The Best Easy Hikes In Maryland That Are Perfect For Kids!
The Best Easy Hikes In Maryland That Are Perfect For Kids!
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These are some of the best easy hikes in Maryland that would be perfect for your kids and get them excited to be in nature!
I think it was the sharp ascent from the bottom of the trail head that tricked me.
For years my husband and I had visited the Orange Grove area of Patapsco Valley State Park but we had never tried to hike the trail to Cascade Falls. Why not? Probably because I still remembered the lactic acid burn from strenuous hikes in Yosemite or the Adirondacks in years past.
If you are an avid hiker you know what I am talking about.
The feeling of your quads screaming, your heart thumping so hard you think it might come out of your chest. But you always persevered because of the pay off– an amazing view, a refreshing waterfall, or just the knowledge that you conquered that high peak.
But when we moved to Maryland I probably got a little too doughy in the middle and I just didn’t feel the urge to tackle a strenuous hike on a Sunday afternoon, especially in the hot, muggy, Maryland summers.
Then, a few years ago I read that the hike to Cascade Falls is actually quite short, not really very steep, and totally wonderful. So, one Sunday afternoon we tried it with our almost 2-year old. I was admittedly very skeptical as we leaned into the first hill. However, my daughter held tight to my finger and as we started up, an elderly couple descended.
It turned out to be one of my favorite short hikes of all time. The initial hill quickly gave way to a gentle flat slope and once you rounded the second bend in the trail, you were a mere 5 minutes from what is probably the most relaxing waterfall experience in the Baltimore-DC area. Cascade Falls spills into a shallow pool before tumbling down a short tributary and dumping into the Patapsco River below. Around the pool are fallen logs and boulders that previous visitors have fashioned into a makeshift amphitheater. We sat and enjoyed the waterfall for a good long time, my daughter tossing rocks and pebbles into the pool and giggling with delight.
I loved the fact that this amazing hike was doable for such a young child. There are actually quite a few Maryland hikes that are perfect for families with young kids. Here are 7 of our favorites.
1. Cascade Falls and Patapsco Valley State Park
If you have young kids, you really can’t do better than a day trip to the Orange Grove Area of Patapsco Valley State Park (you can read my in-depth review of Patapsco Valley State Park here). The entire hike to the waterfall is probably less than 1/2 mile (one-way) and the waterfall is really lovely.
There is plenty of parking at the trailhead and a nice restroom facility as well. Once you conquer this waterfall with your kids, walk across the road and walk across the river on the very cool swinging bridge. Once on the other side, there is the paved, wide, and mostly flat Grist Mill Trail, which is a lovely walk any day. There are lots of places to access the river from this trail and your kids will have a blast hunting for nature treasures and throwing rocks in the river.
On your way out of the Orange Grove area of the park, park near the two enormous picnic pavilions long enough to let your kids play on the playground. Then, before you head home, drive South on Route 1 for about a mile and stop at Cindy’s Soft Serve for some soft ice cream or a snowball.
Click here for the website for Patapsco Valley State Park.
2. Cunningham Falls
Another fantastic hike for small children is the hike to Cunningham Falls in the William Houck Area of Cunningham Falls State Park. From the parking lot at the trailhead (don’t park at the beach. Keep driving and the parking lot you want will be on your left), the hike to the waterfall is about 1 mile, so 2 miles round trip. This is labeled the Lower Falls Trail. There is a more strenuous hike, but I can’t vouch for little legs traversing that hike well. I can report that when we first tried the Lower Falls Trail, my daughter was 3 years old and she had a blast.
The hike is quite easy and the payoff is a gorgeous 78-ft waterfall that cascades into a deep pool that is full of swimmers in the summer months. Yep, you read that correctly. This trail is very popular when the weather is nice and on the weekends. When we visited, there were many families who made the short journey to the foot of the falls, and then stripped down to their swimsuits, scaled the boulders and jumped into the pools. We didn’t swim, but it was fun watching!
If you visit Cunningham Falls State Park in the summer months, I would highly recommend visiting during the week because there is a very popular beach co-located with the trail to the waterfall. Many beach-goers walked from the beach to do the hike as well.
Cunningham Falls is lovely year-round though. I would highly recommend checking out the park and waterfall during peak fall foliage time (early October typically).
