For teachers and students, March is a long month of educational engagement. For public school students, such as my own, there are the relentless statewide norm referenced tests that make students weary-eyed. For these reason, I love getting out of DC on spring break with my family. For many years, we have explored Chincoteague and Assateague Islands with its miles of long, wide beaches to walk and play on, tidal marshes to explore wildlife, trails to hike to find horses and birds, bike trails for a different point of view and ice cream at the Island Creamery.
This year, my family opted for the mountains of western Maryland and the shores of Deep Creek Lake. Due to some rainy weather, we spent more time than usual reading, playing games and watching movies indoors. However, the weather didn’t stop us totally from adventuring in the parks and on their trails in Maryland and West Virginia. On our hikes, we ventured to the highest point in Maryland, heard and saw the roar of the Youghiogheny River, saw views of Deep Creek Lake and scrambled amongst rocks above the Cheat River. We experienced the wild and wonderful of Appalachia.
Backbone Mountain – Just inside West Virginia, we hiked 1.1 mile up Backbone Mountain to highpoint in the state of Maryland. Highpointing each state is a goal obtained by few hikers. As you can image, some peaks are harder than others (if you can find a peak in Delaware). The trailhead for this 2.2 mile out-and-back hike is off Route 219 between Oakland, MD and Thomas, WV. The hike starts in West Virginia and highpoints in Maryland.
Blackwater Falls State Park, WV – The highlight of this park is the 62-foot waterfall on the Blackwater River in Blackwater Canyon. The waterfall is easy to view by walking a quarter mile from the trading post on asphalt and staircases to the base of the falls. To increase time spent in the park, we hiked a two-plus mile out-and-back hike on the rim of the canyon to its apex with a fork in the Blackwater River. The hike started on the Pendleton Trace trail to the Dobbin House trail and lastly the Pase Point trail that leads to a rock outcropping high above the canyon floor. Along the trail, we passed through a lowland bog, deciduous forest and thickets of rhododendron which beautifully bloom in mid to late May. Blackwater Falls State Park offers families multiple lodging options from camping, cabins and their lodge.
Deep Creek Lake State Park, MD – After the rain cleared, I took a solo hike with our dog Fern in Deep Creek Lake State Park in the late afternoon. We started at the headquarters parking lot and hiked a 3.6 mile circuit, gaining approximately 500 feet of elevation, on the Meadow Mountain trail. Along the way, we past the campground, Brant Mine ruins and hiked up and along the ridgeline to the summit where the fire tower is located. To end the circuit, we hiked back down the mountain on the Indian Turnip trail.
Swallow Falls State Park, MD – After a foggy, chilly morning, we did an amazing circuit hike on the Canyon trail through a catherdral-like hemlock forest to the first waterfall on Muddy Creek. From the trail, we could feel the spray from the 53 foot waterfall, the highest in Maryland. The trail bends where the Muddy Creek dumps into the Youghiogheny River. The trail runs beside the wild Youghiogheny, passed the lower and upper Youghiogheny falls. Before completing the circuit, we stopped at an awesome swimming hole on Toliver Run . Alongside the creek is a great wall of rocks where my son bouldered for a bit.
Coopers Rock State Forest, WV – On the last day of our vacation, the rain was steady but I was determined to visit this park because I had heard the rocks were fantastic. They are! Before hiking the Rattlesnake trail, we took in the view of the Cheat River and Morganton on Coopers Rock. The Rattlesnake Trail is a .7 must-do trail in Coopers Rock offering a moderately challenging hike over rocks for kids. The Rattlesnake trail connects with the Rock City Trail to return to the parking lot next to the concession stand. Beside the concession stand is a large playground for added fun and picnic tables for an outdoor feast.
All four parks offer campgrounds for families to stay for longer than a day’s hike to explore the wilds and often unseen corners of each park. Furthermore, Blackwater Falls and Deep Creek Lake have nature centers where kids and parents can learn about the flora and fauna in the park. Each one has its unique natural landscape offering families a variety of activities during the four seasons all within an hours drive of Deep Creek Lake. If your family hasn’t explored Western Maryland, its time to put it on your wish list.