It was America’s first “moonshot,” a road that would carry our young nation west. Carved from forest and mountain, spanning mighty rivers, it was the marvel of its age and stoked the dreams of untold thousands who followed this macadam and cobblestone ribbon into the frontier. Begun in 1811 to carry settlers and trade from the great capital of Baltimore into the then-wilds of Illinois, The National Road would take four decades to complete.
Through city and town, iconic history and welcoming present, trace a route once run by wagon and coach. Be open to adventure, be open to experience-- slow down, see the places and meet the people who breathe new life into every day along “The Road That Built The Nation.”
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 the 142-acre Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum, dedicated to the African-American mathematician 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, the B & O Railroad Station Museum, 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.
See more of Historic National Road
Impress your train lover with a trip to the B & O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, where you can see, touch, hear and explore the most important railroad collection in America.
Photo By: Amanda Barrett
Take an excursion on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad's steam train in Cumberland. Travel through pastoral farmland and wooded gorges to the mountain town of Frostburg.
Make a quick trip to downtown Frederick — a foodie’s favorite with great restaurants like Brian Voltaggio’s Volt — Frederick has also quickly become a capital of the country’s thriving craft beer scene with stalwarts like Flying Dog, Brewery. Don’t miss the Museum of Civil War Medicine. And definitely catch a show at the Weinberg Center for the Arts where top comedians and bands from all over the world stop in to play.
Photo By: Tourism Council of Frederick County
Friendly people in quaint towns are easy to find along the Historic National Road, such as at this Farmers Market in Ellicott City.
Plan several days to enjoy recreational opportunities along the byway. Small towns on the byway can fulfill your travel needs.
Explore “The Road That Built A Nation” from Hagerstown to Grantsville through Maryland’s green mountains on our Historic National Road western section.
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.
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.
Take a Side Trip
Thirty miles south of Grantsville, the Deep Creek Lake area offers year-round recreation that ranges from boating, fishing and water skiing on Maryland’s largest freshwater lake to snowtubing and skiing down Wisp Mountain. Campgrounds and vacation rental properties are among many lodging options.
Photo By: Department of Natural Resources
Watersports are popular on Deep Creek Lake in McHenry, a short drive south of the Historic National Road.
Photo By: Department of Natural Resources
The LaVale Toll Gate House collected $9,745.90 in tolls during its first year of operation, 1836.