Follow a historic trail blazed over the centuries by adventurers, settlers and heroes.
America's first national highway follows a trail used by George Washington as a route to link the bustling port of Baltimore with the interior of a fledgling nation. You can still trace its historic route, beginning amid the skyscrapers and attractions of Baltimore's downtown and Inner Harbor and then traveling west along Frederick Road (Route 144) toward a museum celebrating a different chapter of transportation history, the Ellicott City B&O Railroad Station Museum. Stop for coffee or an early lunch in this historic mill town of shops and eateries in century-old buildings nestled among rocky cliffs, then enjoy a living-history program about Colonial times and life along the National Road at Thomas Isaac's Log Cabin (1780).
Head west through small towns, across country creeks and up gradually rising mountains until you approach Frederick, where the National Road travels through the heart of the city's historic district. Stop to see Francis Scott Key's law office, browse the numerous antiques shops, or visit St. John the Evangelist, the second oldest consecrated Catholic Church in America (and one that continues to make history, considering the discovery of a diary written by a Civil War soldier on an obscured portion of the church's wall).
Have dinner in Frederick, followed by a concert at the Weinberg Center for the Arts or a play at the new Cultural Arts Center. Then settle in for the night at one of the city's small inns or bed & breakfasts.
West of Frederick, the National Road travels along what's now known as Route 40. As you pass through the Appalachian Mountains, you'll pass the Old South Mountain Inn . Take a moment to stretch your legs here and take in the breathtaking view. Your next stop is in Washington County, where you'll want to take the short stroll up to the nation's first memorial to the founder of the National Road (and our first president) at Washington Monument State Park. Continue on to historic Hagerstown, where you can visit the famous City Park, home to the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. Take note of the graceful stone bridge built in 1819 over Conococheague Creek that allowed the Road to reach points farther west.
In the mountain hamlet of Hancock, you'll find a museum devoted to still another important transportation landmark, the C&O Canal National Historic Park Visitor Center. Its exhibits reveal the incredible effort and ingenuity that went into building the 184.5-mile-long waterway constructed to meet the nation's booming commerce needs. Another bit of man's ingenuity lies a little farther west: the Sideling Hill Exhibit Center , with its fascinating geological and engineering displays related to the effort to carve an easier way across the Allegheny Mountains - it involved using 5.2 million pounds of explosives to remove 10 million tons of rock.
The farthest west the C&O Canal would reach is Cumberland, a town that grew around Fort Cumberland, where George Washington commanded troops during the French and Indian War. Stroll through the downtown pedestrian mall, visit the replica canal boat or take the dimly lit hike through Paw Paw Tunnel, carved by hand through 3,118 feet of rock. If you want to take a break and see the sights while someone else drives, climb aboard the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad for a steam-engine train ride to historic Frostburg, home of the Thrasher Carriage Museum, the nation's premier collection of historic carriages. Or you could spend the early afternoon just outside Cumberland at the LaVale Toll Gate House, which served the National Road's first generation of travelers.
Your trip draws to a close in Grantsville, where the graceful, single-arch, Casselman River Bridge was constructed back in 1813. Stroll though Spruce Artisan Village or grab a bite at Penn Alps while you ponder the adventures experienced by those sturdy souls who traveled long ago along the National Road.