When I was growing up in North Carolina, one of the things I enjoyed about living there was the geographical diversity. Soulscape seekers and vacationers in the Tar Heel State choose from the Appalachian Mountains in the western part or the Atlantic beaches to the east. In between lies the rolling Piedmont hills where we lived.
When Roberta and I arrived here in 1995, I was very pleased that the Mid-Atlantic region has the same set of options. We do wish the Maryland beaches were closer, but we appreciate our proximity to the mountains.
On Saturday, with an Indian summer begging us to get out of the house, we headed for the mountains. Our destination was Catoctin Mountain Park, located in the panhandle of Maryland. Flipping through a recently purchased 60 Hikes Within 60 miles, I chose it as something different from the Virginia ranges we had already been to. It's also not that far from Washington, about an hour and twenty minutes from Alexandria on the divided hiways of the Beltway, I-270 and scenic Hiway 15. It's an easy, fast-paced route (on the weekends anyway) but you will want to familiarize yourself with the tricky junctures that take place in Frederick.
Just in time for lunch, we arrived at the foot of the mountains. There lies Thurmont, nicknamed the "Gateway to the Mountains." It's a lazy, country town with a 2000 population of 5,588. Some web-searching had found The Cozy, an award-winning Historic Inn and Restaurant. Inside is a small museum for nearby Camp David (You know you're from Washington when you know where Camp David is). From there, the mountain top and park are a winding, three miles away.
Pulling off the hiway onto the road that would take us to the restaurant, I felt that sense of satisfaction of a no snags arrival. But I suddenly discovered I had not done all my homework. As we pulled on to the exit ramp, we saw car after car parked alongside. Traffic had come to a standstill on the road below. People were crossing the streets.
Turns out, the area celebrates fall every mid-October with Catoctin Colorfest, an Arts and Crafts Show. Beaucoup happy people filling up the parking lots, wandering the streets, browsing the booths, buying stuff they'll one day pay a storage place to keep.
You don't want to hear about the next part do you, the gory details of the man breaking down upon seeing this sight and muttering something about irony and the best laid plans of mice and men?
Good. Let's move on past the part where he and his wife give up on The Cozy, and eat instead at a crowded Humdrum Diner. After lunch we drove up the mountain to the Park. Quite frankly, it's not a very high elevation but the area is very pretty with lots of shade and winding roads (you get that with mountains..). Some of the leaves were changing but not yet peak. We got out and walked some. There's a good variety of steep hill climbing and more level which we chose. The drive around the top of the mountain takes about 20 minutes and you can try and guess where Camp David is.
Our Thurmont experience did come with that unexpected curve ball, but all in all it was a very good, low cost day. We would classify it as we did, Middleburg, an overlooked destination in the area. There's also Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo just down the road. We didn't make it there, although for a while, it did feel like we were at a zoo.