Click here for the Cunningham Falls State Park website.
3. Kilgore Falls
The Falling Branch Trail to Kilgore Falls is another fun hiking option for young kids. this 1.3 mile loop, located inside Rocks State Park in Harford County would make a fantastic beginning or end to an epic family day trip. Kilgore Falls, which is the 2nd highest free-flowing waterfall in Maryland, was the scene for the movie Tuck Everlasting, so you know it has to be beautiful. (note: I don’t have a photo of the waterfall in its glory because my phone crashed and I lost most of the photos… but the photo above is from the trail. It is a beautiful hike).
We thoroughly enjoyed our hike to the waterfall, and even scaled the rocks to see the waterfall from the top. Our strategic miscalculation though was not bringing water shoes so we could ford the shallow water to the other side of the river (which has better views of the waterfall). If you plan a visit, bring water shoes and a change of clothes!
If you want to make a day trip out of your visit there are a few super fun options nearby. In the spring and summer I would highly recommend a visit to the Ladew Topiary Gardens, which is about 10 minutes away from the Falling Branch area. If you time your visit for September, you could also catch the totally glorious Clear Meadow Farms sunflower fields. (click here for my in-depth review of the sunflower fields).
One of my absolute favorite places in Maryland is Flag Ponds Nature Park. Located in Calvert County, this lovely park is not as highly trafficked as some of its neighbors. However, the beach is pristine and the hike to the beach is much more doable for little legs. From the parking area to the start of the beach area, the hike is about 1/2 mile. Getting there is easy.. it is downhill. Hiking back is more challenging for little legs because it is almost all uphill. However, my 3-year old made it back no problem, and after a busy day of playing.
The hike meanders through a beautiful forest area, with a few other trails that don’t lead to the beach. Just before you get to the beach, there is a restroom facility and changing area, as well as a shower and hose off area (important for when you are leaving). The beach itself is gorgeous and when we visited, pretty empty. Like its neighbor, Calvert Cliffs State Park, you can hunt for shark’s teeth and other treasures, or just play in the sand and splash in the water! You can read my in-depth review of Flag Ponds here.
You could seriously spend all day at Flag Ponds but there are other fun options for your family if you wanted to have an epic day trip. About 10 minutes down the road (south), the Annmarie Sculpture Garden would delight your kids with fun play options and numerous ongoing opportunities to create art. Click here for my in-depth review of the sculpture gardens. Also, the Calvert County Maritime Museum is super fun for kids, with activities such as visiting a lighthouse, petting rays, playing with sea otters, and other fun kid-friendly activities.
For the Flag Ponds Nature Park website, click here.
5. Rocky Gap State Park
If you are interested in camping with your young kids, Rocky Gap State Park is a great place for first time campers (read my in-depth review here). We first took our daughter when she was barely 2 years old and she loved it! Regardless of whether you go for camping or want to access the day use area, Rocky Gap State Park has a couple of short hikes that you kids will love.
The Touch of Nature Trail is a very short, flat 1/4 mile walk to the lake. There are of course many treasures your kids will love exploring, but for a first hike, you can’t get much easier than this.
The Canyon Overlook Trail is also 1/4 mile long (1/2 mile total). It is an actual trail and a bit steeper than the Touch of Nature Trail, but the pay off is a gorgeous view of the canyon. Both hikes were super fun and a great way to introduce little legs to hiking.
If you are staying overnight at Rocky Gap State Park, there are really a ton of family fun options including a playground, nature center, and beach (the beach for campers is private/not accessible by day use visitors).
Ahhh, Centennial Park. Centennial Park, which is situated in Howard County, is such a gem. On any given morning, walkers, runners, and bikers use the 2.6 mile loop trail to get in their daily exercise. You really couldn’t ask for a better location either. The paved loop trail hugs the lake and meanders through wooded areas, over bridges, and past open fields.
2.6 miles might be long for little legs but, then again, they might not notice since the lake and park are so beautiful. One option we use is to park at the parking lot near the playground, and then do an out and back walk, instead of walking around the entire lake.
Oh yes.. there is a ginormous playground (no swings though) that you will want to make time for if you visit.
