Follow a historic trail blazed over the centuries by adventurers, settlers and heroes.
Founded by George Washington, America's first national highway once linked the bustling port of Baltimore with the interior of the fledgling nation. You can still trace its historic route, beginning amid the skyscrapers and attractions of downtown Baltimore and the Inner Harbor and traveling west along Frederick Road (Route 144) toward the Ellicott City B&O Railroad Station Museum. While in the area, be sure to stop by for coffee or an early lunch in one of the century-old buildings nestled among these rocky cliffs. Then, enjoy a living-history program about Colonial times and life on the National Road at Thomas Isaac's Log Cabin (1780).
From there, 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. Browse the numerous antique shops, or visit Francis Scott Key's law office and 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, attend a concert at the Weinberg Center for the Arts or a play at the new Cultural Arts Center, and 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 see the Old South Mountain Inn. Take a moment to stretch your legs and enjoy the breathtaking view. Your next stop is in Washington County, where you'll find the nation's first memorial to George Washington at Washington Monument State Park. Continue on to historic Hagerstown, home to the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts and Wilson's Bridge, a graceful stone structure built in 1819 over Conococheague Creek to extend the road farther west.
Exhibits at the C&O Canal National Historic Park Visitor Center, located in the mountain hamlet of Hancock, 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 big of man's ingenuity lies a little frather west: the Sideling Hill Observation Bridge, with its magnificent view of Sideling Hill, was an attempt to carve an easier way across the Allegheny Mountains that required 5.2 million pounds of explosives to remove 10 million tons of rock.
The C&O Canal ends in 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 Cumberland" full-scale replica canal boat, spend the afternoon at the LaVale Toll Gate House, or take the dimly lit hike through Paw Paw Tunnel, carved by hand through 3,118 feet of rock. If you're tired of driving, hop aboard the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad for a steam-engine train ride to historic Frostburg, which houses the Thrasher Carriage Museum, the nation's premier collection of historic carriages.
Your trip draws to a close in Grantsville, near the graceful, single-arch, Casselman River Bridge (1813). Here, at the end of your three-day adventure, you can take a walk through 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.