By: Beth Hauptle
Few realize that nearly half of Maryland’s land is blanketed in forest. One could add an entire category to a bucket list, and plan to visit all 47 state parks, 15 state-owned lakes and ponds, and six natural environment areas. During the cool months, you might want to trek out to the westernmost reaches of Maryland to Allegany and Garrett counties where the 193-mile Mountain Maryland Scenic Byway abounds with scenic forests and parks, unique wineries and breweries, delicious cuisine, history, shopping, and arts.
Start your trip in the picturesque town of Cumberland, nestled at the eastern entrance to the Cumberland Narrows, the thin gap between Will’s and Haystack mountains. A stroll along the C&O Canal Tow Path makes for an enjoyable morning and you can learn about the rich canal history at the interactive C&O Canal Visitors Museum. Afterwards, stop by Charis Winery for a tasting, offered by the winery’s enthusiastic and friendly owners Chuck and Robin Park. Chuck encourages guests to bring food from local eateries to enjoy with a bottle, and suggests the popular Mountain Thunder, an off-dry red made with the French hybrid chancellor grape and aged with American white oak. For lunch or dinner, try the Crabby Pig for fresh seafood, BBQ smoked on site, and Crabby’s popular Black Angus steaks.
After your meal, zig zag your way up to Lover’s Leap, a stunning rock formation and the setting of an Appalachian folktale about two lovers who leapt to their death together. The reasonable 30-minute walk up to the top offers stunning views—which get better the higher you climb.
Take a detour north to visit Allegany County’s only farm brewery, 1812. The McCagh family’s tasting room is housed in a rustic brick and wood barn, the perfect setting for a flight or pint to pair with a bring-your-own picnic lunch. You can also purchase a charcuterie plate or snacks. If you happen to visit on the first Sunday of April through December, you can enjoy an eclectic indoor/outdoor farmers, crafts, and flea market.
Continuing along the Mountain Scenic Byway, head west to Frostburg and enjoy the town’s shops, restaurants, and galleries. In the fall of 2018 Donny and Kristan Carter purchased the historic Gunter Hotel and brought their Toasted Goat Winery tasting room to the premises. The historic hotel comes complete with a small jail and cockfighting ring in the basement. (No worries. Both are inactive.) Word has it that Mr. Gunter, a savvy entrepreneur who purchased the hotel in the early 20th century, thought he’d make a little extra cash by housing those transporting prisoners along the National Highway.
Frostburg Pro Tip: On the first Saturday of December, enjoy Storybook Holiday, featuring breakfast with elves, Elf Olympics, Santa letter writing, and Secret Elves’ Workshops—all culminating in a Tree Lighting Festival and showing of a classic holiday movie at the Palace Theatre.
Next, wind your way to Accident, Maryland (the tiny town’s 325 residents are called Accidentals) for a cheese adventure. Here you’ll find FireFly Farms Creamery & Market, where a community of cheese makers display their dedication to making handcrafted cheese and promoting sustainable operations. All of the cheese is made with raw goat milk sourced from family farms within a 30-mile radius. The Market offers cheese and specialty food and drinks that you can sample while watching production through viewing windows. Or better yet, schedule a seated wine and cheese pairing ($49 to $65 for 1.5 hours). FireFly cheeses are sold at such retailers as Whole Foods Markets, Balducci’s, Safeway, and Wegmans.
Next, head down into the Deep Creek Lake area of Western Maryland. In Friendsville, you’ll find Deep Creek Cellars, a 20-acre vineyard and winery where owners Paul Roberts and Nadine Grabania are dedicated to using sustainable farming and natural winemaking techniques. They emphasize low tech throughout the winemaking process, striving for craftsmanship and natural harmony. The couple planted the original 700 vines (mostly cabernet franc and chardonnay) in May 1997 and over time have refined their natural winemaking techniques.
Swallow Falls State Park is a great place for hikers to enjoy some truly awe-inspiring scenery. See Maryland’s highest free-falling waterfall and several other smaller falls as you pass through beautiful forests of tall hemlocks. The park is also great for biking and picnicking. On the easternmost side of the trail, you’ll pass through shaded rocky gorges and enjoy the power and beauty of the Youghiogheny River (pronounced Yock-a-gainy, or just Yock).
After your hike, quench your thirst at the Mountain State Brewing Company. The beer is brewed in West Virginia, but you can enjoy it in Deep Creek at the brewery’s only Maryland brew pub, open since 2008. The restaurant specializes in artisan flatbread pizzas and signature sandwiches made in their hand built wood burning pizza oven.
Wind down your trip at the 482-acre Dans Mountain State Park which sits upon a 16-mile stretch of mountain. While there, enjoy wildlife, streams, scenic overlooks, trails, and fishing. (If you visit in the summer months, there’s an Olympic sized pool with picnic tables, pavilions, and grills.) For some of the best views of Maryland’s mountains, visit Dan’s Rock Overlook, accessible from Old Dan’s Rock Road in Midland. While you’ll see lots of graffiti on the rocks, and not all of it artistic, the views are pristine.
The Mountain Maryland Scenic Byway offers something for everyone during all four seasons. For more information go to visitmaryland.org.
MAIN STREET MARYLAND
Three towns mentioned in the Mountain Maryland Scenic Byway article are designated Main Street Maryland communities: Cumberland, Frostburg, and Oakland.
Created in 1998 by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, 30 communities in Maryland now carry the Main Street Maryland designation. This competitive process encourages towns to foster economic revitalization and sustainability in their downtown districts. This means you will find historic architecture, locally owned shops and boutiques, arts, special events and festivals, and a variety of restaurants and cafés.
1812 Brewery 1812brewery.com, Cumberland l The first and only farm brewery in Allegany County sits in a rustic, repurposed barn. Hops are grown on the farm.
Charis Winery & Distillery chariswinery.com, Cumberland l The wine producer couple personally hosts the tasting room, and visitors are enamored with their friendliness and fascinating stories about their wine.
Toasted Goat Winery and Gunter Hotel toastedgoatwinery.com, Frostburg l Enjoy a Toasted Goat wine tasting or a meal in the Toasted Goat restaurant. Looking for a place to stay? The Gunter Hotel has decent rooms at a decent price.
Crabby Pig 301-724-7472, Cumberland l Known for fresh seafood, BBQ, and Black Angus Steaks.
FireFly Farms fireflyfarms.com, Accident l Local farmers provide all of the GMO-free goat milk for these cheesemakers supplying chains like Wegmans, Balducci’s, and Whole Foods Markets.
Mountain State Brewing Company mountainstatebrewing.com, McHenry l Mountain State’s Maryland-based Brew Pub serves good beer and popular flatbread pizzas baked in a homemade brick oven.
C&O Canal National Historical Park and Visitors Museum bit.ly/comuseum, Cumberland l Interesting and educational displays about the vital role canals played in the industrial revolution.
Swallow Falls State Park bit.ly/swallowfalls, Oakland l Trails lead you to beautiful falls, tall hemlocks, and the powerful Youghiogheny River.
Dan’s Rock Overlook bit.ly/dansrock, Rawlings l Breathtaking views of Western Maryland’s mountains.