Let’s talk about this pandemic and how it’s completely ruined any chance of travel for the foreseeable future. Just kidding, let’s not talk about that. Instead, let’s be a tourist in our own city and explore all of the places we’d never think of going because they’re “too close to home.”
That’s exactly what I decided to do once the weather broke and Pennsylvania was still on the cusp of reopening. During quarantine I created a list of “day trips” from the Pittsburgh area that I wanted to embark on. One of the trips I had planned was Swallow Falls State Park & Deep Creek. I had been to Deep Creek before but had never heard of Swallow Falls which is a shame because I enjoyed it so much more than the former! (Or maybe it’s not shame… maybe everyone should stay at the man-made lake that is Deep Creek and not ruin the natural beauty of Swallow Falls…).
From Washington, PA it’s almost exactly a two hour drive to Swallow Falls State Park. From Pittsburgh it would be about two and a half. The drive was easy until we got into Deep Creek area where our GPS had us turn down some very narrow roads into the heart of the forest where homes had bear-proof garbage cans locked onto their homes. We were afraid that our internet signal may go out causing us to lose the navigation, but fortunately that never happened.
Finally getting to the state park we were met with a toll booth and the ticket price of $5 per person to get into the park. What?! All state parks in PA are free. Aren’t they free everywhere? I thought they were… Apparently not in Maryland. After handing over a credit card and being charged $20 to see some waterfalls (seriously though, even the grandiose waterfalls in Iceland are free of charge to explore!) we parked at the main parking lot with the entrance to the falls trail and were off on our adventure. I have covered the waterfalls in the order that we visited them and as pure coincidence we seemed to have saved the best spot for last.
UPPER SWALLOW FALLS
Our first stop was Upper Swallow Falls which also seemed to be the most crowded part of the park. (Maintain 6 feet distance, please!). This waterfall was a gradual slope that flattened into smooth rocks at the bottom that made for great natural water slides. We arrived at the top of the falls first and then hiked back through the woods, down a
wooded, overgrown area with some footprints and sharp rocks path, and onto the small makings of a beach to gain access to the lower area of the falls. I attempted to venture into the water and swim over to the falls to partake in the water slides but failed miserably with flip flops.
Others started to arrive and took to the slides though and managed to give me a heart attack anytime their head would go under the water. This area of the park was unique in that you could swim at the top of the falls with almost no fear of going over because it funneled into a narrow cascade and then opened up onto the smooth water slide rocks. You could also, as mentioned, swim at the base of the falls and slide down the rocks if you were feeling adventurous.
Perhaps the most unique part of Upper Swallow Falls though was the rock formation to the left of the base of the falls. If you’ve ever seen pictures of the flower pot rocks in the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick then you will have an idea of what this rock looked like. It was more narrow at the bottom than it was at the top. I’m not saying this place looks anything like Bay of Fundy (because it obviously doesn’t), but the one rock did remind me of it.
Overall, Upper Swallow Falls left me feeling pretty underwhelmed. At this point I thought that this was the “main” waterfall in the park and the other three would just be bigger disappointments, but I am happy to say that the exact opposite happened.
LOWER SWALLOW FALLS
Okay, so Lower Swallow Falls wasn’t my favorite spot either. This waterfall is very similar to that in Ohiopyle State Park in PA where you can lay on some rocks, watch and listen to the rapids, and spend a day by the water. Unfortunately there was already a group of people that had claimed the one good lookout spot at these falls so we moved on pretty quickly.
And now we arrive at my favorite spot in the park, Tolliver Falls! This waterfall is the smallest of the four but is very unique in that you can find it back in the woods spilling into a cove where trees and limbs have slowed down the current. There is a very small “beach” here which was a bit crowded with a few families, but that didn’t stop me from going in!
The waterfall itself almost looks fake to me in that the structure of it is perfect- it’s like something you would see in a man-made garden as an accent piece. The falls have rock notches that look like stairs that I suppose you could climb if you were so inclined. The very top of the waterfall is a perfect ledge that some visitors sat on the edge of with their feet dangling off the side. As mentioned, the current here is very slow so there’s no fear of getting swept over the falls- Even if you didn’t I don’t think much harm would be done.
Luckily I had worn my swim suit and jumped right into the icy water coming from the waterfall. It definitely wasn’t as hard to walk here as it was near the base of Upper Swallow Falls. There were some rocks under the water that caused me to stumble a few times but once you got close to the actual waterfall the rocks turned into sand beneath your feet. The coolest part of these falls is that you can stand underneath them. I’ve said before in past blog posts that my favorite kind of waterfalls are the ones that you get close to and interact with.
Looking out at the “cove” and the small beach from underneath the waterfall it looks as though the stream of water ends here when, in fact, it continues down to where Upper Swallow Falls is. Overall this was my favorite part of the park and I decided right then and there that if I lived in this area I would much rather spend the day next to Tolliver Falls than at Deep Creek.
MUDDY CREEK FALLS
I imagine that this is everyone’s favorite waterfall in the park and so because of that I will say we certainly did “save the best for last.” Now before I go into Muddy Creek Falls, I do have to mention that while I was there I was very confused as to how this waterfall could be facing the complete opposite way of the other three. While Upper Swallow, Lower Swallow, and Tolliver all seemed to move in the same direction, Muddy Creek Falls seemed to be facing them. Does this waterfall defy physics? No, I just really needed to look at the park map and see that this waterfall was on a completely different river that emptied into where the other waterfalls were flowing.
So you know how they say “the journey is often better than the destination?” Well, I can see why that’s a thing with this waterfall. Getting to the falls you had to walk on a boardwalk through the forest that made you feel like you were definitely not in Maryland. It made for a good picture, so good in fact that Maryland’s tourism agency asked to use my photo in their future promotions, (ummm, yes!).
Now to the waterfall- it was about 5x taller than any of the other falls in the park and had that “powerfull waterfall” sound that you can hear before it ever comes into view. Unlike Tolliver Falls you would NOT want to try to sit on the edge of the waterfall and dangle your feet over, although that certainly didn’t stop some assholes from doing just that… This is why we can’t have nice things…
After the asshole vacated the waterfall and I was able to actually enjoy the view now that I wasn’t having another heart attack due to human stupidity, it was a fantastic sight. There is an overlook to the side of the waterfall as well as a set of stairs that will take you down to the bottom. If you’re brave enough you can venture out onto the rocks near the top of the falls.
I enjoyed sitting at the bottom of the waterfall taking it all in. Surprisingly, the very bottom of the falls is pretty calm compared to the rush of water that it’s coming from, so I do think you could swim to the base of this waterfall as well. This still wasn’t my favorite part of the park after seeing Tolliver Falls, but it was a close second.
After spending a few hours at Swallow Falls State Park we ventured out and went to Deep Creek where we were reminded that it is next to impossible to access the lake without staying in a house right along the shore. And so we began the two hour drive back home with a new place to tell friends and family that they absolutely must visit.
Because I don’t feel safe travelling many places right now I am planning to work my way down my “day trip” itinerary for the next few weeks. Over July 4th weekend I’ll be visiting my very first National Park, Cuyahoga Valley, in Ohio. (Did anyone else not know that Ohio has a freaking National Park?! Yeah, that kind of park, like Yellowstone and Grand Canyon!) Okay, okay, so I know better than to expect a “Grand Canyon” like sight in Ohio, but I am really looking forward to experiencing a US National Park! Of course, I’ll be writing all about it after my trip. Until then…