Centennial Park is the perfect place to go with a picnic lunch and a few outdoor toys. Enjoy the wide open space and beautiful scenery and just have fun with your kids!
If you are looking to round out your day with another activity, Clark’s Elioak Farm is only about a 5-minute drive away from Centennial Park. Clark’s Elioak Farm is geared to younger kids and you could spend a few fun hours here for sure. Click here to read my in-depth review of the farm.
The Robinson Nature Center in Howard County is another favorite family fun spot. The nature center is a good idea for families with young kids pretty much any time of the year. (click here to read my in-depth review of the nature center). However, when the weather is nice, there are numerous trails on the nature center property that young kids would enjoy.
My favorite trail leads to the Patapsco River. Visitors are encouraged to creek stomp in the river to cool off in summer months (bring a change of clothes and water shoes!). This particular part of the river is very relaxing and lovely.
The Robinson Nature Center is located smack dab in the middle of Columbia. Nearby activities to round our your day trip could include anything from a visit to a trampoline park, to a matinee movie at the Columbia Mall.
So, there you have it–7 totally fun Maryland hikes that are perfect for families with young kids!
If your head is now spinning with ideas for fun family trips, don’t forget to sign up to get your FREE Family Fun Planning Guide, as well as weekly local fun tips and tricks!
8. Swallow Falls State Park
Swallow Falls State Park is EPIC! Seriously, this is now my favorite Maryland State Park! There are 4 (!!!!) amazing waterfalls in a very kid friendly hike that is less than 2 miles long!
The Canyon Trail is the main trail. Once you walk through the main gate sign, you can veer right or veer left. Trust me… go to the right. Muddy Creek Falls is a quick walk to the left, but if you want to see all four waterfalls (you do), going right will not only take you to all of them (Tolliver Falls can be a little tricky to find), but for the most part you will be doing the hike all downhill instead of all uphill. Also, you start with the shortest and end with the biggest falls.
Tolliver Falls is really gorgeous. Saying it’s a small waterfall is kind of dismissive. It’s beautiful and pours into a pool of water that would be great for splashing around in the summer.
If you do the Canyon Trail counter-clockwise you will hit Tolliver Falls, then Lower Swallow Falls. Continue your hike along the river. There are spots you can walk up higher above the river, but we loved taking the river side trail. There are plenty of places to walk down to the river and see the falls, etc… from different angles.
Maybe the rain contributed to the impressiveness of the falls, but we loved Lower Swallow Falls as much as Upper Swallow Falls. The water was sooo powerful! As you hike along the trail, the rock formations are just super impressive too.. as is the 300 year old Hemlock grove of trees. Super fun to explore! Finally, the piece de resistance! Muddy Creek Falls does not disappoint. Wow. It’s so powerful. Check it out from below and up top!
There is a wheelchair accessible viewing platform at the top of Muddy Creek Falls! This is super cool! If this applies to you, you can drive much further into the park, and take the nice boardwalk trail (wheelchair friendly) to the viewing platform. I was really impressed with this.
About 10 minutes away from Swallow Falls State Park is a super cool and relatively unknown (although that’s changing) place affectionately called the Rock Maze. Check. This. Out! It’s an explorer’s play land!! And yes, it really is a maze! Basically, you hike out about 1/2 mile through a pretty but relatively non-descript forest trail. Then BAM! You come up on all these boulders that seemingly were dropped in the forest by mountain trolls thousands of years ago.
Drop a pin in your starting point because you will very easily get lost. Don’t worry.. no one has ever stayed lost. But there are so many nooks and crannies to explore, you can get turned around. Tall person alert!– the brush overgrowth around the outskirts is very low… my tall husband was not a fan of the low crouching to get through it. Lol. Anyway, this is not the place to lose sight of your kids. … because you might lose sight of them for a while!
Check out the vegetation though! The way the trees have grown up over the boulders is absolutely fascinating and really lends an aura of mystery and excitement to the experience.
The trailhead for the Rock Maze is not well marked but it’s not unmarked either. Use the address below and when you get there, look for a small parking area. The trail is well worn and obvious, but apparently not well marked to discourage overuse by mountain bikers. The hike out to the Rock Maze is basically flat and even little kids can easily do this. There are zero facilities here. Go potty before you head out!
