Swallow Falls State Park: Kid Friendly Guide
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! Check out this kid friendly guide to Swallow Falls State Park!
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Swallow Falls State Park Overview
Swallow Falls State Park is not a super large park, but wow does it pack a punch! It is nestled into the mountains of Western Maryland, 9 miles north of Oakland, MD. The Youghiogheny River runs through the park and is really the centerpiece. The main trail loop runs along the river, taking visitors through a gorgeous hemlock grove, beside the river with four waterfalls, and along impressive rock formations.
The most famous waterfall, Muddy Creek Falls, crashes over the intersection of Muddy Creek and the Youghiogheny River. The entire hike is gorgeous, but Muddy Creek Falls is easily one of the most beautiful sights in Maryland.
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History of the Park
Swallow Falls State Park was formed in 1906 when the Garrett brothers donated over 1900 acres of land to be used as a state forest. The park officially became a state park in the 1930’s.
A number of famous people have actually camped at Swallow Falls State Park. Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone have all camped at Swallow Falls State Park. There is a plaque commemorating their visit near the top of the Muddy Falls.
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The Canyon Trail is the main trail. The entire loop (including Tolliver Falls) is only 1.25 miles. This hike is really easy, even for younger kids. There are some hills, but mostly the hills are stairs down to the river and also at Muddy Creek Falls.
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.
Once you enter the trail, you will be surrounded by a giant hemlock grove. These sleepy giants are incredibly tall and some of the trees in this grove are almost 300 years old!
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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 first and there are signs that guide you to the falls. Note: Tolliver Falls is a spur off the main loop so you will need to follow the signs for it and then back track to get back on the main Canyon Trail.
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Upper Swallow Falls
From Tolliver Falls, get back on the Canyon Trail and fairly soon you will reach the stairs down to Upper Swallow Falls.
Upper Swallow Falls is really impressive. Once you get to the bottom of the stairs you can walk right out to the top of a rock formation cliff. Be careful with little kids because there are no rails.
However, your kids (and you) will be thrilled with this view. You can get a fantastic view of the top of the falls cascading over the rocks. You can also explore further up from the falls, as there are numerous rock outcroppings to explore.
If you are lucky, you might even see some adventurous kayakers navigating the rapids!
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River side trail or upper trail?
Once you walk back up the stairs part of the way, you can turn right and follow the trail along the river. Or, you can continue walking up the stairs to take a higher trail. I would definitely continue your hike along the river.
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. Plus there are tons of rock formations kids will love climbing on and other natural wonders to entertain everyone!
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Lower Swallow Falls
The first time we visited Swallow Falls State Park it was spring and raining. Maybe the rain contributed to the impressiveness of the falls, but we loved Lower Swallow Falls as much as the Upper Swallow Falls. The water was sooo powerful! You can really get a close look at the waterfalls!
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As you hike along the trail, the rock formations are just super impressive too. There is a riverside rock overhang that is jaw-droppingly impressive.
There are plenty of bouldering opportunities for kids in this area too!
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Muddy Creek Falls
Finally, the piece de resistance! Muddy Creek Falls does not disappoint. Wow. It’s so powerful. Check it out from below and up top! Muddy Creek Falls has a 53ft cascade and is so gorgeous!
At the base of the falls you can walk out on rock formations and get some great photos.
Along the side of the waterfall there is a staircase with great views of the falls along the way.
At the top of the falls there is a viewing platform as well. You can technically walk out into the river above the falls. But be careful with kids (and yourself). The rapids can get run rather fast.
Related: Kid Friendly Guide to Rocky Gap State Park
Swallow Falls State Park is Wheelchair Accessible!
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. The view of Muddy Creek Falls from this platform is actually really fantastic.
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Camping and other amenities
You can camp at Swallow Falls State Park! There are 65 wooded campsites that can accommodate tents or RVs. And there are 3 camper cabins you can reserve for a touch of family glamping. Camper cabins come equipped with electric heat, microwave, small folding table and chairs, mini fridge, one double bed, and a bunk bed.
