At Home Places

Welcome spring with a day trip to the iconic Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., which includes several "exclaimation point" events over the course of the March 20–April 12 celebration.

Photo courtesy of Washington.org

Have Car, Will Travel

Grab Your Friends and Family, Put a Little Gas in the Car, and Take Off on a Day-Trip Adventure

written by Stacey Campbell
Tasty fare and great entertainment combine in an evening at the Washington county Playhouse Dinner Theater.

Photo by Kevin G. Gilbert

Warming days, gentle breezes, budding trees and singing birds: spring’s blossoming sends us all the signal that it’s to shake off the remnants of winter’s chill. The urge to go outside, explore and take in the world anew becomes undeniable. And thanks to a man-made circumstance in the form of low gas prices, there’s no better time than spring to gather the family, friends or your sweetheart for a day-trip adventure. So get a road-trip playlist ready, wind down the windows for that fresh spring air, and set off to enjoy some of the varied sights and adventures that are accessible within a two-hour’s drive or less in the Tri-State region.

“Life blooms in Washington County during spring!” says Audrey Vargason, CTA, director of sales for Hagerstown-Washington County Convention & Visitors Bureau. Families with children and pets can all explore together at Fort Frederick State Park, to learn about the legacy of this 18th-century frontier stone fort and hit the hiking trails. Make it an overnight excursion by pitching a tent in the park’s campground. Couples might enjoy taking in an exhibit at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts and the Washington County Arts Council Gallery in downtown Hagerstown, followed by dinner and live theater at the Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater, which is staging performances of “The Marvelous Wonderettes” and “The King & I” this spring. Or, gather some friends for birding at Antietam National Battlefield. “[It’s] the perfect location to view birds along the wooded areas of historic farms and stream banks of Burnside Bridge,” Audrey says. “The battlefield features a bluebird trail with over 70 nest boxes and is home to nearly seven dozen types of species.” Pack a lunch to enjoy or take a break at the Battleview Market & Diner or Captain Benders Tavern in Sharpsburg.

The Beautiful art-deco Star Theatre in Mercersburg, Pa., offers great atmosphere for a movie or live performance.

Photo by Kevin G. Gilbert

Pack the fishing rods for a day with the family at Buchanan’s Birthplace State Park in Franklin County, Pa. “Buck Run passes through the park and offers good native trout fishing,” says Janet Pollard, tourism director for the Franklin County (Pa.) Visitors Bureau. Walking trails and environmental exhibits at the nearby Charles Brightbill Environmental Center are a great complement, followed by ice cream at C.R. Bucks, where kids can feed the deer and play a mini-golf round. Couples and friends can make a day of visiting Mercersburg’s Long Acre Alpaca Farm, where spring is shearing season, and then head into the town of Mercersburg for decadent dining at the James Buchanan Pub or Flannery’s Tavern on the Square. For a next-day extender, don’t miss the unique shopping opportunities in the charming downtowns of Chambersburg, Greencastle and Waynesboro, or take in a show at Mercersburg’s Star Theatre.

In Adams County, Pa., the hallowed ground of Gettysburg is a well-known attraction, but “the region has so much more to offer – and is an exciting place to take children to unwind, engage with history and create some memories,” says Carl Whitehill, director of communications at Destination Gettysburg. Families might mix some history with a visit to attractions like the Land of Little Horses Farm Park, Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum, Explore & More Children’s Museum or Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve. Couples or groups of friends can indulge in a great culinary experience like the Savor Gettysburg Food Tour – which brings together seven eateries and one winery in one afternoon – or the Gettysburg Wine and Fruit Trail. Rest up at one of Gettysburg’s historic inns or B&Bs, and then experience the battlefield in a unique way. “[You can] tour Gettysburg like the cavalry in 1863,” Carl says. “A group of friends on horseback is not only full of fun and history, it’s a memory that will last a long time. Or, hop aboard Segways, scooters or bicycles and tour America’s most famous battlefield.”

See Gettysburg like the calvary would have seen it – on a horseback tour of the battlefield.

Photo courtesy of Destination Gettysburg

“Spring is an excellent time to visit, especially in April when redbud trees line the roads and climb the ridges.”

“Visit Maryland’s first on-the-farm dairy processing plant that home-delivers farm-fresh and all-natural products to over 8,500 customers” – South Mountain Creamery – suggests Charissa Hipp, CTA, digital marketing and media relations manager for Visit Frederick. Free daily activities include watching cow milking, bottle-feeding the calves, and playing on the play set. Then, choose from 40 delicious flavors of super-premium ice cream in the farm store. Families might wind down in the evening at a Frederick Keys baseball game, where kids eat free Mondays. Grown-ups can indulge their taste buds with a farm-to-table harvest dinner at Fox Haven Farm & Learning Center, a wildlife sanctuary and ecological retreat. “The evening includes a tour of the gardens and farm, preparing a healthy meal from food grown on the farm, and, if weather permits, enjoying the meal on the picturesque farmhouse porch,” Charissa says. Extend the day with a relaxing overnight stay in the farmhouse, and explore more of Frederick County on the Historic Covered Bridges Driving Tour or the Frederick Wine Trail.