Address (plug this into GPS):
3739 Snaggy Mountain Rd
Oakland, MD 21550
10. Ft. McHenry walking trail
Check out the spot where our National Anthem was penned! ‘O, Say Can You See…’ The is a National Park so make sure your kids snag their Junior Ranger booklet from the Visitor Center. In the summer the Fort McHenry Guard provides cannon and musket firing demonstrations, fife and drum performances, and period games and demonstrations. And of course, don’t forget to commemorate Defender’s Day (13-14 September)!
As for hiking goes.. this is more of an urban walk with incredible views of the harbor. The walk around the ground is about .9 mile round trip, right on the water, and basically flat. In the spring time, the cherry blossom trees are amazingly gorgeous!
This is a really nice area of Gunpowder Falls State Park that is not as busy as some of the other areas. It is a large area and straddles Baltimore and Harford Counties.
There are quite a few doable hikes for families in this area. The Barley Pond Loop starts from the back left corner of the parking area and is a 1.7 mile loop trail. If that’s too long for little legs, just walk to the pond and back… probably less than a mile.
You can also cross the road from the parking area and access a number of short loops like Pine Loop, Boundary Trail, and Cody Jean.
Various parts of the Sweet Air Loop (3.1 mile round trip) go along the Little Gunpowder River, which is nice.. especially on hot summer days! Another nice feature is throughout this area there are fun and inspirational nature quotes. Try to find them all!
12. Jerusalem Mill Village Trails/Little Gunpowder Falls
Jerusalem Mill Village is a living history museum that is part of the Gunpowder Falls State Park system. There is so much here for kids and families. There are fields and meadows for kids to run in, there are tons of short trails families would love, and great places to play in the water of the Gunpowder River. Really, for hot summer days this place can’t be beat!
Jerusalem Mill Village was a small Quaker community in the 1700’s and many of the historic building still stand. You can visit (depending on when you visit outside or inside) the Miller’s House, Merchant Mill, Blacksmith Shop, Mansion, McCourtney’s General Store, and more!
When you visit don’t miss the short hike to the Jericho Covered Bridge! The bridge is gorgeous and there are plenty of places to stop and dip your toes in the river on the way there! Also, you can plus into the Little Gunpowder Trail from the parking lot of the village.
This park in the middle of an urban neighborhood and is such a fantastic park for families.
Our favorite trail is the Blue Trail, which brings you down along the river. This trail is a supreme adventure! You can stay up top for a while and follow the well marked trail or you can do the trail by the river and go creek stomping and boulder scrambling. Eventually, you have to cross the river to continue on the trail… so wear boots or bring water shoes!
The hike is about 1 1/2-2 miles round trip but it isn’t a straight hike because you will want to explore.
Tip: Definitely take a photo of the trail map because the blue blazes might still get you a little lost and you will need to refer to the rap to figure out how to get back on track. You won’t get lost… but you will want the map as a reference point. We ended up getting off track and took the yellow trail back to the parking lot.. which worked fine.
There are two playgrounds near two parking areas, numerous picnic pavilions, and ball fields.
North Point State Park is an excellent park that is on the water and has great kid friendly hiking trail options. It is also rich in history and when the visitor center is open, they have exhibits on the park’s role in the War of 1812.
In the mid-forties, this park was the Bay Shore Amusement Park and the trolley from that park has been converted into a pavilion picnic area. There is also a nice fountain that is turned on seasonally.
The views here are great and you can walk out pretty far on the fishing piers. There is also a small beach that is a great place for sand and water play.
The other part of this park that is pretty great are the kid friendly trails that are both along the coast and in the marshland. The Wetlands hike is very short and very kid friendly, with some interpretive signs that ask questions about the wildlife in the area.
Patapsco Valley State Park has a great area that is relatively less popular, but soooo cool! Check out this dam and the ruins! No swimming at this dam! But you can easily get to the water and just enjoy it.
The trail along the river is pretty short and very easy for kids. I know there is a trailhead to a longer trail… didn’t do that. And young kids in particular can totally handle this part of the area. Not a castle but there are some ruins on this side of the river from the old town of Daniels. The rest of the ruins are on the other side of the river.. accessible with the longer trail.
