Natural Getaways: Hidden gems within vast network of state parks
Maryland is often celebrated as America in Miniature for its widely-varied landscape, which is unusual for such a small state. From the rolling hills of the western panhandle to the tidal creeks of the Eastern Shore to the crashing waves of one of the nation’s finest beaches, Maryland offers something to delight everyone.
Among our prized possessions is our network of 75 state parks, each one a sanctuary of stunning beauty that highlights the unique diversity of our environment and natural resources.
All of our parks provide visitors with the opportunity to unplug from day-to-day life and connect with nature through a variety of activities—biking, boating, camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, hunting, swimming—the list is virtually endless.
Most Marylanders live within 20 minutes of a state park, whether it be a bucolic getaway in the midst of urban centers, like Patapsco Valley and Seneca Creek, or a tranquil mountain retreat like Deep Creek Lake and Greenbrier. So, we have whatever flavor of getaway that you need.
If you’re like many of our visitors, you tend to have a favorite park that is your go-to destination. Consequently, some of our more popular parks tend to fill up quickly and early in the day, especially on summer weekends.
Not to worry, though; this provides you with the perfect opportunity to take the road-less-traveled approach and discover some hidden gems among Maryland’s parks that tend to go unexplored by the masses!
Cedarville State Forest in Charles County is the perfect oasis for those looking for peace and quiet.
This tranquil sanctuary is located at the headwaters of the Zekiah Swamp, an unspoiled haven for wildlife and visitors alike, featuring nearly 20 miles of marked trails. These trails wind through the loblolly pine plantations—planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s—and past the clear springs and streams deep in the forest that were used by bootleggers during Prohibition to make moonshine, for which Southern Maryland was famous.
Besides an excellent trail system, Cedarville offers youth group camping, family campsites and even equestrian campsites. And a 4-acre pond, stocked with bass, bluegill, catfish and sunfish, makes for a relaxing day of fishing! This is the perfect destination for those looking to avoid crowds.
Maryland summers are notoriously muggy, making an escape to the mountains particularly appealing. Greenbrier and Cunningham Falls are conveniently located in Frederick County at the gateway to Western Maryland, just an hour from Washington D.C. and Baltimore, which makes them extremely popular destinations. But nearby Gambrill State Park is an oft-overlooked treasure, making it an ideal summertime destination when nearby parks are busy.
Perched on the ridge of the Catoctin Mountains, Gambrill’s Appalachian charm is immediately palpable to visitors seeking a rustic experience. The park itself is divided into two recreation areas: High Knob and Rock Run. High Knob towers above the valley floor, offering stunningly breathtaking views of the Frederick and Middletown valleys, and even the northern Shenandoah, from any one of three stone overlooks. This area also offers a number of wooded picnic areas, pavilions and the Tea Room, a stately native-stone lodge built over 70 years ago, which has become popular for family reunions, weddings and other special events. Rock Run offers an intimate family-style campground with a small fishing pond, which provides lively action for even the smallest of anglers.
If you are a serious bicyclist or hiker, Gambrill’s 16 miles of trails are the challenge that you have been looking for—most of the trails are rated moderate to difficult—but the amazing views at the tops of the trails are all the reward that you need! For visitors with children or those who are not up to the rugged challenge, the White Oak Trail is a beautiful, but effortless, 1-mile loop.
If the Eastern Shore beckons you, as it does for most, Maryland offers a dozen parks and natural resource management areas from which to choose. If you’re a camper, you are most likely familiar with Assateague, Elk Neck and Pocomoke, all of which are extremely popular. But Tuckahoe State Park, just 30 minutes east of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, not only offers an amazing array of activities, but is relatively quiet, even in peak-season.
Tuckahoe has it all: wooded marshlands, streams, 20 miles of trails, a 60-acre lake for boating and fishing, Scales & Tales demonstrations, a ropes and rock climbing challenge course and much more! This is one of our most family-friendly parks with myriad activities to keep everyone occupied. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent to give visitors access to a pristine nature setting filled with beavers, eagles, herons and muskrats. Mountain bikes are also available for rent so you can zip through the self-guided tours on the trails. To wind down after a busy day, your family can play some disc golf on a 18-hole course. Tuckahoe is the go-to park for the active family!
This summer, venture off the beaten path and discover the hidden treasures of Maryland’s state parks. For every Patapsco Valley, Sandy Point or Seneca Creek, there is a quiet, out-of-the way park just waiting to be explored!
Article by Tim Hamilton—Maryland Park Service business and marketing manager. Appears in Vol. 21, No. 3 of the Maryland Natural Resource magazine, summer 2018.