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Frederick County's Scenic Byways

Frederick County is home to several state and federally designated scenic roadways, referred to more commonly as "byways". Not only do these routes assist travelers in getting from point A to point B, they also represent tourist destinations unto themselves. Five out of Maryland's eighteen designated byways traverse Frederick County and are marked with the Black-eyed Susan scenic byway signs. The City and County of Frederick have the unique distinction of sitting at the crossroads of two nationally designated scenic roadways - the Historical National Road (US 40) and the Catoctin Mountain National Scenic Byway (US 15), Maryland's portion of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground.  A Maryland Scenic Byways Map with driving tour itineraries is available online or at the Frederick Visitor Center. 

Journey Through Hallowed Ground

Experience the fascinating historical and cultural landscape that is the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area, a 180-mile long, 75-mile wide region stretching from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia. This journey along US 15 is a wonderful pilgrimage to Civil War sites, pristine natural sanctuaries, and land considered by many to be sacred.

Hiker standing on the top of a rock overlooking Catoctin Mountain Park

Maryland's "Hallowed Ground" area stretches 38 miles of Frederick County, from Emmitsburg to Point of Rocks. At the heart of the journey is the ecologically diverse Catoctin Mountain area, where U.S. presidents spend their vacation and travelers are given easy access to a variety of heritage sites, the state’s highest cascading waterfall, and abundant nature trails. The Catoctin Mountain National Scenic Byway is dotted with local and nationally recognized attractions, natural areas and parklands, important historic and cultural sites, and vibrant economic Main Streets. Catoctin Mountain and the historic agricultural landscape of Frederick County provide a setting that is charming and beautiful to both residents and travelers alike.

Enjoy a relaxing long weekend or a day trip with these road trip ideas for traveling the scenic byway along Route 15.

Did you know?  President Franklin D. Roosevelt made “Shangri La” his personal Catoctin Mountain retreat during World War II. Dwight Eisenhower later renamed it “Camp David” after his grandson.

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

The 19th-century engineering feat nicknamed “The Grand Old Ditch” has become a hub of outdoor recreational activity, with biking, bird watching and mule-drawn barge rides.

Man kayaking at Monocacy Aqueduct

Those who planned and designed the C & O (Chesapeake and Ohio) Canal saw it stretching from the Potomac River near Washington D.C., to the Ohio Valley. Work commenced on July 4th, 1828, but the challenges and costs experienced were far greater than estimated. By 1850, the canal was complete from the mouth of Rock Creek in Georgetown to Cumberland in western Maryland. The canal never made it further west, with the Ohio River as its goal. Despite its problems, the canal was a busy waterway for the transport of coal and produce until it closed in 1924. Frederick County's portion of the canal includes historical sites such as the Monocacy Aqueduct and Catoctin Aqueduct, two of the 11 aqueducts built along the route, a Lock House at Lander, plus the Brunswick C&O Canal Visitor Center located in the same building as the Brunswick Heritage Museum. Stay overnight along the canal by reserving a date at the Canal Quarters Lockhouse 28.

Old Main Streets

Vibrant streets invite visitors to explore history, heritage, and architecture while savoring the flavor of local shops, eateries, and lodging.

Aerial view of street and buildings in Middletown

Explore the quaint towns of Frederick County, paying particular attention to the old Main Streets that were the hub of activity for each town and the surrounding countryside. Frederick County's towns are still busy places offering the atmosphere of bygone days along with an enticing variety of antique shops, country inns, and restaurants.

This Maryland Scenic Byway takes you through the northern Frederick County towns of Emmitsburg, Thurmont, and Libertytown to name a few. The Catoctin Mountains make a beautiful backdrop for the town of Emmitsburg, where fine examples of 18th- and 19th-century architecture are plentiful. The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born saint, welcomes visitors for a self-guided tour. On the nearby campus of Mount St. Mary’s University is the National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes, a beautiful place for meditation within a mountain setting.

Thurmont, along scenic US 15, brings you to both Catoctin Mountain National Park and Cunningham Falls State Park. The area has plenty of hiking in addition to featuring three covered bridges built in the mid-1800s.

Historic National Road

Follow the story of an enduring heritage—trace the nation’s oldest road across Maryland’s diverse landscape, from Baltimore in the east to the mountains in the west.

Aerial view of Downtown Frederick

As the first federally funded road, the Historic National Road provided a gateway to the west for thousands of settlers and travelers alike. Beginning in Baltimore, the National Turn-Pike reached Frederick and the Appalachians Mountains, further extending through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and ending in Vandalia, Illinois. Since its inception in 1807, the National Road began as the Baltimore & Frederick Town Turnpike. The new "smooth" road was responsible for opening Frederick to trade both east and west, quickly turning a small town into a city. The Maryland portion of the Historic National Road measures 170 miles, crossing through seven counties.

Neighboring towns such as New Market, Mount Airy, and Middletown grew up along the famed roadway in like fashion - offering lodging, dining, support services (eg. blacksmiths/wheelwrights) and depot facilities for trade goods.

Eye Spy! Many of the old turnpike's original mile markers still exist and can be found on the north side of the roadway. In addition, several interpretive markers help tell the local story along the Historic National Road's route. 

Antietam Campaign Civil War Trail

A key turning point in the Civil War, The Battle of Antietam took place on Maryland soil, as Confederate soldiers crossed the Potomac River and clashed with Union forces in the sleepy town of Sharpsburg.

Woman hiking with her dog along the Appalachian Trail passing the War Correspondents Memorial Arch.

Thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers marched over Frederick County's sometimes muddy, often dusty roads. The beauty and grandeur of Frederick County was the last thing written home about, by many a soldier who would not make it through the major conflicts that identify the American Civil War. Travelers look to Civil War Trails to put them in the footsteps of the generals, soldiers, citizens, and the enslaved who found themselves in the midst of this Civil War.

While retracing the steps of a Civil War soldier during the Antietam Campaign you’ll discover the Monocacy National Battlefield.  Well-known as the site of the July 1864 conflict dubbed “The Battle that Saved Washington,” Monocacy also played a key role during the Campaign of 1862. Ask at the battlefield visitor center for details about Lee’s “Lost Orders,” which were found in this area by a Federal private and given to Union Gen. George McClellan prior to the battle at Antietam.

Frederick — the site of a 50-block historic, cultural and commercial district — has both the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and a replica of the Barbara Fritchie House (view exterior only). Fritchie was a 95-year-old widow who, as poet John Greenleaf Whittier proclaimed, defiantly waved an American flag from her window as Confederate troops moved through town. 

The War Correspondents Memorial Arch at Gathland State Park is located West of Frederick. Intense fighting occurred here for three days prior to Antietam, with some of the wounded, including future President Rutherford B. Hayes, removed to homes and churches in Burkittsville and Middletown. The park straddles the Frederick County and Washington County line at Crampton’s Gap on South Mountain. It is one of three gaps where fighting took place during the September 1862 Battle of South Mountain, the first major battle of the Civil War fought on Maryland soil.