The Scenic Route

Road trips are helping travelers feel safe while enjoying the best of their vacations.

As international plane travel has fallen out of favor due to safety concerns—or become downright impossible due to travel restrictions—a new hero has emerged in the realm of vacation planning: cars. Personal motor vehicles are rapidly becoming one of the most common modes of transportation for tourists, as they seek out safer ways to get to their destinations. 

And these days, a car is more than just a means of getting to a destination—for travelers looking to book a road trip, their vehicle can also be a crucial part of the journey itself. Just ask Dr. Terika Haynes, owner of travel consultancy Dynamite Travel; since the beginning of the pandemic, she and her colleagues have received “all types of inquiries related to taking road trips,” she said. “People are looking for smaller destinations that aren’t overpopulated with tourists—more options off the beaten path.”

For residents of the D.C. metro area looking to plan a road trip this fall, Frederick County, Maryland, offers something for everyone. Whether they’re history buffs, foodies, culture connoisseurs or adventure junkies, visitors can enjoy fine outdoor dining, public art, nature, monuments and everything in between.

“You really can do it all here,” said Melissa Joseph Muntz, marketing and communications manager for Visit Frederick.

Explore the past—and present—in Downtown Frederick

One of Frederick’s most unique offerings is its rich history. The city of Frederick was founded in 1745, and this year, they’re celebrating their 275th anniversary at iconic museums and landmarks throughout the area.

The crown jewel of Frederick’s historical destinations is their National Museum of Civil War Medicine, a must-see for history aficionados that is conveniently located in Frederick’s downtown area. The museum uses the average Civil War soldier’s story to illustrate the birth of army medicine and, ultimately, the modern healthcare system—and their 10,000-plus square feet of exhibition space allows visitors to remain six feet apart.

“We get visitors from all over the world,” said David Price, executive director of the museum.

Once travelers work up an appetite by exploring historical sites and museums, they have ample opportunities to grab a socially-distant bite downtown, where Frederick’s local restaurants quickly pivoted to accommodate outdoor dining. Road trippers can enjoy an alfresco meal on Market Street, where there are street closures on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays to accommodate street dining, according to Kara Norman, executive director of the Downtown Frederick Partnership. Restaurants have also expanded dining onto our sidewalks to accommodate more people in a safe way.

“It’s a fun way to dine outside, but it also creates plenty of room for diners,” Norman said.

Even restaurants that don’t have on-street dining are finding ways to reopen with safety protocols in place and still give visitors the full, authentic Frederick County dining experience. This includes Brewer’s Alley, a brewpub that is open at limited capacity, and whose rooftop bar offers stellar views of the historic main street. Visitors can try the fan-favorite Maryland crab cakes while they’re there, and wash them down with Brewer’s Alley own take on Kölsch beer, which is created at nearby Monocacy Brewing Company.

For those seeking a more family-friendly dining option, Pistarro’s is a top choice. There, road trippers can choose from 17 different types of brick-oven pizza, with toppings ranging from classic and kid-friendly (tomato and basil) to inventive (pineapple, speck,  jalapeño and mozzarella); children can play with single-use pizza dough while they wait for food to arrive. Depending on the time of year, visitors can round out the night with a drive-in movie at the Francis Scott Key mall or a live performance at Sky Stage, Frederick’s open-air theater.

Enjoying art and green space, just outside the main district

With five out of the state’s 18 scenic roadways or “byways” located within Frederick County, traversing through the area by car can be just as enjoyable as arriving at your chosen destinations. From the road, visitors can spy historic markers and sacred nature preserves on nationally-designated scenic roadways like the Historical National Road and the Catoctin Mountain National Scenic Byway. They can also cross the three covered bridges in Frederick County—Roddy Road, Utica Mills and Loy’s Station—which account for half of all of Maryland’s covered bridges.

Visitors not ready to venture into indoor galleries and art spaces will also be pleasantly surprised by the ubiquity of outdoor art on display in and around Frederick. From water-inspired mosaics along Carroll Creek Park and multiple building-wide murals worth a photo op, to bronze statues and adorned bridges, there are plenty of opportunities to take in the local culture by car or on foot.

When it’s time for visitors to get out and stretch their legs a bit after a long ride, they’ll find ample outdoor spaces to get out and roam while still remaining socially distant. There’s the expansive Baker Park, which features several playgrounds, a pool, baseball fields, tennis courts and an outdoor bandshell for live music. Visitors can behold Cunningham Falls, Maryland’s highest cascading waterfall, in Cunningham Falls State Park; the cascade clocks in at 78 feet. And Catoctin Mountain Park offers 5,770-acres of walking, hiking and leaf peeping for visitors driving through this autumn.

Some road-trippers choose to return home at the end of the day, but others need a place in the area to rest after a long day of sightseeing. For such visitors, Frederick has ample lodging options available. Several bed and breakfast outposts can be found in and around downtown, along with amenity-filled hotels, all of which are following increased cleaning procedures and requiring face coverings in common areas; 10 Clarke is a top option. Visitors can also opt for a rental cabin, campsites at places like the Brunswick Family Campground, or one of the town’s rustic, historic lock houses along the C&O canal.

And while many of Frederick’s visitors are day-trippers, locals notice that visitors often wind up staying a while. A common theme longtime Frederick dwellers like Price have seen is travelers becoming repeat visitors, and choosing to stay for longer periods of time on their second and third trips. “Once people get here, they see public art, sidewalk dining, a historic downtown that’s in great shape—they want to stay all day and come back,” he said. 

Whether visitors are coming for just the day or an extended vacation, Frederick is poised to greet them with open arms in a way that’s as welcoming as it is safe. “We definitely want people to feel comfortable coming here,” Muntz added. “We’re ready when you are.”

Learn more about visiting Frederick, Maryland.