Getting Oriented

There's been good-natured debate as to just where western Maryland officially begins. State tourism officials define Western Maryland as Washington, Allegany, and Garrett Counties. Then there's Frederick County—less than an hour from Washington, D.C., and Baltimore—a place where the landscape begins to transform from rolling hills to more rugged terrain in the north and west. Many see this as the beginning of the Western Maryland region, but these days, state highway maps and the state visitor guide, designate it as part of the Capital region. Despite that "official" designation, calling Frederick County part of Western Maryland isn't too far off the mark.

For many residents of Allegany and Garrett counties, western Maryland begins just west of a man-made cut in a mountain called Sideling Hill. This unusual geological formation has become an attraction among motorists tooling along I-68. As one drives past rock formations that are several million years old, the highway opens to sweeping views of mountain ridges, shaded blue in the fading sunset. These are the Alleghenies, Maryland's majestic mountains.

Frederick. Maryland's fourth-largest city (according to recent Census data) is surrounded by rolling farmland and rugged mountains. Top attractions include everything from fine dining to history lessons to outdoor activities like kayaking and cross-country skiing.

Hagerstown. Located in Washington County, northwest of Frederick, Hagerstown is the county seat. Nicknamed the "Hub City" for its transit and commerce reputation, it's got everything from Civil War sites to outlet shopping and golf. It's a great base for excursions to the C&O Canal, various state parks, and the Appalachian Trail.

Western Maryland. Farther west, the rugged mountains of Allegany County are crossed by the "Historic National Road," also known as the Old National Pike: once a route that numerous westward pioneers traveled in covered wagons. Today it's the site of a scenic railroad excursion. Maryland's westernmost county, Garrett County, was once the vacation destination of railroad barons and Washington's high society; it's now a major destination for boaters, fishermen, and other outdoor enthusiasts. Like its neighbor Frederick County, Washington County boasts historic arch bridges, most built before the end of the Civil War.

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