Muddy Creek Falls
Ratings : Power - Beauty - Ease of Access -
At 52 feet high, this waterfall is labeled as the highest waterfall in Maryland. Of course, this is contested by Cunningham Falls in Cunningham State Park in Frederick, MD, which claims 78 feet as its height. The problem grows more involved when you consider how a waterfall's height is measured. Cunningham Falls consists of a series of somewhat disassociated short cascades while Muddy Creek falls in one drop.
Regardless of which one is truly taller, Muddy Creek Falls can probably be correctly labeled as the most impressive waterfall in Maryland, especially in high water when both sides of the falls are full. In lower water, the falls flow mainly over the right side of the falls (facing upstream). The ledge on this side has been shaped into a semi-circle from the centuries of water flowing over it, breaking down the cliff side into several step-like cascades which stagger the plunge. When the water grows high enough to allow the left side to flow, however, the falls take on a new character as a fifty foot sheet of free-falling water covers the sheer cliff side. Because water only flows over the left side of the falls in high water, the ledge on this side is still straight and comparatively unworn. The right curved ledge is wider than the straight left ledge but in the right water conditions, the entire cliff is covered with water from one bank to the other. Below the falls, Muddy Creek's channel deepens and widens somewhat but there is no real 'pool' because of the swift-moving waters. Muddy Creek continues for a quarter-mile or so before it flows into the Youghiogheny River.
The beauty of Muddy Creek Falls is possibly greatest in the spring when the cascades cover the entire cliff side. Combined with the hemlocks that line the banks of the creek, the waterfall has the intimacy and grace of a waterfall on a small mountain stream while still maintaining the power of a big river waterfall. This combination makes it worthwhile for anyone to visit.
One thing that makes this waterfall so interesting is that it is simple to view. The trail to the falls leads off from the parking lot at one end and is short, flat and well-marked, although it does fork once (take the left fork). After about .2 miles, it reaches the top of the waterfall. From here, a wooden staircase goes to the bottom of the falls. The staircase isn't directly next to the falls but nonetheless provides excellent views and photographs of the falls from the side. Below the falls, the trail continues to loop around back to the parking lot. There are several well-worn points at which it is easy to go off the trail a few steps to a clear frontal view of the falls. Often at these viewpoints, you will be buffeted by waves of spray caused by the powerful cascades when Muddy Creek is full, making it difficult to photograph but incredible to just experience. In lower water, however, these frontal views may be the best way to see the parts of the falls still flowing.
Although Muddy Creek Falls is worth visiting on its own, there are three other waterfalls easily accessible on the property of Swallow Falls State Park. Although nowhere near as impressive, the other main waterfall also gives the state park its name : Swallow Falls, which is on the Youghiogheny River. Below Swallow Falls is Lower Swallow Falls which is no more than a glorified rapid. Also on the property is the petite Tolliver Falls which flows on a small tributary to the Youghiogheny. All four falls can be viewed on a loop trail which starts at the parking lot.
The only downside of this waterfall is the popularity. On nice weekends, the place will be packed with people and cars. Even summer weekdays may be fairly busy. Plus, fees are charged mostly during the summer so it may be worth visiting this park in the early spring when the crowds are at a minimum and the water levels are full enough to make Muddy Creek Falls as impressive as it should be. If you do happen to go on a busy day, the park is fairly large and once you get out of the crazy parking lot, it's a little more peaceful.
One interesting historical note : the park claims that Thomas Edison and a few of his famous friends camped out at Muddy Creek Falls at one point. A plaque at the top of the falls shows where they camped.
Total distances : Parking lot to falls : .2 miles over easy terrain
Other Nearby Waterfalls : Swallow Falls, Lower Swallow Falls, Tolliver Falls
Muddy Creek Falls from the front in high water
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