Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gift Suggestion for that Special Someone: A Year of Day Trips and Dates

So for once I'm suggesting that you just stay home: don't spend Black Friday all day fighting crowds, just so you can give things that will eventually collect dust. Give memories and shared experiences! And all you need for this gift suggestion is some creativity, a computer and internet, or a phone.

One of the neatest gift ideas I've seen in a long time is to give a "Year of Dates." (Disclaimer up front: I didn't make this idea up --I'm not that clever. In fact, I have seen it several magazines, and in a book about relationships.) It just seemed so in keeping with the spirit of this blog that I had to write about it -- and offer my own ideas!

Here's how it works: Put a date idea that you both would enjoy -- something fun and out of the ordinary -- in an envelop, one for every month of the year. Then put them all into a basket or pretty container. Preplan these, where possible, by purchasing gift cards or tickets in advance.

Keep reading for some great ideas -- some I've already blogged about, but some I haven't!

A Year of History

If your special someone is into history, then plan dates around history and places of historical significance. Between Maryland, Virginia and Delaware, you have at least 12 right there!
  1. January: Figure out what your conspiracy theory is -- tour Surratt's House and Tavern (in Clinton, MD), then go tour Dr. Mudd's house (in Waldorf, MD).
  2. February: Explore the Manassas Battlefield 
  3. March: Go for a walking tour around Baltimore's famous Green Mount Cemetery (printed guides detailing the walking tour around the famous graves there are available from the Cemetery Office); bring three pennies to leave on the graves of John Wilkes Booth and two of his fellow conspirators.
  4. April: Go for a play at Ford's Theater, the scene of President Lincoln's assassination. While you're there, tour the little house across the street where he died.
  5. May: Spend a long weekend in Richmond. Tour the Confederate White House. While you're down there, go visit Petersburg Battlefield.
  6. June: Spend the day at Harpers Ferry. Do the history, then wander over the railroad bridge and walk along the C&O Canal on the other side. (See blog post for more about this idea.) 
  7. July: Go visit Ft. Delaware, the site of a Civil War fort and prison for Confederate soldiers. 
  8. August: Sign up for a segway tour of Gettysburg Battlefield, have lunch at Dobbin House Tavern (see blog post on for more about this idea).
  9. September: Explore Antietam Battlefield, and don't forget to visit the Pry House, the site of Gen McClellan's headquarters. On your way up, have brunch (if it's a Sunday) at South Mountain Inn.
  10. October: Go leaf pepping on your way up to Ft. Necessity, in western Pennsylvania, where George Washington started the French and Indian War when he tangled with the French and surrendered for the first and only time in his career. (See blog post for more about this idea.)
  11. November: Don't forget the War of 1812 -- Tour Fort McHenry, followed by lunch in Federal Hill in Baltimore
  12. December: Go see Mt. Vernon, George Washington's home and plantation, decorated for Christmas.

A Year of Historic Architecture and Gardens

If architecture, historic homes, and gardens are your special someone's thrill, consider some of the places below.
  1. January: Tour Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA. Go for dinner at one of the many nearby restaurants.
  2. February: Take the Behind the Scenes tour of Thomas Jefferson's Montecello
  3. March: Visit Confederate General Robert E Lee's former home, Arlington House, in the Arlington National Veteran's Cemetery (keep checking the blog -- there'll be a future post about this idea).
  4. April: Visit Ladew Topiary Gardens and tour the circa 1747 manor house in Monkton, MD
  5. May: Picnic at the National Arboretum Northeast Washington, DC (a good time to visit is during the few weeks when azaleas are blooming and don't miss the Bonsai gardens).
  6. June: Spend a day at Longwood Gardens, stay for the fireworks (see blog post on http://www.midatlantic for more about this idea)
  7. July: Tour Surratt House and Tavern, in Clinton, MD.
    Even if you're not interested in the history behind President Lincoln's assassination, this house has a well-equipped dining room and kitchen that really help you understand the Civil War era and how people -- normal, average not rich people -- lived.
  8. August: Spend an afternoon exploring Rock Run Historic Area and tour the Carter-Archer Mansion in the Susquehanna State Park (see blog post on http://www.midatlanticdaytrips. for more about this idea)
  9. September: Visit Frederick, MD's first home, Schifferstadt, built by a German immigrant in the 1700s, then walk around Frederick historic area enjoying the historic homes.
  10. October: Go leaf pepping on your way to Fallingwater in the Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania (see blog post on for more about this idea).
  11. November: Visit Majorie Merriewether Post's Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens in Northwest DC
  12. December: Take a Christmas tour of Williamsburg, VA (this may be more of a weekend than a daytrip).

