Historic National Road

In the 1800s, thousands of settlers crossed the Appalachian Mountains and headed west on the dirt, macadam and cobblestone-covered National Road, America’s first federally funded highway.

View from Annapolis Rock on the Appalachian Trail in South Mountain State Park, Myersville.

Capital Region
Central Maryland
Western Maryland
170 miles where city streets give way to highways between quaint towns from Baltimore to the Pennsylvania line

Places along the way

Construction of “The Road That Built The Nation” began in 1811 and required four decades of hard labor to complete from Baltimore to Vandalia, Illinois. During that time, the sight of train tracks signaled a shift in transportation priorities. But horse-drawn Conestoga wagons still lugged building materials and supplies along the highway, while westward-bound families rode stagecoaches and carriages, stopping frequently to take advantage of friendly towns that sprouted inns, taverns, blacksmith shops and wagon yards.

Today, people enjoy traveling on Maryland’s portion of the Historic National Road to romanticize about life as it was for those early pioneers and find the friendly towns that have endured.

Baltimore to Frederick

Including MD 144 & MD 27

The first portion of the National Road — originally known as the Baltimore National Pike — begins at water’s edge in the Inner Harbor area. After enjoying shopping, fine dining and walking to harborside attractions, you can follow Lombard Street toward several historic neighborhoods, including Union Square, which journalist H.L. Mencken called home. Your next stop is the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum, located inside a beautifully restored roundhouse.

West of the city is Catonsville, which was developed in 1810 and became a hot spot for summer homes when linked to downtown Baltimore by electric trolley lines. Before crossing the Patapsco River, drive through the town of Oella, which contains a 142-acre historical park and museum dedicated to African-American mathematician Benjamin Banneker, who helped calculate Washington, D.C.’s boundaries. Beyond the Patapsco River, Ellicott City has antiques shops and unique restaurants in historic buildings. This old mill town features America’s oldest surviving railroad station, as well as Thomas Isaac’s Log Cabin, which served as a National Road way station.

Next comes Mount Airy. Formerly a railroad and turnpike town, it now features an interesting concentration of vineyards that are open for tours and picnics. This area is also popular for its boutiques and antiques, more of which you will find down the road in New Market.

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See traditional artists at work at Spruce Forest Artisan Village, walk the Casselman Bridge, and try your hand at fly fishing in the Casselman River.

Photo By: Kevin Moore

Frederick to Hagerstown

Including MD 144 & US 40 Alt

Recognized as one of America’s most distinctive destinations, downtown Frederick is the hub from which charming Main Street communities, romantic accommodations and inspirational attractions fan out like the spokes of a wagon wheel. Two centuries of architecture are represented at numerous homes and public buildings, including the Barbara Fritchie House and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. The town also features entertainment ranging from dinner theater productions to minor-league baseball. At the end of a long day, one of Frederick’s inns or bed and breakfasts is a welcome sight.

As you head out beyond Braddock Heights and the farming village of Middletown, consider making time for a sidetrack into Washington Monument State Park, site of the first monument erected in George Washington’s honor. The park is also located along a noted migratory bird flyway, so bring your binoculars.

Continuing west, the farmland of Funkstown is dotted with Pennsylvania-Dutch bank barns and smaller English-style structures.

Hagerstown to Cumberland

Including US 40, I-68, I-70 & MD 144

So many early railroad companies were linked into Hagerstown that it earned the nickname “Hub City.” The C&O Canal also flowed through this area, which now draws legions of bicyclists and hikers. The town itself — featuring the South Prospect Street Historic District — has a roundhouse museum among several other sites dedicated to preserving local history.

Traveling along US 40, look for the small waterfront park that offers a fine view of the five stone arches that support the 210-foot-long Wilson Bridge. Dating back to 1819, it’s the oldest and longest bridge of its kind in Washington County. Passing through Clear Spring, site of the 160-year-old Wilson Country School and Store, you can sidetrack south along MD 56 to Fort Frederick State Park. Based in Big Pool, the fort was the cornerstone of Maryland’s defense more than 250 years ago during the French & Indian War.

Next in line is Hancock, where a national historic park offers a deeper exploration of canal life. After a climb up Sideling Hill, which was the scene of many stagecoach mishaps due to the steep turns, you’re ready for a relaxing round of golf amid the ridges and valleys of Rocky Gap Lodge, Spa & Golf Course, followed by a satisfying stay there or in Cumberland.

Cumberland to State Line

Including US 40 Scenic, I-68, US 40 & US 40 Alt

Cumberland, like Hagerstown, was a transportation crossroads with ties to highway, railroad and canal transportation, and is now just as popular for its galleries, theaters and museums.

A steam-engine train ride on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad or an exhilarating bike ride on the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail takes you to Frostburg, site of a nationally known carriage museum.

In LaVale, the route passes Maryland’s only remaining National Road toll gate house, outside of which a plaque still displays the cost for wagons, animals and pedestrians to pass.

Conestoga wagons once crossed the Casselman River Bridge, a single-span, stone-arch structure built for the National Road near Grantsville in 1813. Access to the bridge is available from a former stagecoach stop that is now known as the Spruce Forest Artisan Village and serves as a cultural center promoting local arts, crafts and music. US 40 Alternate then winds through the northern section of Savage River State Forest and over Keysers Ridge to the Mason-Dixon Line.

Watersports are popular on Deep Creek Lake in McHenry, a short drive south of the Historic National Road.

Photo By: Department of Natural Resources

Maryland Lore

The LaVale Toll Gate House collected $9,745.90 in tolls during its first year of operation, 1836.

Patapsco Valley State Park is a wooded oasis along the Patapsco River between Ellicott City and Elkridge.

Byways in this Region

Roots & Tides
Falls Road

Byways Guide & Map

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