How to Reach 'Peake' Vacation Mode in Maryland
With its mountains to the west, sandy beaches to the east, and historic cities in between, Maryland offers a varied geography no matter the season. What really sets it apart from the rest of the country though are the many unique things you can find only here.
With borders touching four other states – Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, as well as Washington, D.C. – Maryland is an easy drive from many Mid-Atlantic cities. And once you’re in state, you’re never very far from anything as it is only 110 miles in length (or about 2 hours to drive across).
Read on to see why Maryland should be included in your summer plans.
Water, water, everywhere
The Chesapeake Bay is at the heart of Maryland, in ways that are geographic, as the nation's largest estuary separates the Eastern Shore from the rest of the state; cultural, with a long history of seaside towns and maritime traditions; and culinary, which we'll touch on in just a bit. The Chesapeake shoreline combined with its tidal tributaries total 11,684 miles, which is more than entire U.S. West Coast.
Take a ride with the Chesapeake Bay Storytellers, certified tour guides trained by the Maryland Office of Tourism and the National Park Service; they provide water-based tours via skipjacks, charter fishing boats, ferry boats, and kayaks to teach people about the bay’s history, nature, ecology and, of course, its lighthouses. If you’d rather explore the bay by land, visit some of the quintessential towns like Annapolis, Solomons Island and St. Michaels on the Great Chesapeake Bay Loop, and talk to locals who still have the accents of their ancestors who settled the region 300 years ago. This year’s Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week (June 5-12) includes both virtual and in-person events.
But it's not all about the Bay. On the Atlantic side of the Eastern Shore sits Ocean City, which has more than 10 miles of sandy family-friendly beaches perfect for sunbathing and swimming that bring many visitors back every summer. Don’t forget to buy a tin of Fisher’s Popcorn and bring its caramel goodness to the beach as well, a local tradition since 1937. The boardwalk is also home to Trimper’s Rides of Ocean City, founded in 1890 and the oldest continuously family owned and operated amusement park in the world.
Just eight miles away from Ocean City is the entrance to Assateague Island, a 37-mile long barrier island owned by both Maryland and Virginia. (Maryland has the northern 2/3 of the island.) Famous for its wild horses and beautiful beaches, the island is also a virtual outdoor playground of verbs with places to swim, kayak, bike, camp, fish or go crabbing or clamming here.
A visit to Maryland isn't complete without eating some blue crabs as these world-famous crustaceans help put the state on the map. What makes Maryland's crabs so delicious is that they hibernate over the winter, which allows them to build up fat reserves, known as the mustard, which is what gives them their highly celebrated delicate texture and buttery taste.
While you are in Maryland, savor all the seafood that the state has to offer, including its oysters and fresh fish. On the Crab & Oyster Trail, you can explore restaurants and seafood markets across five regions of the state. If your dates line up, there are also a few events you could join while visiting, including the Saint Mary’s County Crab Festival (June 12), the Potomac Jazz & Seafood Festival (July 9-12) and the Chesapeake Crab, Wine & Beer Festival (Aug. 7). In the fall, there’s the Maryland Seafood Festival in Annapolis (Sept. 25-26) and the U.S. Oyster Festival in St. Mary’s (Oct. 16-17). If you really want to get your feet wet, join a watermen heritage tour, where you will work the lines with real oystermen and pull crab pots with people who have been doing it for generations.
Maryland is home to the only Guinness brewery in North America. Opened in 2015 and 10 miles from downtown Baltimore, the site stretches almost 62 acres and even has a protected pre-Civil War graveyard on its grounds. While the iconic stouts — Guinness Draught, Guinness Extra Stout and Guinness Foreign Extra Stout — are still brewed in Ireland, the four Maryland-brewed beverages are the Guinness Baltimore Blonde, Guinness Over The Moon Milk Stout, Guinness Wide Mouth Wide Ale and Guinness IPA.
Ice cream got its start in America in Maryland when Governor Thomas Bladen first served strawberry ice cream in 1744. For the ultimate summer treat, hop on Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail, which links 10 dairy farms, each offering fresh cow-to-cone experiences along the way. Another sweet treat that originated in the middle of the Chesapeake (and is actually the State Dessert) is the multi-layered Smith Island cake, essentially a few pancake-thin layers of yellow cake separated by fudge icing, whose recipe dates back to the 1800s.
The summer is the best season to explore Maryland's outdoors -- both on land and sea. From 1831 to 1924, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (C&O Canal), nicknamed the “Grand Old Ditch”, primarily brought coal from the Allegheny Mountains to Cumberland, Maryland. Today, that 184.5 mile trail located along the north bank of the Potomac River brings adventure. During the spring, summer and fall, the National Park Service offers an authentic canal experience where folks can hop aboard a replica packet boat, The Charles F. Mercer, at Great Falls, and be pulled along by mules.
Maryland’s diverse lands include 13 state parks with tidal waterfront and eight state parks with recreational lakes, such as Deep Creek Lake, the state's largest. At Rocks State Park in Jarrettsville, you can enjoy the scenery at Kilgore Falls (Maryland’s second highest waterfall) or climb the King and Queen Seat, a 190-foot-high rock outcrop overlooking Deer Creek. Take in the views while mountain biking at Tuckahoe State Park in Queen Anne's County. Serious cyclists, listen up: the C&O Canal National Historic Park is part of U.S. Bicycle Route 50; as part of the continuous 330-miles bike route between Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh, the C&O Canal Towpath connects to the Great Allegheny Passage and intersects with the Appalachian Trail. Bird-lovers will appreciate the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County, established in 1933 as a sanctuary for birds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway, where visitors can go fishing or paddling while taking in the wildlife.
If you prefer your adventures while driving, skip the highways and head for the state's scenic byways. Drive 143 miles on single-lane country roads in Central Maryland to check out country vistas and farmland. Follow the 66-mile escape route of John Wilkes Booth around southern Maryland or traverse the 125-mile Underground Railroad trail along the Eastern Shore to explore the secret network of waterways and safe houses.
Maryland's location at the center of the East Coast makes it a state rich in historic sites and storytelling. In the years leading up to emancipation, a hotbed of Underground Railroad support grew in Maryland. The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center and State Park commemorates the life of the native abolitionist. Follow in the footsteps of Frederick Douglass with a driving tour of places that shaped him, starting on the Eastern Shore and going through Annapolis and Baltimore.
Travel back in time by visiting Civil War sites like the Antietam National Battlefield, Monocacy National Battlefield and Point Lookout State Park. Or visit the National Museum of Civil War Medicine where you can discover the harsh conditions soldiers and surgeons faced and learn the brilliant innovations of Civil War medicine.
While the War of 1812 is often overlooked by historians, the echoes of those bombs bursting in air during the 25-hour bombardment of Fort McHenry and its stubborn American defenders still ring out today in the words of our national anthem. Take a water taxi from Baltimore's Inner Harbor to see the historic fort as part of the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, which includes other key sites in and around the city.