A Year of the Outdoors 

For the most part, this is the least expensive of the themes -- most of our national and state parks only charge a nominal fee. The memories you create when you see that fantabulous sight at the hike's destination can't be beat! 
  1. January: Visit the King & Queen's Seat at Rocks State Park in Jarrettsville, MD. Save it for a dry day -- rocks are slippery when wet!
  2. February: Go snow tubing at Boulder Ridge or
    sign up for skiing lessons at SkiLiberty
  3. March: Seek out an early spring by going hiking in Catoctin Mountain National Park (see blog post http://www.midatlanticdaytrips. for more about this idea); don't forget a quick hike to see Cunningham Falls (in Cunningham Falls State Park) nearby.
  4. April: Spend the day at Harpers Ferry National Park. Do the history, then wander over the railroad bridge and walk along the C&O Canal on the other side (see blog posts http://www.midatlantic and for more about this idea).
  5. May: Spend an afternoon exploring Rock Run Historic Area, Susquehanna State Park, then take the trail along the Susquehanna River (see blog post http://www.midatlanticdaytrips. for more about this idea)
  6. June: Go car camping in Dolly Sods Wilderness Area and watch the sun come up (and hear the bears growling) on Bear Rocks (Tucker County, WV).
  7. July: Spend a day on the Chesapeake Bay at St. Michaels and sail on the Selina II (see blog post for more about this idea).
  8. August: Go kayaking on the Potomac River (see blog post http://www.midatlanticdaytrips. for more about this idea).
  9. September: Sign up for a segway tour of Gettysburg National Military Park, have dinner at Dobbin House Tavern, and go for a ghost tour on the battlefield (see blog post on http://www.midatlantic for more about this idea)
  10. October: Go hiking in Sugarloaf Mountain Park, followed by a late lunch at Comus Inn (if you're going for dinner, reservations are recommended).
  11. November: Go bird watching at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge (see blog post for more about this idea).
  12. December: Go fossil hunting at Calvert Cliffs State Park, in Lusby, MD.

A Year of Diversity

And if you want to provide a little bit of everything -- mix and match from the various categories. Here's a list of a variety of fun and memorable daytrips -- including some of my favorites!
  1. January: Tour Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA
    Go for dinner at one of the many nearby restaurants.
  2. February: Go for a "Cask to Kisses" wine tasting at Linganore WineCellars (for more about Linganore WineCellars, see blog post http://www.midatlantic
  3. March: Visit the fishes at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, followed by an Italian dinner in Fells Point.
  4. April: Go for lunch in Georgetown (Washington, DC) and then go walk along the historic C&O Canal.
  5. May: Picnic at the National Arboretum and tour the gardens.
  6. June: Walk around historic Frederick and go out to eat at one of the many fine restaurants downtown. Then pay your respects to the author of the Star Spangled Banner while taking a nighttime guided tour of Mount Olivet Cemetery in Frederick, MD (see blog post  http://www.midatlanticdaytrips. for more about this idea). 
  7. July: Spend a day at St. Michaels, get some ice cream, and sail on the Selina II (see blog post http://www.midatlanticdaytrips. for more about this idea).
  8. August: Spend a day at Longwood Gardens, stay for the fireworks (see blog post http://www.midatlanticdaytrips. for more about this idea).
  9. September: Sign up for a segway tour of Gettysburg Battlefield,
     have lunch at Dobbin House Tavern (see blog post  for more about this idea).
  10. October: Go leaf pepping on your way to Fallingwater in the Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania (see blog post http://www.midatlanticdaytrips. for more about this idea).
  11. November:  Go ghost hunting on the Annapolis Ghost Walk (see blog post http://www.midatlanticdaytrips. for more about this idea).
  12. December: Check out the Go Local  for the Holiday Festival, feature local crafts and artisans at Harford Vineyard (see blog post http://www.midatlanticdaytrips. for more about this idea).
Happy Holidays!

Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sugarloaf Mountain Sort of Day!

Recently, two friends and I headed over to Sugarloaf Mountain, to check out the park itself, visit the winery at its base, and then eat at a local restaurant. There were some surprises and yes, a disappointment. But more on that later.

Late fall is a fine time to check out the place that was President Franklin Roosevelt's first choice for a presidential retreat: Sugarloaf Mountain, in southern Frederick County in Maryland, right on the Montgomery County/Frederick County line.

Unfortunately for Roosevelt, and subsequent Presidents, the owner, Gordon Strong, refused to sell the land. Instead, Strong deliberately and systematically bought up all the surrounding tracts of land he could get his hands on -- and then placed it into a private trust so that Sugarloaf Mountain's beauty can be experienced by everyone. Today it is one of the rare private parks that is completely open to the public, at no charge.

Sugarloaf Mountain is an example of a monadnock -- an isolated hill or small mountain rising abruptly from gently sloping or level surrounding land. It appears to be either an outlier to the east of the main mass of Catoctin Mountain. Early pioneers of the area named the mountain Sugarloaf because the rock formations reminded them of the loaves of sugar, which were common in those days. The mountain has watched American history unfold: General Braddock, commander of British troops during the French and Indian War, marched his men past the mountain in 1744. Several battles occurred nearby, and Union troops alternated with Southern troops posted lookouts at its summit during the Civil War. And in a log cabin that still stands at the base of the mountain, wounded and dying soldiers were hospitalized -- that was our surprise find.

The log cabin is not marked in any way -- I initially stopped because it was picturesque and I wanted to snap a few shots of it. It was only after we returned home and I began doing some research that I learned of its significance!

The park offers hiking, picnicking, and a scenic drive around the mountain past views of the Monacacy Valley and the Potomac River. Our goal this November day was to take the short quarter-mile hike from one of the scenic overviews up to the summit of the mountain. We chose the green trail, for no reason other than that we hoped it would be less steep. Hind sight being 20/20, we believe the red trail might offer a more gradual ascent. Hiking up the mountain, even that short distance (quarter mile), can be strenuous. There are several benches placed so hikers could rest; the green trail becomes very steep very quickly, and indeed, there are several flights of steps leading up the final ascent along an imposing rock cliff.

Afterward we stopped at Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, at the base of the mountain to sample an array of eight of their wines, including Stomp, Circe, Comus, and their Rose (my favorite of the group). Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard grows five Bordeaux red grapes (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot) and three white grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Viognier). As you walk into the tasting room, you are greeted warmly and then directed over to one of the tasting stations (I felt like a cow in an efficient milking barn).

Once we were in place, the server quickly collected our $10 and efficiently opened up a bag of oyster crackers into a little bowl and the pouring began -- there is a factory-like assembly line atmosphere about serving the wine samples that distracts from the experience. The server rattled off little blurbs about the wines -- all of which I forgot almost as soon as I heard them -- holding the bottles and pointing to aspects on the labels in a carefully scripted monologue. We were in and out of there in under 10 minutes.

This was the disappointment of the day, as I'd heard good things about the winery, and it seems to be very popular. I wonder how much of its popularity is due to its proximity to DC and the very densely populated Montgomery County?

