Exploring Maryland’s Savage River State Forest: Night Sky Photography locations

The following is a wonderful guest post from Vanessa Hill, describing her back road mini-adventure to Maryland.  She explores the scenic landscapes of the state’s Savage River State Forest, and also takes her first out-of-state foray into Astrophotography. 

I’ve been feeling recently like my photos are getting repetitive.  Looking over my catalog, I noticed I have developed a collection of “usual spots.”   I primarily seem to frequent Ohiopyle State Park, Allegheny National Forest, Lake Erie, Coopers Rock State Forest in West Virginia, and my own little 2.5 acre plot of woods.   While these are all amazing places to explore the woods, I decided to mix it up a little.  I had some constraints:

  1. Somewhere my husband will drive to without much grumbling.
  2. Somewhere dark enough to get the last bits of Milky Way this year.
  3. Somewhere that might be equally gorgeous in the daylight.

I pulled up a light pollution map (desktop) (phone app) and started poking around.  That lead me a mere two hours south to the Savage River State Forest in Maryland.  I picked out a couple of places on the map and planned a night trip to capture the stars, and a day trip to capture the landscape.   On Saturday afternoon I headed out toward my hotel in Maryland near Deep Creek.   I happened to be passing the RT. 40 overlook near Summit Inn right after sunset, so I stopped for a few pictures.

Night Sky Photography – Equipment Guide:  Click HERE
Night Sky Photography – Basic Steps:  Click HERE
The best back road in Maryland:  Click HERE

The Scenic Overlook on Route 40 south of Uniontown PA, photographed at nightfall

Night Sky Photography at Savage River State Forest

The winding trip from Deep Creek to the Savage River State Forest was impressive even at night.  I knew right away the route would be excellent for a ride during the day.   Going into the forest on Dry Run Road and then Savage River Road were perfect scenic routes.   But I do have to express caution for the motorcyclists out there.   The roads are smooth, twisting and fun.    They are also very narrow; the mountains and woods seem to want to reclaim them.  They contain sharp bends and some hairpin turns, many of which have barely a full lane to navigate through the turns.

After arriving in Maryland, I let a couple of hours pass so I did not have to contend with any light left in the sky from the sunset.  I first stopped in a clearing in Bear Pen Run State park for pictures of the stars.  I could hear fast-moving water from a creek or river rapids.   I probably could have lit a fire in the available fire pit (it was 19 degrees out), and spent my night in that spot.  However, I still wanted to make it over to Savage River State Forest that night to get more shots.

Trees in Savage River State Forest Maryland create silhouettes in front of the stars and Milky Way

My next stop was to the Savage River Reservoir North Boat Launch.  There I was able to get a gorgeous shot of the center of the Milky Way and the Seven Sisters.  Our time in Savage River State Forest was a success!

blue and white stars shine in the night sky near the Milky Way over Savage River State Forest Maryland

The next morning we got up and headed back to our spot in Savage River State Forest where I took my night-time shots.  I had heard the sound of water over rocks in both locations.   I was dying to see them in the day light.   I also had a little side trip in mind for the route home.   The first stop was to Bear Run.   There was a nice park with a pavilion, a fire pit… the usually stuff.   I was determined to find the water I heard, though.   I didn’t have to look hard.   I found a path wide enough for my husband to follow me with his Tacoma, and I am glad he did.

Sunlight reflects off Maryland's Bear Run through a tree near Savage River State Forest in Maryland
Bear Run State Park, MD

While I was taking the photo below, I stepped onto the hillside bordering the stream, to try and see if I could clear the trees from my path.   The hillside started to give, and my husband grabbed hold of me just before I fell into the freezing cold stream on a 25 degree morning.

Sunlight and blue sky shines through the mountains over Bear Run Creek near Savage River State Forest in Maryland
Bear Run State Park, MD

After we left Bear Run, we headed for the Savage River North Boat ramp.   The road to the boat ramp just barely met the definition of the road.  It could fit a vehicle and a boat down.  The ramp was just the hillside slopping into the river.  The view was beautiful.  I wish I had caught it a few weeks sooner when more trees have brightly colored leaves.

dead and dried sticks lay on a mossy bridge shoulder near savage river state forest in Maryland in early fall
Most of the leaves had already fallen by the time we arrived

Savage River Boat Ramps

Savage River Reservoir map, near Savage River State Forest in Maryland

The heart at the top of the map is southern point in Bear Pen Run state park.   We followed road around the Savage River Reservoir to the North Boat Ramp.  When my husband said, “What next?”  I asked to go to the South Boat ramp.

The trip around the reservoir made me grin from ear to ear.   I love the woods, and it is difficult for me to not be happy when I am in them.   The area was heavily wooded, with occasional peeks through the trees to the water.    When we got to the South Boat Ramp, we found we weren’t able to access it; it was already closed.  When my husband asked what was next, I replied, “Lets follow this road and head over to the North Branch Potomac River.”  I mapped a route to a point on the North Branch called Waffle Rock.

A narrow creek rushes through barren trees in Savage River State Forest in early winter
A river runs through it?

Just past the South Boat Ramp I spotted an underwater spring flowing down and freezing on the side of the rock face on the opposite side of a one lane bridge.   Just before we hit the bridge I yelled, “Pull over!!!!”  …which was met with a “Where! It’s only one lane!”

I told him to let me out and drive on until he found a spot to turn around.   Lucky for me: 1) my husband indulges my insanity and after more than 20 years just kind of goes with it and 2) there was a place just on the other side of the bridge..which I should have spotted…because the bridge was teeny.

underground water spring flows and freezes on the face of some rocks in Savage River State Forest Maryland
A flowing underwater spring freezes in the late fall chill.

We followed Savage River Road enjoying more sites along the way, until we met up with Route 135.   From there we continued on Route 46 (a road that is definitely not for motorcycles.  In some places it was just a stretch of asphalt so deteriorated it was gravel) into West Virginia.    Now, depending on whether you are in Maryland or West Virginia the North Branch Potomac River (Maryland) is also called Rudolph Jennings Lake (West Virginia).   We left Route 46 and got onto Rudolph Jennings Road.   To my lament, the gates to the dam and Waffle Rock were closed.   I was sad; I really wanted to see why it was called Waffle Rock.   There was a park that leads into the woods, and a trail down to Shaw Beach was accessible.   I stopped and took a few more photos.

From there we headed home.   I fell asleep in the truck, as I always do on the rides in the car lasting more than an hour.   My husband woke me at Yough Lake.   I love going over the bridge and looking out at the water.   It was the perfect ending to a very enjoyable trip to Savage River State Forest.

US Route 40 bridge over Yough River Lake in Pennsylvania
The US Route 40 bridge over Yough Lake

Vanessa Hill is an amateur photographer who enjoys the great outdoors. She developed an interest in photography after purchasing a camera and taking courses to learn how to use it.
Ever since that moment, she spends her free time looking for the next big adventure.


  1. Quite an enjoyable tour. It’s nice because I can see if without having to actually go. At 82, some things are appreciated more when they are second-hand. Thanks for posting it, Scott and thanks to Vanessa Hill for taking the beautiful photos, and to her husband for putting up with her wanderings,

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