In Berkeley Springs, W.Va., “spring is an excellent time to visit, especially in April when redbud trees line the roads and climb the ridges,” says Jeanne Mozier, vice president of Travel Berkeley Springs, adding that there’s also “good hiking before the foliage comes out so you can see the ‘bones’ of the land.” The outdoors are a big attraction in this area, and families can enjoy activities like fishing, clay shooting, golf, hiking and more at Cacapon State Park, a resort park with a family-friendly restaurant and plentiful cabins and lodge rooms. Or, let the kids splash in the open pools and channels – including George Washington’s Bathtub – in Berkeley Springs State Park, where “the water is always warm enough for toe dangling,” Jeanne says. Check out the “giant diamond” and antique bathing suit displays in the free museum park on weekends, or visit the Star Theatre, a vintage movie house boasting the best popcorn in four states. The biggest attraction for adults, particularly groups of women, are the spas, offering more than 60 different bodywork treatments from massage to acupuncture. Private historic Roman Baths are also available in Berkeley Springs State Park.

Take to the water in America's Sailing Capital aboard the Sea Gypsy for a Pirate Adventure with the kids.

Photo courtesy of VisitAnnapolis.org

Just Around the Bend

Many new exhibits reignite the excitement of visiting favorite Baltimore destinations like the Maryland Zoo, Port Discovery Children’s Museum, and the National Aquarium. “[These] attractions are constantly keeping the family-friendly visitor experience fresh,” says Visit Baltimore National Public Relations Manager Monee Cottman. “The Maryland

Zoo recently opened a new permanent exhibit called ‘Penguin Coast;’ Port Discovery Children’s Museum opened LEGO Castle Adventures in February; and in the spring, the National Aquarium will open a new permanent exhibit, ‘Living Seashore,’ which will allow guests to encounter more than 150 animals.” Warm spring weather means an ideal opportunity for adults to get out and explore unique neighborhood shopping districts in Hampden, Harbor East, Federal Hill and Fells Point, or take a neighborhood Segway tour. Of course, Orioles baseball is back in April, Monee notes, and “May is also the beginning of our annual event season with the Running of the Preakness Stakes, Maryland Film Festival, Kinetic Sculpture Race and FlowerMart.”

Annapolis is America’s Sailing Capitol, “so it’s great for people to come when the sailing season is in gear,” says Susan Steckman, vice president, communications, for the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “[In] April and May, the boats are back on the water, the walking tours are back on the streets, and the trolley tour is running again.” Families with children will love Pirate Adventures on the Chesapeake, with rides aboard the Sea Gypsy. “Kids dress up like pirates and shoot water cannons at pirates,” Susan says. Make it official at the Annapolis Sailing and Powerboat School, which teaches kids to sail in its “Kidship” program. Adults can also take a sailing lesson, or sit back and relax on a two-hour cruise aboard the Schooner Woodwind. Landlubbers can still take part by watching Wednesday Night Sailboat Races from Carrol’s Creek Restaurant along “Restaurant Row,” Susan says, or enjoy an hourlong trolley tour through Annapolis’ Historic District aboard a Discover Annapolis Trolley Tour. And don’t forget, the city is home to the U.S. Naval Academy and the Maryland Statehouse, not to mention plentiful restaurants serving the fresh bounty of the bay.

More than 30 rides and attractions await at DelGrosso's Amusement Park near Altoona, Pa., which also boasts America's Best Amusement Park Food.

Photo courtesy of Explore Altoona

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is perhaps the best-known spring attraction in our nation’s capital, but spring “is really the season where D.C. just shines with lots to do,” says Kate E. Gibbs, media relations manager for Destination DC. The Cherry Blossom Festival runs March 21–April 12, with “exclamation point events” around the tidal basin including the opening ceremony March 21, Blossom Kite Festival on March 28, Waterfront Fireworks Festival on April 4, and the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade on April 11. Many events are free, but Kate recommends a seated ticket for the parade for families with children, since seating areas are the most likely to have bands and dancers pause and perform. To stay more than one day, consider the Mandarin Oriental hotel. “It overlooks the tidal basin and the views are extraordinary,” Kate says. For another cultural experience, visit during May’s Passport DC celebration, when the capital’s more than 175 embassies and consulates open their doors. “When you walk into an embassy, you are in that country, you’re considered to be on that country’s ground,” Kate says. “So you really can travel around the world.”

Couples and adult friends might enjoy a visit to D.C. during April, when Ford’s Theatre and the city as a whole will mark the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s assassination. The special exhibition “Silent Witnesses” gathers artifacts that were in the theater on the night of the assassination: Lincoln’s Brooks Brothers great coat, the contents of his pocket, a program, a violin and drumsticks from the orchestra. During the day, the park service offers tours of Ford’s Theatre, which is an active theater in the evenings, and the experience can be rounded out with a visit to the Lincoln family’s summer cottage in the Petworth neighborhood.