The hike isn’t long but bring water shoes or a change of socks because you definitely have to cross the stream(it’s very shallow) to get there. Correction: you could walk along the road until you get to a metal gate and then walk up the back part of the cave and down… but fording a stream is a lot more exciting.
If you decide to cross the stream, follow any of the trails until you get to the fork in the trail. On your way you will see ruins to your right.. random stairs. It’s pretty cool! Keep going and beer right when the trail forks. You will see a switch plate. Follow the switch plate.
Camel’s Den Cave
After you visit the dam, don’t forget to check out the Camel’s Den Cave! The trail will actually take you up to the other side of the river from the cave. There are tons of boulders and large rocks so just find out where you want to cross abs scramble down and across with your kids! The cave is really cool… it’s small, but seriously .. the perfect place to make up a fantasy story or dream up an adventure! The entire walk is less than 1/2 mile round trip!
Very kid friendly but not stroller friendly.. at all. And there are zero facilities here. So go potty before you hit the trail!
The Cylburn Arboretum off of Greenspring Avenue is just really fantastic. The grounds are sprawling and there is so much open space to run and play and enjoy seeing the trees and other plant life. There are over 20 individual gardens and some of the coolest old trees I have ever seen. The arboretum is a fantastic place to check out cherry blossoms, magnolias, and azaleas every spring!
There are 3 1/2 miles of woodland trails on the ground of the Arboretum. The Woodland Trail is an easy .4 miles. The Azalea Trail (which you can combine with the Woodland Trail) is .3 miles long.
Jug Bay Natural Area is the headquarters for the Patuxent River Park. This is a really unique natural area that is an outdoor paradise!
When we visited we hiked the Marsh Boardwalk trail and the Otter Trail.. about 2.5 miles overall… and mostly flat except a few staircases. It’s really such a unique hike.. as it is either right above the marsh or on an old railroad track bed.
This is a wildlife sanctuary and there are tons of birds around. Bring your binoculars!!! We also saw frogs, and an old otter dam.
The part of the hike that’s on the marsh is pretty sunny, but most of the hike is in shade. There are QR code’s throughout the hike with a virtual guided tour commentary and activity suggestions.. super cool for kids!
Stroller friendly? No. There are steps. Toddler friendly? Maybe— the marsh Boardwalk doesn’t have rails.. so if you have a runner I might not choose this trail… yet. But otherwise it’s very doable and kid friendly. The visitor center is currently closed but there is a port a potty in the parking lot.
Elk Neck State Park in North East, MD is a treasure. The most iconic part of the park is the Turkey Point Lighthouse. The Turkey Point Lighthouse trail is a 1.9 mile loop trail (or you could do out and back directly from the lighthouse). If you do the loop trail, you will find numerous waterfront picnic and small beach areas. It is really such a lovely place to spend the day!
The other super kid friendly area is the North East Beach Area. The beach is a very popular day use area where you can swim, have a picnic, or launch a canoe or kayak. There is also a small playground.
Outside there is a lot to explore too! There are numerous trails that are the perfect length for little legs. And there is an awesome nature playground with all kinds of features to promote both imaginative play and safe risks. Your kids will go nuts here!
A recent addition to the nature center trails is an amazing Forest of Hope– painted trees.. and a lot of them. They are really whimsical and fun! To access this forest, combine the Marble Quarry Loop and the Miner’s Trail for a .6 mile loop at begins and ends at the nature playground.
Cromwell Valley Park is really such a gem. There are numerous kid friendly hikes abs nature walks that lead from the parking area. Just take a look at the map or grab a kids activity guide and figure out where you want to explore first!
If you choose to follow the signs for the lime kiln you are in for a double treat! Not only is the impressive lime kiln only about 1/4 mile from the parking, along the way there are numerous pull outs along the river that would be perfect for splashing on a hot summer day. I even saw wild blackberries!!
There is so much to see, do, and explore at this part of the C&O Canal!
Located at the juncture of the Conococheague Creek and the Potomac River, Williamsport is the only place on the canal where examples of major canal structures can be viewed within a half-mile stretch. This is a great area to park and either bike, walk, or scooter on the C&O Canal Towpath!
When you think of the Billy Goat Trail you might immediately discount it for young kids. But don’t!
