My kids and I have taken on a scavenger hunt challenge sponsored by a local nature center. It has a list of 25 things to find in nature this summer and on the list is a waterfall. It made me realize that I hadn’t taken the boys on an official hike before. So a group of moms and I planned a trip to Patapsco Valley State Park on the border of Baltimore and Howard counties to hike to Cascade Falls.
We all did our thorough mommy-research, looking up home-made tick repellent on Pinterest and sharing articles written by other moms about the hike. We learned how easy the hiking trail was and that young children should be able to navigate it without much assistance. The authors gave specific directions on where to park and the easiest route to the falls. We all felt super prepared! We just forgot two minor details — a map and the fact that none of us are very experienced hikers. Our easy little hike became quite an adventure pretty quick.
The part of Patapsco Valley State Park that we visited is made up of three main areas — Avalon, Orange Grove and Glen Artney. When I first entered the park from South Street, we drove under a really cool stone arch railroad bridge known as the Thomas Viaduct. In the Avalon area, we passed by a large playground and picnic area before following a long winding road into the Orange Grove area. It was such a peaceful drive, shaded by trees with the sound of the rushing river beside the road. Once in Orange Grove, we parked directly across from the swinging bridge at the entrance to the Cascade Falls Trail.
There were four moms and a total of seven kids, ranging in age from 2 to almost 5. I had my boys in shorts, T-shirts and Crocs on their feet because the articles mentioned water to splash in at the base of the falls. In hindsight, better hiking shoes would have been smarter.
The beginning of the trail looks pretty daunting, with a fairly steep incline that is scattered with small rocks and pebbles. We read about this in the articles so we trekked on, holding tightly to the hands of our little ones who were sliding on the loose rocks and yelling after the older ones who were recklessly running ahead.
The trail soon became narrow, and I almost had a heart attack watching our older kids stumble over tree roots and rocks, coming dangerously close to steep drop-offs along the sides of the trail. But before we knew it, we heard the sound of rushing water and were suddenly faced with the trail crossing over a stream. We all looked at each other bewildered, not quite sure howto get our kids across. There were large boulders, slippery rocks and a few logs that created access to the other side.
So like the stubborn determined mothers we are, we created an assembly line of women positioned along the logs and on top of rocks, passing one child at a time across. The kids loved it, of course. Once across we all soaked in the beauty of the falls. My boys quickly shed their shoes and were splashing in the small pool of water.
We stayed for quite a while, enjoying this refreshing cool spot. A few groups of hikers passed through, but overall the area wasn’t very crowded. After discussing our options, we decided to continue on. So again we held little hands tightly and proceeded to climb up the steep path that ran alongside the waterfall.
At the top, the trail split into two and we quickly discovered that no one brought a map and most of our cell phones were out of service range. After hiking a few minutes, we decided to double back since the trail seemed to go further and further into the woods.
With the assistance of a group of teenagers, we trekked back across the water, again passing each child. Once safely back in the parking lot, we ventured across the swinging bridge over the Patapsco River where again, my heart stopped a few times as the older kids got too close to the sides and leaned out over the rushing water below. This led us to the remains of an old flour mill and a working railroad track. On this side of the bridge, we noticed a few trails that led down to the calm river where families were splashing in the water. This definitely seemed like a better choice for young children than the daunting Cascade Falls Trail we just trekked.
We wrapped up our adventurous day with a picnic and time on the playground back in the Avalon area. There were numerous picnic tables, shelters and public restrooms. The kids loved running across the open meadows and hearing the loud whistle of a passing train.
We agreed that the hike was a major accomplishment, and we all deserved “super mom” capes. But we would settle for great memories, tuckered out children and the oh-so rewarding act of checking the “waterfall” off on the scavenger hunt list.
Cost to enter Patapsco Valley State Park is $2 per in-state vehicle on weekdays and $3 per person on weekends. Kids in carseats are free. Visit the Patapsco Valley State Park website for details.
Click here for more information on the Cascade Falls Trail and other hikes to waterfalls.
Mandy Watts is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Crownsville with her husband, Justin, who runs their family business, and their two sons, 4-year-old James and 2-year-old Luke.