Close to the nation’s capital is Loudoun County, Va., known as D.C.’s Wine Country. “With 40 wineries, cozy B&Bs and resorts, Loudoun is one of the premier wine regions along the East Coast and a perfect place for a romantic escape,” says Jennifer Buske-Sigal, media relations manager for Visit Loudoun. “Loudoun’s wineries are nestled between winding roads, rolling countryside, horse farms and historic estates.” Consider the Salamander Resort & Spa, a luxurious property with a unique mix of equestrian, spa, culinary, winery, nature and historic experiences. Or escape to the Goodstone Inn & Restaurant, secluded on a 265-acre estate in the heart of horse and wine country. Loudoun County Destination Restaurants and the budding craft beer scene make it a perfect Epicurean escape. “Spring is a beautiful time in wine country as the buds are breaking on the vines, trees begin to blossom and outdoor patios open up at wineries across the region,” Jennifer says.

Luxorious escapes like the Salamander Resort & Spa, nestled in the heart of Loudoun County, Va.'s wine and horse country, make ideal day-trip excursions for adults

Photo courtesy of Salamander Resort & Spa

The underground wonders of Luray Caverns are a main attraction in Luray, Va., and surrounding Page County is becoming more known as an outdoor recreation hub.

Photo courtesy of LurayPage.com

Exploring Over the Horizon

Western Maryland is known for outdoor adventure and wildlife, but there are also plenty of places for families to get up close and personal with animals off the hiking trails. About 20 minutes from Cumberland, overlooking the Potomac River, River’s Edge Farm is a working farm with alpacas and a rotating menagerie of horses, goats, ducks and other friendly farm animals. A multi-level loft apartment for visitors can be a great home-base for visiting with other creatures nearby, like the Rocky Gap State Park Aviary – where birds that have been injured or raised in captivity and can’t survive in the wild are cared for – and “Tri-State Zoological Park has plenty of exotics for viewing,” says Misty A. Lewis, tourism manager, visitor center and trolley coordinator for The Mountain Side of Maryland group. Cumberland is a great starting point for hiking and biking on the C&O Canal and GAP trails, and for catching a ride on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. Further west in the county, couples can escape to Savage River Lodge, featuring private luxury cabins in the heart of Western Maryland’s Savage River State Park. Or, spend a day trying your luck at Rocky Gap Casino, then unwind with a treatment at the Garden Spa or a round of golf.

Both kids and parents can find something to like at DelGrosso’s Amusement Park near Altoona, Pa. “This is a really nice park for young people about 12 and under,” says Jennifer Fleck, marketing and membership manager for Explore Altoona. “Admission is free, which means parents or grandparents can get in at no cost and just buy a day pass for the kids.” With more than 30 rides and attractions, DelGrosso’s is connected with the pasta sauce of the same name, and boasts “America’s Best Amusement Park Food.” Stop by Gardner’s Candies – home of the original Peanut Butter Meltaways – for a sweet finish to the day. Groups of railroad enthusiasts can visit the Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum, with many interactive exhibits, and the Horseshoe Curve National Historic Landmark: an incredible feat of engineering in which workers built, by hand, a railroad track that curves around a dam and lake, making a 220-degree bend, and spans two ravines. A beautifully landscaped walk leads to an impressive view of this modern marvel.

Plan Your Itinenary

Connect with visitors bureaus and tourism groups online for destination information, calendars, maps and more to plan your next day trip.

Page County, Va., is perhaps best known for the stunning underground Luray Caverns, one of Mother Nature’s finest shows that delights all ages. Guided tours lead through cathedral-sized rooms, past towering stone formations and close by natural wonders at every turn. Above ground, don’t miss the Car and Carriage Museum at Luray Caverns, Toy Town Junction, prospecting opportunities at the Stonyman Mining Company Gem Sluice, or the Garden Maze. And, “spring is a beautiful time to hike Shenandoah National Park, George Washington National Forest, or canoe and fish in the Shenandoah River,” says John Robbins, president of the Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce. “We have about 300 cabins for rent in the county for anyone who wants to stay overnight.” The county is becoming more and more known as a hub of outdoor recreation, John says, but Luray is also part of the Artisan Trail Network and the Blue Ridge Whiskey Wine Loop, perfect for a grown-up excursion.

For destinations close by or farther afield, a chartered bus tour is a wonderful option for day-trip exploration. Kewl Tours & Charters of Walkersville, for example, offers trips this spring for the Cherry Blossom Cruise in Washington, D.C., the Philadelphia Flower Show, and many theater excursions, including Broadway shows in New York City – a beautiful trip in spring, especially when combined with a walk in Central Park. Spring is a great time to explore cities like Baltimore, D.C. and Annapolis, says Carol Goins, Kewl Tours group sales and event consultant, because “schools are still in session, so this makes for a great time to visit places that in summer are crowded with families.” Tours are planned and organized, with tour managers familiar with all the ins and outs of the destination, meals may be included, with the tour company able to make advanced reservations allowing for quick seating, and travelers don’t have to worry with parking or tolls. “And no stress from driving will allow you to sit back, relax or visit with those you are traveling with,” Carol says.