Hit the road in the Capital Region: what to see, do and eat on a road trip around Washington DC and beyond
It's not all power games and politics in Washington DC – the city and its surrounding states make for an off-beat road trip with easy driving, craft beers and historic sites galore.
Why visit the Capital Region?
The Capital Region – taking in the powerhouse city of Washington DC and the surrounding Mid-Atlantic states of Maryland and Virginia – is one of the best locations to kick-start a Kerouac-esque road trip across America.
Thanks to the Historic National Road that leads from the East Coast through to Chicago, where you can pick up the iconic Route 66 all the way to Los Angeles, a journey that starts here is the epitome of travelling coast to coast.
But it doesn’t have to be the start of an epic cross-country trip either; the area is an adventurous destination to explore in itself.
The states surrounding Washington DC promise their own kind of journey, one that involves beautiful mountains, world-renowned biking trails, a burgeoning craft beer scene and some of the most important historic spots in the USA. Here's what to see and how to do it.
4 must-see sights in the Capital Region
1. Explore the Blue Ridge Mountains
No trip to Virginia is complete without experiencing the exhilarating Blue Ridge Mountains. Whether you're driving, hiking or biking the wild woodlands are the perfect way to get away from civilisation. We recommend getting on two wheels though: from routes for beginners to more challenging trails for those with years of experience, cyclists of all levels will find something to enjoy here, not least the scenery.
Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge/Capital Region USA
2. Unearth tales of the Civil War
Maryland is a superb place to immerse yourself in the fascinating tales and struggles of the American Civil War. Maryland was one of the border states between the North and the South of the country, and so was the location of much fighting. History buffs will want to head to historic sites such as Monocacy National Battlefield, near Frederick, where there is a new visitor centre.
Slightly off the beaten track, in the Maryland countryside, Puccini Restaurant conceals some rather more hidden history. After tucking into a create-your-own wood-fired pizza, ask to see the sketches drawn by injured Civil War soldiers in the attic. It’s a spooky treat that takes you back 150 years.
3. Sample the farm brewery scene
Like many places in the USA craft beer is having a moment in the Capital Region and the industry has been helped along by the new Maryland Farm Brewery License, making it easier for farmers to get into the beer business. The recently opened 1812 Brewery near Cumberland, Allegany County is the first farm brewery in the state.
The first farm brewery in the region, it is named after the year the barn in which it is brewed was built. Run by 24-year-old Cory McCagh the farm offers some of the most experimental American IPAs in the area such as the Rocket Irish Red and you can expect to see new blends from stouts to porters.
Head down on Friday and Saturday nights where food trucks and dancing accompany a pint of the good stuff. Or bring your own food and get it matched to one of the beers on tap.
4. Take in the awe-inspiring nature
Sometimes the best things in life come for free, and one of the most beautiful aspects of roaming the Capital Region is just that. Courtesy of Mother Nature, the American Redbud trees (posh name Cercis Canadensis) only flower once a year, making this rare sight all the more impressive.
The small shrubs reveal their deep, intensely purple buds for just two weeks in late April and early May, and they pepper the lush green landscape and roadsides of Maryland and Virginia.
Where to stop (and stay) in the Capital Region
Here are some of the best pit-stop stays to rest your head in Maryland and Virginia.
Maryland: Rocky Gap Casino Resort, Flintstone
Nestled in the Maryland countryside, the Rocky Gap Casino Resort is half an hour away from the small city of Frostburg, two hours' drive from Baltimore and just under 90 minutes from picturesque Frederick.
It's the perfect location to spend a few nights away from the wheel. The resort not only has a casino, but a golf course, as well as a variety of hiking routes around Rocky Gap State Park. Those hiking routes offer the chance to spot vultures and other wildlife, as well as to stumble across some of the nation's oldest history: a Native American shelter lies just yards from the main walking path around the water.
For a night somewhere special, stay in the Tudor-style The Hotel Roanoke, Curio Collection.
