Patapsco Valley State Park – Ellicott City, MD

Disclaimer:  Caution must be used at all times as natural hazards exist at Patapsco Valley State Park.  Please play wisely and follow the applicable state guidance for travel and safety considerations.

Patapsco Valley State Park is located just west of Baltimore near Ellicott City, Maryland. The park is very large and encompasses a lot of the land surrounding the Patapsco River. There are many unique sites to see in this park.

Swinging Bridge
Swinging Bridge

Some of the unique features of this park include a creek with several waterfalls and small cascades. There’s also a swinging bridge, ruins of an old town, and a viaduct. There’s plenty of picnic areas with individual tables and pavilions to rent.

One of Many Picnic Areas at Patapsco Valley State Park
One of Many Picnic Areas at Patapsco Valley State Park

Cascade Falls Trail

We visited Patapsco Valley State Park to hike along the Cascade Falls trail, which will be the focus of this post. The Cascade Falls trail is located in the Orange Grove area of the park. However, the entrance to this area is considered the Avalon area. There is a small fee to enter these areas. We paid $2 for our entire carload, so be sure to have some extra cash on hand.

After a winding drive from the park entrance, you’ll arrive at a fairly large parking lot, restrooms, and a large picnic shelter. Parking at either end of this long lot is close to the Cascade Falls Trail. If you enter the trail at the far end of the parking lot, go to the paved road and immediately go left at the sign for the Cascade Falls trail.

Trail Head for Cascade Falls
Trail Head for Cascade Falls

Patapsco Valley State Park Waterfall Hike

The Cascade Falls trail is a fairly short (maybe 1/3 of a mile) walk slightly uphill to the first waterfall. I was only expecting one waterfall, Cascade Falls, but there are actually several small waterfalls along this hike. The first one is a narrow falls.

First falls on the Cascade Falls Trail
First falls on the Cascade Falls Trail

If you hike down to the bottom of the first falls, there is a secret, very narrow fall hidden beside the bigger one. It’s on the left side of the falls. You can easily miss it if you don’t explore a bit more in this area.

Tiny Waterfall at Patapcso Valley State Park
Tiny Waterfall at Patapcso Valley State Park

This first small waterfall is not Cascade Falls. Another 200 feet on the trail will take you to Cascade Falls. One of the unique features of this waterfall is that there’s a small, shallow pond at the bottom of it. It’s possible to walk right up to it and feel the water. This is often difficult to do with larger waterfalls.

Cascade Falls at Patapsco Valley State Park
Cascade Falls

After admiring Cascade Falls, don’t miss the area above it. There’s a set of rock steps on the other bank of the creek, which lead another scenic area. A small falls that runs smoothly down a large rock is another short walk after Cascade Falls. This small falls also has a shallow pond in front of it.

Small Waterfall above Cascade Falls
Small Waterfall above Cascade Falls

We ventured a bit further on the trail, but decided to head back after the trail leaves the creek side. We saw a total of three waterfalls on a very short, less than a mile out and back trail. It’s a great hike for kids, as it’s short, with a lot of fun water features and rocks.

Swinging Bridge

After the hike to Cascade Falls, don’t miss the swinging bridge. It’s located about 100 feet from the other end of the parking lot. You can easily see it up river if you’re parked at the far end of the parking lot. It’s easy to access from the road in front of the restrooms.

While it’s called a swinging bridge, I’ve been on bridges that move a lot more than this one. There’s a slight movement as you walk, but it was easy for my kids to navigate. We walked to the other side of the river and read about the history of the mill that once stood there. Other trails are also accessible from the other side of this bridge.

Swinging Bridge at Patapsco Valley State Park
Swinging Bridge at Patapsco Valley State Park

Patapsco River

The parking lot at the Orange Grove area has several entrances to the Patapsco River. There’s also picnic tables and a pavilion for rent.

Patapsco River
Patapsco River

Tips for Visiting Patapsco Valley State Park

  • Bring water shoes with good tread to help with hiking around the falls area.
  • Bring bug spray and sunscreen.
  • Picnics can be enjoyed at the trail head along the river.
  • Be sure to have extra cash on hand, as there is an entrance fee to the park. We paid $2, but that’s subject to change. There was a person taking the payment when we visited on a Friday, but at other times it may be on the honor system. Be sure to have the correct change in case there’s no one to break a larger bill.
  • If you have extra time, check out the many more areas and trails around Patapsco Valley State Park.
  • Become familiar with the park map before venturing out.
  • Be sure to use the entrance in the park to the Cascade Falls trail head. It’s a much shorter hike. There’s another Cascade Falls trail head across the road from a neighborhood where our GPS initially directed us. There’s barely any parking there, and the hike is probably three times as long to get to the falls.

Looking for more State Parks?

Check out – Swatara State ParkOhiopyle State ParkRicketts Glen State Park, Trough Creek State Park, and Rocks State Park

Post Author: karenbeth24

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