Can’t get away from D.C.? Here are some good day trips

Robert Thomson
Columnist August 3, 2012

This month, commuters are slowly vanishing from the highways in the Washington area. Many will be off to have a little fun, and you should, too. But you may not have spent the previous seven months planning for that. So here are a few ideas on how to enjoy the roadways in the greater Washington region during the rest of the summer.

D.C. to Antietam

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 70 miles from the District to the Antietam National Battlefield, which this year is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the bloodiest day in American history.

●Roads: The most direct route from the Capital Beltway goes up Interstate 270, then picks up I-70 at Frederick, then heads south on Route 65 (Sharpsburg Pike), which leads to the battlefield’s visitors center. For less interstate and more scenery, leave I-70 after Frederick and take Route 40 to Route 34 (Potomac Street) in Boonsboro. In Sharpsburg, turn right on North Church Street (Route 65) to reach the battlefield. Or leave Route 40 at Middletown for Route 17 to Burkittsvillle, then turn onto West Main Street and head into Gathland State Park before picking up Route 67 to Trego Road, which leads to Route 34.

●Sights: Many events are scheduled over the next two months at the battlefield park and in Sharpsburg. Next weekend, for example, visitors can join living-history programs at various locations.


Mount Vernon, the estate of first President George Washington. (Linda Davidson/THE WASHINGTON POST)

The weekend of Sept. 15-17, the last weekend of summer, is jammed with commemorative events, and the park should be quite crowded. The phone number for the visitors center is 301-432-5124. Web address: www.nps.gov/ancm.

The drive from the District to the battlefield should take about an hour and 40 minutes if you don’t stop. But there are many worthwhile stops, including Burkittsville, Gathland State Park — visit the War Correspondents Arch or hike to Weverton Cliffs — and Boonsboro.

History buffs also would enjoy a side trip to Harpers Ferry, about a half hour’s drive south across the Potomac River.

Point of Rocks to Thurmont

It’s about 36 miles from the Potomac River at Point of Rocks to Thurmont in the Catoctin Mountains, a ride that can be done in under an hour without stops. The side trips involve history, hikes and sites. Virginians driving north from Leesburg can cross the Potomac bridge and join this trip.

●Roads: Routes 15, 77, 491, 550 and back to 15. On a map, this will look like a deflating balloon on a string. The northern section is a big loop branching west from Route 15 through Cunningham Falls and Catoctin Mountain parks, then up almost to the Mason-Dixon Line before heading south and reconnecting with southbound Route 15.

●Sights: Driving north on Route 15 puts you in range of the Monacacy battlefield (1864), which is to the southeast of Frederick off Route 355. You will be even closer to historic Frederick. In my holiday getaway guides, Frederick is a highway junction for western and northern escapes from the D.C. region, but downtown is worth a summer stop. The Frederick Visitor Center is at 151 S. East St. Phone: 800-999-3613. Web site: www.fredericktourism.org.

That northern loop that begins with Route 77 at Thurmont passes quickly into some of my favorite territory: the drive along Big Hunting Creek, a visit to the 78-foot waterfall in Cunningham Falls State Park and the nearby campground run by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Phone: 301-271-7574. Web site: www.dnr.state.md.us/ publiclands/western/cunningham.asp.

Manassas to Middletown

Virginia has its own share of Civil War memorializing, and these two sites, about 50 miles apart, are involved in this summer’s activities.

●Roads: The Manassas battlefield and the Cedar Creek battlefield in Middletown, Va., are linked by Interstate 66 and I-81.

A more pleasant drive starting from Manassas would take you north and west on Sudley Road, north on Route 15, west on Route 50 through Aldie and Upperville (watch your speed going through those communities) to Route 340, Route 277 and Route 11.

The Cedar Creek site’s entrance is at 8437 Valley Pike (Route 11), off I-81 near its interchange with I-66 just south of Middletown. The entrance to the Manassas battlefield’s Henry Hill Visitors Center is off Sudley Road (Route 234) north of I-66.

●Sights: This weekend, reenactors are engaged in the Battle of Second Manassas, but they are performing on the Cedar Creek Battlefield site. For information, call 540-869-2064. Web site: www.cedarcreekbattlefield.org. Gates open at 9 a.m. Sunday, and the event concludes at 5 p.m.

The Manassas battlefield park and surrounding communities have their 150th anniversary events scheduled for Aug. 25 through Sept. 2. The National Park Service plans tours, lectures and living-history demonstrations. Phone information: 703-361-1339.
Web site: www.nps.gov/mana.

The big anniversary for Cedar Creek is two years away. But Cedar Mountain in Culpeper has its 150th battle anniversary on Thursday. A living-history program with infantry and artillery demonstrations is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. to dusk on the battlefield, with more events on the battlefield and in Culpeper from Friday through Sunday.

Cedar Mountain is about 50 miles southwest of the Manassas battlefield, via routes 29 and 15. Information: 540-547-9904.
Web site: www.friendsofcedarmountain.org.

George Washington Parkway

For once in your life, just enjoy it as a park, not as an outdated, overused commuter route. It’s a beautiful gateway to the nation’s capital, and when vacation leaves you with free time and your fellow commuters have fled to far places, you can finally appreciate it.

●Road: The parkway’s 25 miles connect the Capital Beltway near the American Legion Bridge and George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon. Those are narrow and bendy miles, with speed limits from 25 to 50 mph. A cautious, straight-through drive could take about an hour. But if you stop for a picnic, admire views both natural and man-made, and visit the first president’s estate, you could make a day of it.

●Sights: Besides the best panoramic views of all our big, white buildings across the river?

There’s the 380-acre Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve for bird-watching — including guided walks — and hiking. There’s Theodore Roosevelt Island with its parking lot off the northbound parkway lanes north of the Roosevelt Bridge, and nearly 700 acres of forested land at Turkey Run Park just east of the Beltway.

Bring your bike for a ride along the 18.5 mile Mount Vernon Trail, accessible from many points along the parkway. Phone: 703-289-2500.

Web site: www.nps.gov/gwmp.

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