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.
The 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.
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
Located in the Appalachian Mountains, Greenbrier State Park offers families a great getaway during those last hot days of summer.
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
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
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