What I like about this winery: dogs are welcome on the grounds -- nice! Not many wineries welcome your pets, so Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard gains points there! There are picnic tables on the patio and water bowls set out for your pooches. What I didn't like: you can bring a picnic, but if you want to eat inside, then you have to buy their food. That, combined with the mechanical efficiency of the tasting room makes this one of the few wineries I'm not interested in returning to.

Our last stop was a late lunch at Comus Inn, located on the corner of Comus Road and Old Hundred Road. The restaurant is located in an historic building and farm originally known as the Johnson-Wolfe Farm. The building has been added on over the years from the original two-story log cabin built in 1862 by Robert Johnson. The log core currently is exposed on the inside of the restaurant.

The crossroads of Comus was the site of a rearguard action during the Antietam Campaign of Civil War on the 9th and 10th of September 1862. The Comus Inn property at the old crossroads was the site of Union artillery batteries, as well as a gathering point for Federal forces seeking to capture the Confederate signal station.

The lunch menu offers a variety of dishes, including crab cakes, a burger, and a catfish dish that was tempting until I heard the special: the Cuban sandwich -- pulled pork and ham with melted (probably provalone) cheese and seasonings. We also tried the soup du jour -- a roasted butternut squash soup with a hint of bacon. Interestingly, the only local wines offered on the drinks menu of the Comus Inn were wines from Elk Run Vineyards, not the restaurant's next door neighbor: Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard.

If you're there during harvest season, then definitely take a few minutes to check out the Comus Market, right across the street from the restaurant.

Tip: If you avoid purchasing wine and pack your own picnic (and don't eat at the Comus Inn), this is a budget-friendly day trip!

Getting there: The entrance to Sugarloaf Mountain is 7901 Comus Road, Dickerson, MD; Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard is located at 18125 Comus Rd, Dickerson; Comus Inn is located at 23900 Old Hundred Rd, Dickerson.

Hours: Sugarloaf Mountain is open daily, 8 a.m. until 1 hour before sunset; Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyards is open 7 days a week 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.  except for major holidays; the Comus Inn is open for lunch Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday: 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Dogs: Definitely!! Except for Comus Inn.

Websites: Sugarloaf Mountain:; Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard:; the Comus Inn:

Check out the blog's FB page for updates and current events for places we've visited and blogged about:!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Stunning Views at the C&O Canal, Locks 33 and 34

This is sort of part two of last week's Harpers Ferry blog--this is the stretch of the C&O Canal we were trying to reach via the railroad bridge when our beagle categorically refused to go down the stairs. (There is no joy in having to carry a 40lb beagle down and back up several flights of stairs!)

The recent Congressional debacle over the Federal government budget afforded me the opportunity to have some unexpected time off from my job, as I was furloughed with several hundred thousand other Federal workers. My husband and I took advantage of this by completing some "honey-do" projects around the house -- but we squeezed in some time for day trips as well!

Despite knowing that the National Park Service was closed, another victim of the government shutdown, I gambled on a trip to one of my favorite segments of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal: the segment opposite Harpers Ferry, under Maryland Heights, between Lock 33, which you can access from the railroad bridge at Harpers Ferry, and Lock 34.

This segment runs close enough alongside the Potomac River to afford beautiful views of the river throughout the walk. Opposite the river, gorgeous homes dot the cliffside. On the other side of the canal and the narrow lane running alongside, rocky cliffs dominate the scenery. It's peaceful and gorgeous and not as well traveled as the segment at Great Falls in Montgomery County. Although the canal doesn't have any water in this segment, it is planted in grass and kept mowed, so you can appreciate the physical space of the canal, and the stonework that went into the locks and the walls. (Other segments are filled with swamp-like muck, or with out-of-control brush and trees that are quickly destroying all recognizable signs of the canal.)