There are three sections of the Billy Goat Trail you can explore and Section C is perfect for young kids!
Section C: The easiest section of the trail and appropriate for younger kids. It is a 1.7 mile loop trail with some rock scrambling involved. It has awesome views of Great Falls and the wildflowers are amazing in the Spring.
23. Assateague National Seashore
There is hardly anything more iconic and completely unforgettable to do in Maryland than go see the wild ponies at Assateague National Seashore.
Apart from trying to find the horses and just enjoying them, there are other fun things to do at Assateague as well. Of course, swimming and hanging out at the beach is a big one. You can actually camp on the beach… which is super cool.
There are also a few short, kid friendly hikes. Life of the Dunes hike is a 3/4 mile loop. Life of the Forest Trail is a 1/2 mile loop, and Life of the Marsh Trail is a 1/2 mile loop.
The biggest reason to visit Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park is to walk the Underground Railroad Experience Trail. This trail is part of the National Park Service National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program.
There is no evidence that the owners of the manor participated in the Underground Railroad, but the trail was built in 1998 to show what life would have been like for people seeking freedom. There are regularly conductor-led experiences from April-October.
Seneca Creek State Park is an absolutely stunning park your family will have a blast exploring. The centerpiece is the 90-acre Clopper Lake, which is lovely to explore by boat or by land.
There are numerous picnic areas to enjoy as well. Note: You can’t swim at Clopper Lake.
You can rent a boat and get out on the lake, or you can hike the 4 mile perimeter trail that takes you around the lake with some amazing views. Park at the Kingfisher Overlook for easy access to this trail.
Make sure to visit in the fall when the reflection of the fall foliage on Clopper Lake is stunning.
Seneca Creek State Park is home to one of three or four recycled tire playgrounds in Maryland. Honestly, the park is worth visiting for this playground alone. Kids will love climbing on the tire dragon or traversing some of the tire balance beams.
From the Queen Anne’s County website: “This award-winning 276-acre nature park features a 3.25-mile oyster chaff walking trail, which meanders through wildflower meadows, wetlands, tidal ponds, woodlands and sandy shore line. The trail provides a unique vantage point for viewing an incredible variety of waterfowl, wildlife and plant species.
Note: You can visit the beach and it’s a prime spot to watch the sunset. However, swimming is no longer allowed in order to protect the fragile ecosystem.
Washington Monument State Park is named for the first completed monument dedicated to the memory of George Washington. The Washington Monument is a rugged stone tower that was initially erected by the citizens of Boonsboro in 1827.
The hike/walk to the Washington Monument is very easy… probably less than a mile. You can also extend your hike by getting on the Appalachian Trail. This is an easy hike with a great view!
Loch Raven Reservoir is incredibly beautiful and offers quite a few easy hikes for kids. You can go for a short 1 hour hike, bring a picnic and hang out by the water, or even rent a kayak!
Merryman’s Mill Lower Trail Loop
This trail is a 1.9 mile loop and is very popular with hikers of all levels. This is by the water and can be steep but overall fun for kids. There are lots of chances for them to scramble of trees and such.
29. eden mill nature center
The Eden Mill Nature Center and Historic Grist Mill Site has so much to offer families! They offer 117 acres of outdoor activities from short hikes to sensory hikes along the river. You can visit the dam (or the waterfall as your kids will call it), and have a lovely picnic! Their 3+ miles of loop hiking trails are geared towards kids and families.
For families, they offer easy canoe trips (where they provide everything), a preschool nature series, owl prowl (in the fall), a super fun nature storybook art program, and more!
Don’t forget to stop into the nature center itself. There kids can explore with many of the fun, hands on nature exhibits, see some local animals, and everyone will enjoy taking a self guided tour of the old mill!
Beverly Triton Beach Park is a small park at the edge of the Bay on the Mayo Peninsula. The beach park, as you can guess by the name, has a lovely beach with super amazing views of the bay. This is a great spot to watch the sunrise/sunset.
This beach is considered a natural shoreline and is not considered a swimming beach. That being said, visitors can wade in the water.
The beach park also has picnic facilities and trails. There are about 5 miles worth of hiking trails and the area is home to ospreys and other birds and wildlife.