The 1.25 mile Canyon Trail loop, which takes you to 4 waterfalls, is rated easy and is great for visitors of all ages. Part of the trail (the path to the top of Muddy Creek Falls) is wheelchair accessible.
There are 4 waterfalls in Swallow Falls State Park: Muddy Creek, Tollliver, Upper Swallow, and Lower Swallow Falls.
Absolutely! This is one of the most kid friendly state parks in Maryland!
Yes, there are public restroom facilities next to the parking area. If they are closed, there are also port-a-potties for visitor use.
Address: 2470 Maple Glade Rd, Oakland, MD 21550
Google Map Directions here.
Day-use Admission Fee:
Saturday of Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day: Maryland residents $3/person; out-of-state residents $5/person
Tuesday after Labor Day to the Friday before Memorial Day: Maryland residents $3/vehicle: out-of-state residents $5/vehicle
Weekends in May, September and October: Maryland residents $3/person; out-of-state residents $5/person
March through October: 8 a.m. to sunset
November through February: 10 a.m. to sunset
Click here for the website and to make camping reservations.
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In order to maximize your visit here are a few of our best tips:
- Arrive early. Honestly, if you can I would highly recommend arriving before 10am. If you can’t arrive before 10am, I would strongly encourage you to push your trip off until later in the afternoon (like 430/5pm). You will still thoroughly enjoy Swallow Falls State Park if it’s crowded, but the parking lot is not large and it will fill up quickly in the mid-morning.
- Don’t be afraid to visit in the rain (or snow)! Both times we visited Swallow Falls State Park it was raining– in the Spring and in the Fall. But the rain wasn’t horrible and the forest shields you from much of it. We had a fantastic time hiking in the light rain!
- There is no cell service. The website mentions this and I can confirm that you will likely not have cell service. So if there is a place you want to visit after Swallow Falls State Park, I would recommend downloading the map to use offline before you head out.
- Bring snacks and plenty of water. Even though the trail is not long, you will still want to bring water. And a snack afterwards is always a good idea!
- Bring a change of clothes and shoes. I mean, it’s a hike right next to the water. If your kids like to scramble they could get a little wet. Prepare ahead and bring a change of clothes!
- Don’t forget to do the loop counter-clockwise. Really, most people make a bee-line to Muddy Creek Falls. You will have a much more pleasant experience if you start with the smaller waterfalls first.
Make a Day of It!
I mean, the entire Garrett County and Deep Creek area is fantastic! However, Swallow Falls State Park will not take a ton of time. Even if you linger and play along the river, you will spend maximum 2-3 hours here. Here are a few ideas for what to do in the afternoon of your day trip!
- Start your day with a great breakfast at either Englanders (in downtown Oakland) or Little Sandy’s Restaurant (on Garrett Highway).
- After your Swallow Falls Adventure, if you want more outdoor fun, check out the Rock Maze Trail. It’s only 3.5 miles away. It’s also a super easy hike and has a crazy awesome pay off! Address: 3739 Snaggy Mountain Rd, Oakland, MD 21550
- Herrington Manor State Park is also only 10 minutes from Swallow Falls State Park. Here you can hike. But the main draw is the lake! You can hang out at the beach or rent a kayak or canoe and explore Lake Herrington.
- If you want some indoor fun, there are a number of arcades in McHenry (where Deep Creek Lake is located). Our top picks would be Deep Creek Fun Zone or Funland. Both of these places have mini golf, arcades, and more.
- If you want some history, head to downtown Oakland and check out the Oakland B&O Railroad Museum or the Garrett County Museum of Transportation. Both are really fun for kids and parents!
- If you want more adventure, check out Wisp Resort. Obviously in the winter there is skiing and snowtubing. However, in the summer you can ride the mountain coaster, take the chairlift to the top of the mountain, or challenge yourself to the adventure course.
- Where to eat for dinner? Our top picks for dinner would be Brenda’s Pizzeria (the best pizza ever!) or Mountain State Brewing Co.