The C&O Canal operated from 1831 until 1924, and runs parallel to the Potomac River on the Maryland side, from Cumberland to Washington, D.C. The canal way is now maintained as a park, with a linear trail following the old towpath, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.
It is about 1 mile between the two locks. The path is smooth and appeals to bicyclists, so please share the path courteously. We started our walk near Lock 34. We encountered multiple joggers and walkers, including several with dogs, like us. We noticed a lot of birds along the river -- mostly mallard ducks, but quite a few cormorants and a couple great blue heron as well. We believe we may also have spotted a bald eagle, but didn't get a photo of it and aren't positive. Along the trail, squirrels frolic merrily, taunting all the dogs passing by.

As we followed the towpath down toward lock 33, Harpers Ferry starts coming into view. First to come into view is the railroad bridge that allows access for foot traffic between the C&O Canal and the historic little town, but as you draw closer to Harpers Ferry, the buildings start peaking over the trees. On the left, opposite the canal is the former lock keepers house -- now just a empty shell huddled under the Maryland Heights cliffs.

For the more adventurous, the Maryland Heights Trail Head is right in this area -- and the view from the rocks is spectacular. I know this, because I remember from the time I climbed it about 20 years ago. I really should hike up there again!!

Tip: We accessed this segment along the appropriately named Harpers Ferry Road -- but I don't recommend parking there. Since it was a weekday and the towpath technically closed, we crossed our fingers, hoping that there would be empty parking spaces, and there was. But there are only 20 to 25 spots available, along a very narrow country lane. Best to park in Harpers Ferry and walk over the railroad bridge at lock 33 or park at the Harpers Ferry National Park visitor center and take the shuttle in, or plan on walking a bit further and parking at the parking area in Point of Rocks C&O Canal access point.

Hours: dawn to dusk

Getting there: Follow Rt 340W out from Frederick to Point of Rocks, if that's where you plan on parking. Or following 340 out across the bridge into Harpers Ferry via Shenandoah Street, or go on 340W further to the Visitor's Center at  171 Shoreline Drive, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425.

Dogs: Bring your pooch!! (unless you're taking the shuttle from the National Park visitor's center -- in which case, refer to last week's blog on Harpers Ferry for doggy/visitor center work-arounds.). The C&O Canal towpath was made for them! (Well, no, not really, but bring them anyway!) Also bring poop pick-up baggies. There are no garbage cans along the way, so bring an extra bag for carry out. Or bring your bicycles and kids, not necessarily in that order.

Website: C&O Canal National Historic Park,

For other parts of the C&O Canal, check out the below articles:
Brunswick to Dargan Bend
Canal Pride Days 
Edwards Ferry
Fort Frederick to Hancock
Great Falls
Lander Lockhouse
Maryland Heights (Harpers Ferry)
Monocacy & Catoctin Aqueducts
Paw Paw Tunnel to Lock 56
Swain's Lock to Seneca Aqueduct
Kayaking at Swain's Lock

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Updated June 2020

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Harpers Ferry: Stepping Back in History

My husband and I probably spend a day or an afternoon at Harpers Ferry at least once a year, generally just walking around and then we'll have lunch. Sometimes, such as on this most recent visit, we'll bring a beagle or two. I've also taken my sons there multiple times -- sometimes focusing more on the history than at other times, or sometimes just dropping in for lunch and a relaxed walk along the canal on the other side of the railroad bridge.

So when the weather turned cooler in mid-September, it seemed like a good pick for a destination--especially since we didn't have all day, having to take some time out to move some furniture from my parents' home to my sister's.

Harpers Ferry is located in West Virginia, where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers flow together and the states of Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia meet. It is the eastern-most town in West Virginia.

Checking out historic little towns is a favorite of ours -- browsing the shops and exploring the old tow America aspect of it. An ice cream parlor or two and a diner or quaint cafe helps. Having some national history attached to it is icing on the cake. Harpers Ferry is quaint, historic, and has both ice cream parlors and some tasty cafes to check out, along with some art boutiques, an historic candy shop, and a variety of touristy Civil War flavored type places. A bit of a surprise was the Steam Punk shop hidden in an alley! Also a pleasant surprise: several of the boutiques allowed us to bring our dog inside.