Built in 1882, this hotel is at the heart of the city and is a great place for a pit stop sitting opposite the city’s Taubman Museum of Art and within walking distance of downtown’s restaurants and bars. This quirky city also has a pinball museum where you can play on games from as far back as the 1950s too.
READ MORE: America's most quirky museums
The Hotel Roanoke, Curio Collection by Hilton/Booking.com
Virginia: The Stone House, Roanoke
This house was built in 1911 by Italian stonemasons, Mike and Joseph Grosso. But most recently it has been fully renovated by the team behind the DIY Network's show Salvage Dawgs. Sat right next to the salvage yard you see the teamwork from, it may seem like an unusual place to stay.
But the team has outdone themselves refurbishing The Stone House with items saved from projects over the years. You can spot a chandelier made from salvaged wood from the Philadelphia Shipyard, patio steps taken from a cabin at Smith Mountain Lake and bathroom windows taken from a house in England.
Black Dog Salvage/Tay Whiteside
Now a luxurious alternative to a hotel, it sleeps up to six people. And it's not just the salvage yard that you have as a neighbour, as the Roanoke River Greenway is to your left, meaning nature is on your doorstep.
The ultimate road trip around the Capital Region
Day 1: Frederick
Hit the road: and head to Frederick, Maryland.
Mention Maryland and most people think of the seaport city of Baltimore, the setting of cult drama The Wire. But drive inland and you'll find Frederick, Maryland’s adorable town that's listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Just an hour by car from Washington's Dulles International Airport it makes for a charming first stop. Downtown is a picturesque crossroads of beautifully maintained historic buildings and shopfronts that are protected by law.
Check-in to: Courtyard by Marriott. Located on the edge of town, rooms are bright and spacious and there's even an indoor pool and hot tub if you need to unwind from the journey.
Discover more history: at Monocacy National battlefield on the edge of Frederick. An afternoon spent at the new visitor centre will give you a whistle-stop overview of the Civil War, before you gaze out onto the scene of the fighting itself. It's worth crossing over the Monocacy River to follow one of two trails around Worthington Farm where the Worthington family took refuge in the cellar in 1864, while a battle was fought outside.
Country Gate Productions/Shutterstock
Dine in Maryland style: at Firestone’s Culinary Tavern on Market Street, Frederick and has a laid-back bistro feel and a menu that changes daily. It typically serves meaty scallops, steaks and the state's staple of crab cakes. If you don’t feel like eating try a local beer at the bar which offers IPAs by local brewery Flying Dog.
Grab a nightcap: Head five minutes down the road to the organic McClintock Distilling to sample a gin, or two, before you think about heading to bed.
Day 2: Frostburg and Allegeny County, Maryland
Check-in to: the Rocky Gap Casino Resort. It's the perfect base for your first day in the area and set on scenic Lake Habeeb.
Hawkeye Aerial Imaging/Shutterstock
Steam along to Frostburg: on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. Pick up the historic train from the nearby town of Cumberland just a 15-minute drive from Rocky Gap. The classic steam engine-style ride takes three hours and starts at £22.80 ($30) for kids and £35 ($46) for adults. The journey takes you through the Allegheny Mountains in the old-fashioned way and the train even has an elegant dining cart if you feel like lunch in style.
Scenic Western Maryland Railway
You can hire a bike from the train company for an extra $5 (or even bring your own) but bear in mind that the layover in Frostburg itself is only an hour before the train returns to Cumberland.
Hop on your bike: If you want to do more cycling than the hour-long break lets you, leave the train behind and head for the Great Allegheny Passage. The Mason-Dixon line monument that signifies the boundary between the states of Maryland and Pennsylvania is less than an hour by bike and makes a pleasant afternoon cycling.
Eat dinner at: Cumberland's spookiest restaurant. En route back to Rocky Gap Resort stop at Puccini's for a pizza dinner. Don't be scared to pop up to the attic after your food to see the Civil War drawings. And if you're really brave ask the staff about the ghost sightings over the years – there are some bone-chilling stories.
Day 3: Roanoke, Virginia
Hit the highway: Turn up the radio as you take Interstate 81 through historic towns such as Woodstock on the four-hour or so journey southwest to Virginia.
