Maryland: “The Free State,” one of the 13 original colonies, and home to nearly 400 years of American history has been at the heart of American experience since the nation’s founding. From our fight for independence, to the struggle for equality and justice for all, and on to the race for the skies and the stars, Maryland is the home of our history. Start with these 13 sites and adventures to experience the people and places that set the foundations for our American identity.
1 Follow Maryland's Civil War Trails
From Antietam, a pivotal Union victory, to Monocacy, the loss that won the war, some of the most decisive battles of the Civil War were fought in Maryland. Maryland was positioned at the crossroads of conflict, and its citizens were just as ideologically divided as the soldiers on the battlefield. To honor this heritage, five unique trails span the state, each opening a window to unique places, moments and perspectives that set the course of the Civil War.
Whether you are a history buff or just looking for family adventures in beautiful places, Maryland's Civil War Trails have something for everyone.
2 Follow in the footsteps of soldiers and surgeons
At the National Museum of Civil War Medicine witness the staggering challenges, remarkable personal sacrifices, and revolutionary medical advancements pioneered by the doctors and nurses who served during the Civil War. It's a first hand look at a legacy of innovation and dedication that still touches us today.
3 Discover the Underground Railroad
The story of the Underground Railroad in Maryland is one of intrigue and danger, but above all, it is a testament to the courage of the men and woman who risked all in the quest for equality and justice for all people. Travel the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway and explore this secret landscape where the perils of the wild were often safer than the possibility of discovery. Bike, hike, paddle, or take a self-guided driving tour of the byway to discover the beauty of Chesapeake country, the majesty of one-of-a-kind wild places like the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Visit historical treasures like the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cambridge, Choptank Landing and Webb Cabin to better understand the dedication, bravery and leadership of Harriet Tubman, a singular American Hero, and others like her who risked all on the Underground Railroad.
4 Explore the Star-Spangled Banner Trail
Two hundred years ago, the young United States faced the greatest threat of its existence when the most powerful military in the world terrorized our shores. During the War of 1812, the British Navy raged the length and breadth of the Chesapeake Bay and even burned the White House. But on the ramparts of Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, and the soil of Baltimore, soldiers and ordinary citizens boldly defended our way of life, forging the legendary American backbone and inspiring Francis Scott Key to pen the “Star-Spangled Banner.” With dozens of landmarks, parks and sites like Fort McHenry and the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House where Mary Pickersgill sewed the flag that flew O’er the ramparts, the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail chronicles these perilous years in American history.
5 Cruise the Bay with a Maryland Waterman
Set sail on a historic skipjack, the Maryland state boat and part of the only fleet of working sailboats in America, and explore the Chesapeake Bay. Get a taste of Maryland’s bay traditions while pulling crab pots or dredging for oysters on guided, sailing tours offered by Maryland’s working watermen. Visit iconic lighthouses that dot Maryland’s Chesapeake shores and experience Maryland’s proud maritime traditions by car or sail the 3,000-mile-long Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail while staying connected to information and experiences through the trail’s system of “smart buoys.” Get a unique and fun view of this one-of-a-kind history at the Calvert Marine Museum, Annapolis Maritime Museum and Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, or step back in time on an island excursion to Smith Island to immerse yourself in the waterman culture and experience quiet and solitude.
6 Drive the Historic National Road
Take a road trip to remember along the Historic National Road. Envisioned by President George Washington, “The Road that Built the Nation” was the first federally funded highway and connected Baltimore markets to the Midwest by 1818. Today it remains an enchanting slice of Americana and 200 years of American road-side culture. Experience epic stories of the road at the National Road Museum in Boonsboro and the Thrasher Carriage Museum in Frostburg; and stop at landmarks like Wilson’s Store, the LaVale Toll House, and the Casselman River Bridge, while riding a ribbon of highway that weaves our nation together.
Along the way, explore quaint towns and imagine traversing the Appalachian Mountains in a Model T Ford on a Sunday drive and returning to tell tales of adventure. See what we as a nation have become in the years since construction began on The National Road.