Since it was close to lunch time, we decided to start with lunch outside -- the weather was a cool 70 degrees and perfect and there are several restaurants with outdoor seating that welcome dogs in the outside spaces. At Coach House Grille, the waitress was kind enough to bring us a bowl of water for the beagle. We started with a baked brie with honey and almonds, served with pita bread, but then went for standard burgers. He had the black and bleu burger while I tried the Reuben burger. Both were delicious, although I was disappointed with the fries, and ended up giving them to the beagle. Notably, the beagle seemed quite pleased with the fries.

The lower part of Harpers Ferry is located within the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Although on this visit we decided to forego the historical aspect of the town, it's well worth spending a few hours learning about John Brown and how he and his abolitionist group took over the national armory in the town (for which he was hanged afterward) in 1859; that event is what the town is most well known for.

Brown had hoped he would be able to arm slaves and lead them against U.S. forces in a rebellion to overthrow slavery. After his capture in the armory (ironically by then U.S. Army Colonel Robert E Lee), Brown was hanged in nearby Charles Town. Brown's last words predicted the outbreak of the civil war. The most important building remaining from John Brown's raid is the firehouse (pictured here).

Harpers Ferry's importance to national history didn't end there -- so you should also spend some time learning about the part that Harpers Ferry played throughout the Civil War, having changed hands eight times throughout the conflict, including just before the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. Clearly, Harpers Ferry was NOT the place to be during the Civil War, although just as clearly, its factories and mills, and access to two rivers, railroads and an important canal made it a strategic location with much to offer whichever side controlled it. The visitors center offers a very nice presentation on Harpers Ferry explaining the history of the town and why it was so strategically important -- and why it was equally difficult to defend -- that's worth seeing.

This visit was just to enjoy a pleasant lunch, and stroll around town. We had planned to walk along the C&O Canal, on the opposite side of the river, until our beagle refused to go down the steps on the other side of the railroad pedestrian bridge, so that stretch of the C&O Canal will have to wait for a future blog! We could have carried him but we decided just to turn around instead.

Back in town, we climbed the hill to catch the view of the rivers above the church. If we'd gone a little further, we could have checked out Jefferson Rock, at the top of the hill, overlooking the beautiful Shenandoah River before it joins the Potomac River a little bit further along. Jefferson Rock's claim to fame is that Thomas Jefferson stood on the rock in October 1783 and proclaimed that "the scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic!" This is one of the places locally that you can hike, however briefly, on the Appalachian Trail. On your way up to Jefferson Rock, explore the ruins of the old church! 

I've included photos from several of our visits to Harpers Ferry over the years -- it's really a spectacular place when the leaves are in full autumn color!

I recommend driving up Washington Street past the obviously touristy and old part of the town to where the current residents live (although some do live in the touristy part) to see the gorgeous Victorian era homes. And if you turn left down one of those side roads toward the old Hilltop Inn (now closed), you can see a gorgeous view of the Potomac River from the parking lot.

Tip: Parking is easiest at the National Park's visitor's center. If you're bringing a dog, you can't park there and take the shuttle in to town -- something I wish they'd change. So you have to go to one of the available parking lots close in to the town or get creative, or drop off 1 passenger and pooch and the driver take the shuttle in. Or park at the visitors center anyway and hoof it in, but it's a couple-mile walk. We got lucky this time: we arrived at 11:30 a.m. on a Sunday and were able to grab the last available spot in the Park's town parking lot. You still have to pay the $10 National Park entrance fee -- but to me, it's well worth it (both for the convenience and to support our national park system).

Getting there: Park Visitor Center is 171 Shoreline Drive, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425

Hours: Depends: Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is open year round with the exception of Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. The town businesses open independently.

Dogs: Dogs are mostly welcome. Finding a place to park is the hardest part if you're bringing Fido.

Eats: Plenty to chose from in the Historic District. Many offer outdoor seating and welcome well-behaved dogs (and beagles, too).

Websites:  National Park:

Check out the blog's FB page for updates and current events for places we've visited and blogged about:!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger!