Road trips and Getaways Close to Home
Vacation plans scrapped this summer? You aren’t alone. Travel is a tricky affair as international flights are grounded, cruise ships sit empty at the dock, and beach vacations come with possible crowd risks.
But you needn’t wander too far from home to get your travel fix. Bay Weekly offers a few ideas to inspire close-to-home getaways—both day trips and overnight stays.
As with all things during the pandemic, check venues before you go, and bring a face mask along with a sense of (safe) adventure.
Eagles, Gardens and Picnics
A scenic drive bookended by outdoor stops to enjoy nature is the perfect social-distanced day (or overnight) trip. If you plug Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Penn., into your navigation system, you will likely be routed via I-95N. We suggest a slightly longer, scenic route with a few stops along the way.
Instead of I-95, take Route 1 and stop by the Conowingo Dam on the lower Susquehanna River in Darlington. Do it, not just to see one of the largest hydroelectric dams in the country, but to try to spot the bald eagles that fish there. Fisherman’s Park, overlooking the dam, features sweeping views of the Susquehanna and the dam. The area is a nesting site for the eagles and photographers flock there looking to capture the birds in flight. There’s also a fishing pier and walking trails.
Open to visitors daily from 5am to one hour after dusk, the park requires masks and social distancing. Bring a picnic or stop at the popular Cannella’s Deli in Perry Hall to pick up a sandwich to enjoy at one of the picnic tables (www.cannellas-deli.com).
Once you’ve taken in the sites at Fisherman’s Park, continue about 40 minutes north on Rt. 1 to Longwood Gardens. This 1,077-acre botanical garden is filled with gardens, woodlands, meadows and a four-acre conservatory. The conservatory is currently open and there are 400 acres of outdoor gardens and fountains ready for guests to explore.
“Very little is different at Longwood,” says Patricia Evans, Longwood’s director of communications, when asked what’s changed since COVID-19. “Some of our indoor spaces are closed, such as our indoor children’s garden, music room and our outdoor picnic area.”
“Our 30-minute illuminated fountain performances set to music are returning at 9:15 pm on Friday and Saturday evenings,” Evans says. “On the horticulture side, our waterlily display is a must-see as well as the Flower Garden Walk brimming with colorful annuals and perennials.”
Longwood offers picnic totes in two sizes for purchase (pre-order only). A snack picnic tote serves 2-4 and features cheeses, crackers, fruit, chicken salad, hummus, chocolates, water and lemonade. The family picnic tote is a little more substantial, and there is also a couples’ picnic tote with wine, cheeses, crackers, a baguette, macaroons and more.
Longwood is open FSa 10am-10pm, Su-Th (closed Tu) 10am-6pm, $25 w/discounts: https://longwoodgardens.org/
“We have limited capacities, so guests should buy tickets ahead of time online to ensure availability,” Evans says.
Consider staying overnight to visit Longwood Gardens over two days—you won’t see the same spot twice. Try the Hilton Garden Inn Kennett Square (www.hilton.com), The Inn at Montchanin Village & Spa (www.montchanin.com) or Brandywine River Hotel (www.brandywineriverhotel.com).
Save time for a trip to Two Stones Pub (www.twostonespub.com) down the street, which has some of the best wings we’ve ever tasted—and offers a well-regarded Sunday brunch.
— Krista Pfunder
Southern Maryland in Centuries Past
Staying close to home doesn’t have to be boring if you are open to a road trip that takes you back in time.
Historic St. Mary’s City, an hour and a half south of Annapolis, recently announced the re-opening of its visitor center, living history sites and gift shop. Open W-Su 10am-4pm, the 800-acre outdoor museum interprets 17th century life in Maryland’s first capital.
Costumed guides engage visitors with stories of Mathias de Sousa, Maryland’s first legislator of African descent, and Margaret Brent, the first woman to petition for the right to vote. The Godiah Spray Tobacco Plantation re-creates life on a working colonial farm. The Woodland Indian Hamlet features buildings and crops typical of a Native American village.
Paved paths are wheelchair and stroller friendly. Pack a picnic lunch as the immediate area offers limited dining options.
Historic Sotterley, another historic gem in St. Mary’s County, boasts picturesque grounds and over 20 authentic buildings interpreting 300 years of history. Visitors are invited to explore the grounds M-Sa 10am-4pm, Su noon-4pm. The Visitor Center is now open on weekends and guided tours with a limited capacity (and mandatory masks) are offered. The 1701 Manor House remains closed, but bring your binoculars and expect to see native wildlife along the scenic Patuxent River.
