Where: Downtown Frederick, Md.

Why: Wacky birdhouses, skateboard gear galore and dress-up contests for daring dogs.

How Far: About 40 miles from Rockville or just over an hour.

Pack up Rover! Next Saturday, Frederick throws dogs and owners a big ol' bone: It's the First Saturday Gallery Walk and Dog Days of Summer, where humans and pooches can paw through shops, chow on great food, and even make a splash with dog-and-owner paddle trips on Carroll Creek (it runs right through town).

The day's biggest highlights are unquestionably the pair of canine contests: the owner/dog look-alike competition and the showdown for "summer's hottest dog," where anything goes -- Hawaiian shirts, bikinis, sunglasses or Doggles. Decked-out contestants have an hour to scoot through town and visit various themed judging stations (including the upscale Wags and Wine, where vino will be flowing, and the laid-back Dog-Gone Country, with hay bales and watermelon), a process that whittles the pack to a smaller number of finalists. The last stop is contest sponsor Two Paws Up, a pet boutique where the winners get crowned and everyone winds down at the rollicking "doggie after party."

The trip to the festivities is a real tail-wagger, too. You and your dog can start with a quick jog on the shady Seneca Creek Greenway Trail west of Gaithersburg, then stock up on fresh-from-the-farm peaches, peppers and corn at Lewis Orchard in Dickerson. For another pit stop, hit the Monocacy Aqueduct at the C&O Canal; stretching more than 500 feet, it's the canal's longest "water bridge" and one of its most scenic spots, thanks to its location near a wide bend in the Potomac River.

Finally, pull over to inspect the amazing array of birdhouses at the intersection of routes 28 and 85: They're made with found objects and recycled materials (license plates, typewriter keys, old shingles), and many sell for $25 or less -- just leave your money tucked away on site.

Karen-Lee Ryan

Dog Days runs Saturday, 6-9 p.m., and is sponsored in part by the Frederick Humane Society. Contest registration is 6-7 p.m. at Two Paws Up (15 S. Carroll St.) and costs $10 for the first dog, $8 for each additional dog. All pooches must be leashed and have proof of rabies vaccination. For more info, call 301-698-8118 or visit www.downtownfrederick.org.

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