10 ways to go big in Baltimore
When native Baltimorean Edgar Allen Poe wrote "The Raven," he probably didn’t envision 70,000 locals cheering for the NFL franchise by the same name some 170 years later. In addition to pro sports, Baltimore promises visitors a bustling cultural and arts scene and a bevy of outdoor adventures.
Baltimore’s historic seaport serves as an inspiration for both its food and entertainment. Diners there should follow one simple rule: When in doubt, order crab. Crabcakes, crab soup, and Old Bay-seasoned steamed crabs are local staples. Waterside entertainment options abound, whether you want to cruise through the Inner Harbor downtown or get up close and personal with 20,000 animals—including eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins—at the National Aquarium. Check out these action-packed excursions when you visit Baltimore.
1. Paddle down the Potomac
About 45 minutes southwest of Baltimore flows the Potomac River, which offers way more than a history lesson. Head to a private lake on the Valley Mill property for stand-up paddleboarding lessons, available on ZOZI, where you can perfect your strokes and balance techniques before paddling your way to the Potomac. Adventure seekers can whitewater raft in the Potomac River, the practice site for Olympic and National Slalom Team paddlers. In a 2-mile stretch, you’ll encounter class I to VI rapids.
2. Sail Through the Inner Harbor
Explore downtown Baltimore on Catawampus II, a 41-foot Hunter yacht. Captain Virgil G. Hobbs, a Baltimore native, will guide you through the Inner Harbor and American history as you cruise past retired Naval vessels, including the USS Constellation (built in 1854) and the USS Torsk (a WWII submarine). You’ll also visit the Outer Harbor, where you’ll sail by the Francis Scott Key Bridge and Fort McHenry, the spot where the national anthem was written.
3. Play at Patterson Park
Located in Patterson Place/Butchers Hill, Patterson Park has come a long way since William Patterson planted 200 trees on the park’s original six acres of land way back in 1835. Today, birdwatchers congregate around these trees, as well as by Boat Lake, where more than 170 species of birds, including chimney swifts, mourning doves, and the rare purple finch roost. Between October and March, lace up your skates and visit the 200-foot-by-85-foot ice-skating rink, where you can show off your spins and then warm up by the fireplace. Before you leave the park, visit the Pagoda, a four-story Victorian architectural masterpiece. Climb to the top to check out views of downtown Baltimore, the Patapsco River, and Fort McHenry.
4. Go Rock Climbing or Bouldering
Climb the massive boulders overlooking Deer Creek at Rocks State Park, located off of Route 24. The King and Queen Seat, a 190-foot rock outcrop that was once a gathering place for the Susquehannock Indians, now attracts ambitious rock climbers. For easy 5.0 climbs, head to to Sugarloaf Mountain. Located about an hour west of Baltimore, the area also includes aid climbing, where you use devices such as pitons placed in the rock to climb. Enjoy the shaded woodland climbs on this mountain, but watch out for slippery rocks that may take a couple of days to dry after a rain.
5. Cruise Down the Shenandoah River
Launch a canoe or kayak into the calm waters of the Shenandoah River, located about an hour west of Baltimore. Wide river stretches give you plenty of area to explore under the shade of Sycamore trees whose branches hang close to the riverbanks. Drift downstream for direct views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At the river’s South Fork sits Shenandoah River State Park, a 1,600-acre park with 24 miles of hiking and biking trails, a zip line, and 10 riverfront campsites. Look east for views of the river and west for Massanutten Mountain, which reaches nearly 3,000 feet in elevation.
6. Explore Patapsco Valley State Park
Fans of the hit podcast “Serial” might identify Patapsco Valley State Park as part of a criminal mystery, but locals enjoy it for its many outdoor opportunities. Weave through 170 miles of undeveloped trails, including the 9.4-mile Avalon Loop Hike, where you can jog or bike past ruins of mills and dams. Walk across the swinging bridge (if you dare) and explore the remains of a large flour mill that burned down in 1905. If you pitch a tent in the Avalon area of the park, which offers 135 campsites, you’ll sleep in view of the historic Thomas Viaduct, the world’s longest multiple-arched stone railroad bridge.
7. Ski Through the Region
Cross state lines for some serious skiing near Baltimore. Southern Pennsylvania’s Liberty Mountain Resort, located about 60 miles north of the city, offers 22 runs for skiers of all skill levels. Experts can navigate the black diamond trails, including the Upper Ultra, while everyone can have a little fun snow tubing in Boulder Ridge. The newly renovated Highland Lodge offers plenty of spots to warm up, whether you want to snuggle up by the stone fireplace or relax in the hot tub or sauna.
8. Bike, Jog, or Skate the BWI Trail
Look up as you bike, walk, or run along the 11-mile BWI Trail. Located southwest of downtown Baltimore, this paved trail encircles the BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport and offers great views of planes taking off and landing, particularly at Andover Park. The path has few moderate hills, but they don’t deter many local walkers, joggers, bicyclists, and even rollerbladers. Despite the nearby air traffic, the loop is remarkably serene and features a young pine forest in Friendship Park and a horse farm. Insider tip: You won’t pass a store on the trail, so pack water and snacks for your day out.
9. Sample Moonshine at Bloomery Plantation Distillery
Head west to drink moonshine at Bloomery Plantation Distillery, located about an hour away in Charles Town, West Virginia. Once an abandoned log cabin, this mini-distillery relies on homegrown raspberries and lemons to create its so-called sweetshines. Flavors include chocolate raspberry, raspberry lemon, and Moonshine Milkshake Cremma Lemma. Canoe or kayak to the distillery via the Shenandoah River, which connects Baltimore and Charles Town. Book this excursion on ZOZI, and sample five cordials before feasting on a shoreside picnic of fried chicken, potato salad, and fresh fruit.
10. Stroll through historic Ellicott City
After all those adventures, catch your breath in Ellicott City. About 20 minutes west of Baltimore, the area offers a full day of relaxed wandering and dining. On the 1.5-mile Trolley Line #9 Trail, stroll under the shade of tall trees as you listen to the sounds of the nearby babbling brook. At the 1-mile mark, go off-trail to the the Banneker Historical Park & Museum, where you can learn about colonial life and check out archaeological digs in progress. For a jolt of caffeine after your walk, try Bean Hollow on Main Street, or hold up those pinkies for grand English tea at nearby Tea on the Tiber.