Herring Bay by Boat
Looking for a great getaway by boat? Point yourself toward Herring Bay on the western shore of the Bay, between the West and Patuxent rivers.
Chesapeake Bay Magazine’s Cruising Editor Jody Argo Schroath highlights this area among the many in the magazine’s Weekends on the Water, coming out in August.
Rockhold Creek is home to Herrington Harbor North, half of one of the largest and most luxurious marinas on the Bay, and home to the Bay’s largest collection of skilled marine contractors. Herrington North even has its own West Marine. The other half of Herrington Harbor, by the way, is located at the bottom end of Herring Bay.
Rockhold Creek is lined with marinas large and small, fancy and down-home, along with a couple of very popular dock bars and a large fleet of charter fishing boats, many of which cleverly make their home at one of those very popular dock bars.
So why are we sure you’ll want to visit Herring Bay and the little town of Deale? Because you can fish some of the Bay’s best waters, either on your own boat or with one of the charters. You can spend the weekend relaxing at one of Herring Bay’s marinas, The Inn at Herrington Harbour (South) or Hidden Harbor’s Anchored Inn, sampling seafood and meeting a whole new set of soon-to-be friends. Or as Shipwright Harbor’s Jed Dickman puts it, “It’s a wonderful, ideally located spot, where you can find everything you could possibly want.”
— Jody Argo Schroath
Comforts of Home—On Wheels
Is there anything more iconic for the Great American Road Trip than an RV? Many are embracing the RV life this summer. A home on wheels, your RV means exploring new territory without having to find a sanitized hotel that’s open. Instead of spending your nights in a crowded campground or parking lot, why not park your camper in a lush vineyard or a pastoral farm? Membership clubs like Harvest Hosts (www.harvesthosts.com) allow you to spend a night for free at wineries, breweries, distilleries, farms and gardens in their network. For a $79 annual fee, you get access to over 1,000 locations across the country—and plenty in the DMV region.
Known as “boondocking,” these overnight stays offer no electric or water hookups. But the tradeoff is an Instagram-worthy view without being squeezed into a booked-solid campground.
Most National Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management sites are also free for camping. A great resource to find places like these is Campendium (www.campendium.com/maryland/free-camping) which lists everything from rest stops and travel stations to forests and campgrounds where you can park for free.
Mountains & Wildlife in Frederick County
Looking to get away from the heat? If a night spent under the stars in a tent appeals to you, state and national parks are plentiful within a day’s drive of Chesapeake Country. In less than two hours, you can be swimming in a lake, hiking to a waterfall or just enjoying the great outdoors in Frederick County.
Surrounded by the beautiful Catoctin Mountains, Cunningham Falls State Park is home to Maryland’s highest cascading waterfall. A hiking trail and a short walking path both lead to the falls and there are plenty of other hiking trails of various difficulty levels throughout the park. William Houck Lake is a popular spot in the summer with its sandy beach and swimming opportunities. Boating, fishing, and picnics are also popular here. The park is a great place to see lots of native Maryland wildlife. Right now the popular aviary and Manor Area visitor center are closed to the public. Overnight accommodations at Cunningham Falls include campsites, some electric, and camper cabins.
Catoctin Mountain Park, part of the National Park Service, offers a wealth of wildlife, wildflowers, historic buildings, hiking trails, scenic drives, camping, and fly-fishing. Spend the night in one of the CCC-era historic cabins in Camp Misty Mount.
You have many options for nearby activities: visit the Monocacy National Battlefield, explore the trails of Catoctin Mountain Park adjacent to the highly-secure presidential retreat of Camp David, or head to the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo. The Zoo offers rides in an open-air truck through habitats of emu, zebra and bison. If you would rather stroll at your own pace, the zoo offers walking paths surrounding over 450 exotic animals. Camel rides and parakeet feedings are among the other fun activities available to visitors. (Open daily thru Sept. 7, 9am-4pm weekdays, till 5pm weekends, $22.50 w/discounts, https://catoctinwildlifepreserve.com/).
Cap off your trip with a visit to South Mountain Creamery dairy farm for a tour of the working farm. Watch the cows being milked, feed the calves, then sample fresh products —including ice cream. It is, after all, National Ice Cream Month! (https://www.facebook.com/smcdairy)