A commuter’s holiday: Drawing summer pleasures along well-traveled routes

Columnist

This is the season when travelers can take back their transportation system and use it for fun rather than just for the drudgery of commuting. Here are some driving and biking routes in the D.C. region that I’ve collected from guides, travelers, transportation groups and personal experience. You can reach them via some well-worn commuting paths.

Driving routes

Solomons to Benedict. This driving trip, a portion of Maryland’s Star-Spangled Banner Scenic Byway, follows routes 4, 2, 765, 506, 508 and 231 in Southern Maryland. Many closer to Washington would reach Solomons by driving down Route 5 , then taking Route 235 to Route 4. The entire scenic byway, which takes you to Fort McHenry in Baltimore, is 106 miles. We’ll save some for next year. The fighting was hot in 1814.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region. View Archive

It’s about 43 miles from the Capital Beltway to Solomons, then about 25 miles to Benedict. This portion of the trip is flanked by the mouth of the Patuxent River and by Chesapeake Bay.

A traveler from the District can go a fair distance in most directions before sensing escape from the metropolis. Southern Maryland is different. Escape comes more quickly when heading in this direction.

The area is rich in early American history. During the War of 1812, Commodore Joshua Barney’s small flotilla faced the British navy, part of the “star-spangled” connection. See also the mansion and the slave house at a former tobacco plantation called Sotterley off Route 235 in Hollywood.

For seafood as well as scenery, stop in Solomons. Calvert Cliffs State Park in Lusby is famous as a fossil-hunting site.

Washington to Popes Creek. Follow this route of about 66 miles from Ford’s Theatre, and you will have a much more pleasant escape from the District than John Wilkes Booth did in 1865.

The driving path follows Route 5, Old Branch Avenue, Brandywine Road, back to Route 5 , and Routes 6 and 301 to Popes Creek Road.

Three special points of interest: The Surratt House, country home of Mary Surratt on Brandywine Road; Samuel A. Mudd’s House, home of the doctor who treated Booth’s leg, off Poplar Hill Road in Waldorf, and the Zekiah Swamp, off Route 6 near La Plata, where Booth and his accomplice hid out before crossing the Potomac River to Virginia.

You have a chance of spotting a bald eagle along the edges of the swamp.

The driving tour could end with seafood and a view at Captain Billy’s Crab House on the bank of the Potomac along Popes Creek Road. From the restaurant, you can see the Nice Bridge, taking Route 301 over the river.

Booth continued on, and so can you. Follow Route 301 across the Potomac and then over the Rappahanock River into Port Royal.

The trip could end with a walking tour of the town. Booth made it about 21 / 2 miles farther south to a barn at the Garrett Farm, where he was fatally wounded. Today, Route 301 at that point is a divided highway with a wooded median, and the farm is long gone.

An option for returning to the D.C. area is to take Route 17 west from Port Royal and pick up Interstate 95.

West, without the Greenway. Drive about 53 miles through the western side of the D.C. region, starting in Leesburg, adding Loudoun County scenery, villages and wineries while subtracting commuter tolls.

From Leesburg, take Route 15 North, then, just before reaching the Potomac, pick up routes 672, 673, 690, 9, 719, 734 and 50, ending in Aldie. For those heading back east from Aldie, Route 50 takes drivers to Route 28, which links with Interstate 66 to the south and the Dulles Toll Road to the north.

Start with a walk through the historic district of Leesburg and, nearby off Route 15, find tiny Ball’s Bluff National Cemetery, site of the Civil War battle. After going north on Route 15 to Route 672, head west to Lovettsville. Then take Routes 673 and 690 to Hillsboro, travel a short way on Route 9 and turn left for Route 719 to Round Hill. After a short ride to Bluemont on Route 7, head east on Route 734, the Snickersville Turnpike. This rolling roadway, lined with stone walls and banks of trees, is a great way to end the trip.

Bike trips

Western Maryland Rail Trail. It’s about 73 miles from the Capital Beltway to the start of this trail, but the biking is fabulous. This well-paved, 21-mile trail generally follows the C&O Canal and the Potomac. If you start on the east side of the trail, pause for refreshment in Hancock. The community has done a good job welcoming the trail and its users. From the D.C. area , take I-270/70 to Exit 12, for the Big Pool Road parking area on the east side of the trail, or go farther to Exit 3 and park just off Main Street in Hancock.

Wilson Bridge Trail. You’re not far from the traffic on I-95, but this paved trail on the north side of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge offers some spectacular views of the District and Old Town Alexandria. On the Virginia side, it links with the Mount Vernon Trail, Route 1 and Old Town. The east side ends at National Harbor in Prince George’s County.

C&O Canal Trail. The 184.5-mile-long canal is on the north bank of the Potomac, starting in the District and ending in Cumberland, Md. Cycling and walking along the canal’s unpaved towpath are popular activities, but the canal is not one continuous experience. Visitors can connect with it at many points. My favorite segment starts at Pennyfield Lock Road, south of River Road in Montgomery County. Great river views, and quieter than points closer to the District. The very ambitious among you could consider linking the canal route with the Great Allegheny Passage, for a 330- mile ride to Pittsburgh.

Resources

Bike trails. There are many excellent Web sites with details on these trails and others. Of particular note are James Menzies’s site, BikeWashington.org ; Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling, at fabb-bikes.org; the Washington Area Bicyclists Association, at waba.org; and BikeArlington, at BikeArlington.com.

Scenic roads. Order the free Maryland Scenic Byways map by calling 877-632-9929. It’s also available online, at roads.maryland.gov. A free map of Scenic Roads in Virginia is available by calling 800-VISITVA. It’s also available for viewing or download at vdot.virginia.gov.

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