Stop off in Roanoke: Embrace the freedom of the open road as you travel further south stopping at the buzzing city of Roanoke. Less well known than Virginia's capital of Richmond, Roanoke is a cosmopolitan place that lies just beneath the Blue Ridge, offering beautiful vistas and easy access to some of the best cycling trails in America.
Indulge in biscuits and gravy: After all the driving you'll need an energy boost. The Scratch Biscuit Company in Grandin Village, Roanoke serves up some of the best in the state, and offers hearty breakfast and lunch options.
Salvage some treasures: at Black Dog Salvage. Ever seen Salvage Dawgs on the DIY Network? Head down to the Dawgs' actual salvage yard in Roanoke, Virginia, to spot some of the modern treasures the team have found. The yard has its very own shop where you can seek out upcycled gems, from doors to lamps to full pieces of furniture. Plus, there is a section dedicated to the creations of local artisans.
Check-in to: Hotel Roanoke, Curio Collection by Hilton. This hotel's genteel interiors are dark-wood furniture and thick carpets and it has the added bonus of being within walking distance of Roanoke's buzzing downtown.
Grab a bite at Fortunato, Roanoke: This Italian kitchen and Neapolitan-style pizzeria in Roanoke's downtown is only a short walk from Hotel Roanoke, and offers classic, refined fare. Next door the restaurant has its own bar with a speakeasy feel where you can pick up a post-dinner cocktail.
Day 4: Roanoke and the Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia
Burn off breakfast: with a walk or cycle around Carvins Cove Natural Reserve. Once parked up in the Bennett Spring Parking lot, rush through the forest trails and stop at the beautiful blue lake to take in the untouched scenery – and a few photos. (Bikes can be hired from Roanoke Mountain Adventures).
Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge via Capital Region USA
Go for Mexican at: El Jefe Taqueria Garaje. Post-mountain biking or hiking you're going to need some food to re-energise. Head to Salem to this slick taqueria for tacos from £2.30 ($3) and maybe even a tequila if you fancy.
Reach for the Star(s): If you still feel like more exercise, drive back via Roanoke where you can hike to see the Roanoke Star. Erected in 1949 as a Christmas decoration, the star has never left the mountain top, and now live streams its visitors onto its website – so be sure to wave at the camera. But while it’s impressive, it is far outdone by the views that face it, where on a clear day you can see the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge/Capital Region USA
Don't worry though, if you're feeling tired from the morning's biking you can drive to the top too. It's a view that's not to be missed.
READ MORE: America's most important landmarks
Dabble in some Moonshine: After an active day, an evening in Franklin County 30-minutes south is well deserved. Here you will be able to try out some (legal) moonshine. Chris Prillaman (pictured) is the man behind Twin Creeks Distillery, the first legal liquor sold in the state since prohibition.
In fact, it’s a family affair with his daughter Anna behind the bar serving up tasting flights of Moonshine, and smooth, fruit-flavoured brandies – there are apple and peach – or for those after something a bit lighter one of their cocktails. I recommend the Dreamsicle, an exotic creamy mix of peach brandy, orange juice and vanilla cream. Chris's tales of illegal moonshining in the area and how his own ancestors were prosecuted for liquor-making are the perfect way to wind down.
Grab a burger: If a beer or two has left you feeling peckish, grab a burger at the Rocky Mount Burger Co, just across the road, to finish off the evening.
Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge via Capital Region USA
To discover more about the Capital Region USA visit capitalregionusa.org
Purely Capital Region USA (0844 80 444 80) offers a 10-night self-drive trip to the Capital Region USA priced from £1,549 per person (based on a September or October 2020 departure).
This 10-night package includes return economy flights with Virgin Atlantic from LHR to Washington Dulles International, economy car hire for time spent in Virginia and Maryland, nine nights’ total accommodation with three nights at Rocky Gap Resort, Maryland; three nights at Hotel Roanoke in Virginia and three nights at Eaton DC Hotel in Washington DC with a final night spent flying home. All accommodation is room only and based on two adults sharing
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