Although just a short drive from Washington, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh, western Maryland and Frederick County feel a world apart, with their postcard-perfect vistas and vintage feel. Sometimes called "The Mountain Side of Maryland," travelers are drawn here by sweeping views of the Allegheny Mountains, especially when the foliage turns rich shades of gold and russet. Others come to explore the area's historic Civil War past at Harpers Ferry, Monocacy, and Antietam National Battlefield, scene of the bloodiest one-day battle in the nation's history. The past is inescapable here: everywhere there are reminders of the men in blue and gray who clashed during the Civil War, and the steam engines that chugged through mountainous passes into the wilderness.
Many of the area's most verdant regions were once home to coal mines, lumber mills, factories, and railroad stations. Indeed, the crossroads of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, and the National Road, kept western Maryland alive with industry in centuries past. As transportation patterns changed businesses pulled out, workers left, and whole towns died. Mother Nature reclaimed the land with dense stands of hickory, oak, and pine trees. The state and federal government took advantage of the remote space and today have preserved great swaths of parkland.
The lush woods of Swallow Falls State Park on the western edge of the state and Catoctin Mountain National Park in Frederick are ideal for long hikes. Swimmers and boaters can explore the dark blue waters of man-made Deep Creek Lake, where there's freshwater fishing in warm months and even ice fishing in winter. As the weather chills, skiers, snowboarders and tubers can zip down the slopes of the Wisp Resort. The Potomac and Shenandoah rivers can be explored by kayak, canoe, or inner tube, and white-water rafting is popular. Cyclists bike along the historic C&O Canal (built in 1828) and its towpath that stretches from Cumberland to the nation's capital. Nestled among the region's cool, fresh forests is the nation's most famous retreat—Camp David—where every president from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Barack Obama has sought refuge.
Western Maryland and Frederick County are both changing in some ways, however. In recent years, Washingtonians have flocked to Frederick, making the historic environs more contemporary and hip. Although housing developments and strip malls have replaced farmland on the outside of town, the newer residents have also sparked an artistic revival and the opening of trendy boutiques. Staid diners have been replaced with sushi bars and restaurants featuring the tastes of India, Ethiopia, Thailand, and award-winning American nouveau cuisine. Frederick's neighbors—Hagerstown, Cumberland, and Oakland among them—have also revitalized their downtowns with brick facades, eateries, antiques stores, and quaint shops.