observation tower makes it easy to watch birds, and fall migration patterns bring some great birds through the area. Be warned that the mosquitos can be brutal, particularly after the sun sets, until cool fall weather arrives.

The park is located near Crisfield on Alfred Lawson Drive. Open 5:30 a.m. to sunset through November. No admission fee for day use. 410-968-1565, dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/eastern/janesisland.aspx

Pocomoke River State Park, Worcester County

Located in the southwestern part of Worcester County, Pocomoke River State Park is nestled among the 15,000 acres of the Pocomoke State Forest.

One of the main attractions is the unique cypress swamp, which borders the Pocomoke River and is known for its excellent fishing and beautiful water. Explore the trails by renting a rowboat, electric boat, canoe or kayak at the marina.

The park's upland forest and swamp are home to a wide range of animals including bald eagles, river otters and more than 50 species of fish. Anglers can fish in the Pocomoke River or the "Fish for Fun" pond across from the marina parking lot.

There are two sections to the park: Shad Landing and Milburn Landing. Shad Landing offers the vast majority of services, such as the camp store, a swimming pool, boat rentals and a nature center. Both areas offer camping, including year-round heated cabins, but Milburn Landing is the quieter area of the park.

The pool is open to for campers and day visitors for a nominal fee (free for campers and $6 for day-use). The campground is about 40 minutes away from Ocean City, Assateague and Chincoteague Islands and the towns of Snow Hill and Berlin, all of which are considerably quieter in late August and September.

Milburn Landing is located at 3036 Nassawango Rd., Pocomoke City. Shad Landing is at 3461 Worcester Highway, Snow Hill. Open sunrise to sunset. No admission fee for day use. 410-632-2566, dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/eastern/pocomokeriver.aspx

Tuckahoe State Park, Caroline County

SPropescourseTuckahoeWThe ropes course at Tuckahoe State ParkThe park offers a great camping experience with lots of family activities. Twelve miles of mostly flat hiking, biking and equestrian trails are perfect for exploring at a leisurely pace. Tuckahoe Creek passes through the middle of the park and, along with a 60-acre lake, offers boating and fishing opportunities.

Wildlife such as bald eagles, osprey, great blue herons, turtles, beavers and muskrat abound. Adkins Arboretum sits on 500 acres of the park, providing 3 miles of surfaced walkways winding through native woodlands.

The park has plenty of ranger-led activities all summer, including guided canoe and kayak trips. A ropes course with a 40-foot rock wall, tube net, zip line, 50-foot giant swing, and more is open several times a year for public use.

The park is located at 13070 Crouse Mill Rd., Queen Anne. Open daily sunrise to sunset. No day-use fee. 410-820-1668, dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/eastern/tuckahoe.aspx

By Regina Verow

Updated June 2017