7 Discover American Indian Country
See Maryland’s waterways and landscapes through American Indian eyes. Immerse yourself in a woodland setting and explore a replica Piscataway Indian Village at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum. Then tour the Maryland Archaeological Lab to see Indian artifacts firsthand. Take part in a Pow Wow or cultural event and meet one of the many modern day Maryland Indians. Sample authentic food, see a ceremonial dance and purchase native crafts. Travel to the Baltimore American Indian Center and discover the stories of native peoples living in an urban area. On the Eastern Shore, stop at the Nause-Waiwash Band of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe’s Longhouse. Learn about the historic Nanticoke’s interactions with the English at the Captain John Smith Nanticoke River Discovery Center in Vienna.
8 Ride the Rails
Make the leap from the Monopoly board to the real life B&O Railroad, home of the first 13 miles of railroad track in America. Chartered in 1827, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad began regular passenger service in 1830. Today, Baltimore’s B&O Railroad Museum, home to one of the most important collections of rolling stock in the world, is a must-stop for rail history buffs and your favorite Thomas-obsessed tyke alike. Other great stops include the Brunswick Railroad Museum with its 1,700 square foot HO Scale model railroad. And there’s no better way to see the rugged mountains of Western Maryland than a trip on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad a historic train trip through the mountains of Cumberland.
9 Walk, Bike, and Even Take a Mule-Pulled Barge Ride Through the Centuries on the C&O Canal
From the Great Falls of the Potomac and the outskirts of Washington D.C. to the rugged reaches of Western Maryland, the C&O Canal cuts a swath through unforgettable Maryland landscapes and nearly 200 years of history. Its flat expanses are perfect for novice hikers and family bike trips through spots like the Paw Paw Tunnel, while challenging side paths like the legendary Billy Goat Trail offer destination routes for the experienced hiker. Don’t miss a stop at the Cumberland Visitor Center to see interactive exhibits and step back into the heyday of the canal; and for a real adventure, take a mule-pulled barge ride along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal at Potomac, try an electric launch boat tour at Williamsport, and for the complete canal experience, book a night’s stay in a historic lockhouse.
10 Explore our Naval History
Tour the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and see the ornate crypt of John Paul Jones, father of the American Navy. Honor the service of America’s fighting sailors at the Academy’s Main Chapel and visit the Plebe’s favorite, Tecumseh Court. Explore the U.S. Naval Academy Museum to discover the history of seapower, the development of the U.S. Navy, and the role of the U.S. Naval Academy in building the future leaders of America's Navy and Marine Corps. Or travel back in time to the antebellum era and tour the historic USS Constellation, an enduring part of Baltimore’s skyline. Once the flagship of the U.S. Navy’s Africa fleet during the fight against slavery, the Constellation was the last, all-sail warship built by the Navy.
11 Experience the History of Acadians in Maryland
In November of 1755, four ships carrying more than 900 Acadian exiles arrived in Maryland. Forcibly removed by the British from their homelands in Nova Scotia, Canada, these exiled Acadians were left to fend for themselves and settled in Princess Anne, Snow Hill, Oxford, Newtown (today Chestertown), Georgetown, Fredericktown, Baltimore, Annapolis, Upper Marlboro, Lower Marlboro and Port Tobacco. Their names were listed on the 1763 Acadian lists. Experience the dramatic story of the Acadian exiles and plan your visit to the port towns and historic sites where Acadian families lived.
12 Travel through Time to Colonial Days
Founded in 1634, the Maryland Colony was home to the roots of American religious liberty and twice served as the capital of the country. Step back in time and visit St. Clement’s Island in the Potomac River, where Maryland’s first Colonists landed on March 25, 1634 in their search for religious freedom. Tour Historic St. Mary’s City, now a living history site, this home to the original Maryland colony invites you to spend a day walking in the shoes (or more likely, bare feet) of a Colonist, and even climb aboard the Dove, a reconstruction of one of the tiny sailing ships that those early Marylanders used to cross the stormy Atlantic. And visit bricked streets of bayfront Annapolis. The historic State House served as the seat of the Continental Congress during the signing of the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War, and in its halls, General George Washington resigned as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, cementing the foundations of American civilian rule.
13 Look to the Future through Flight
Witness the history of flight at the College Park Aviation Museum, the Hagerstown Aviation Museum, the Glenn L. Martin Maryland Aviation Museum in Middle River, and the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum where you can take to the virtual skies with a ride in an authentic F-14 flight simulator. Or get a sneak peak at tomorrow’s history at Greenbelt’s NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Museum with its state-of-the-art displays and a rocket garden; and at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore where you can look through the eye of the Clark Telescope.