Take a dip at Cunningham Falls State Park

An hour’s drive north of Washington, DC takes you to the swimmer’s paradise of Cunningham Falls, along the base of the Catoctin range and within spitting distance of Camp David. This is among our favorite easy hikes for kids.

Cunningham Falls from above
Cunningham Falls from above

After paying the $7pp entry fee (pro tip: put all your kids in booster seats and they’ll get in for free), you’ll follow the traffic to the main parking lot for the picnic area along the lake. Walk to the top of the lot to pick up the lower falls trail.

Chilling on a hammock about halfway up Cunningham Falls
Chilling on a hammock about halfway up Cunningham Falls

After less than a mile of easy walking, the trial will open up to a boardwalk to the base of the falls. Few people stay on the boardwalk, instead walking directly to the base of the falls and climbing up the gradual rock surface of the falls to the top.

Within the falls are a number of small grottos and natural bathtubs. None is big enough to swim, but all will offer a refreshing dip in the cool mountain waters.

Where to swim at Cunningham Falls

The beach at Cunningham Falls State Park
The beach at Cunningham Falls State Park

If your appetite for swimming has not been sated, walk back down the trail, through the main lot to the lake. There you’ll find two beaches with lifeguards and open swimming. The lake bottom is sandy up until about waist deep, and then it turns to soft mush. By then you’ll be swimming, though, because the water is bathtub warm in the summer.

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