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A Chesapeake Bay loop from Washington, DC in 18 days

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Lewes, United...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 10,725
reviews: 40
A Chesapeake Bay loop from Washington, DC in 18 days

We have in total 18 full days for the trip. We arrive at IAD (Washington, Dulles International) in the evening of March 27 and depart from same airport the evening of April 14, 2014.

We already have an idea of what we wish to do, and thanks to lots of research and previous knowledge, have a fair idea of what is possible. However, I thought it might be beneficial to invite suggestions and would very much welcome ideas to add to our existing thoughts, and thus will say nothing of our current plans to avoid prejudicing contributions.

We will spend about 5 full days (which might be 5 or 6 nights) at the start or end of the trip in DC itself without a car, but otherwise we will have a rental car and will be road tripping. We haven’t decided for sure when we will be in DC as this may depend on our friends’ availability and we cannot contact them as they seem to be enjoying a world cruise right now! We are also aware that cherry blossom season can affect prices and availability, but cannot work out how to manage that as the peak blossom date is very much weather dependent and so unpredictable. Thoughts on this would be much appreciated.

Other things to say at this stage is that we plan to spend most if not all our time exploring DE, MD, WV, VA and PA in the main as they are the obvious states in the region, and also happen to be states we’ve not yet explored (although I’ve been to DC as a kid, briefly).

For info, we don’t usually do long driving days, and avoid Interstates when possible. We are happy to do several one-night stop runs before we put down roots for a few nights, and then we move on, mixing urban and rural pleasures. We are interested in history and architecture, wildlife and scenery and much, much more. We hope to have a few days of mainly hiking in the mix, but prefer to have a waterfall, viewpoint or other such reason to head somewhere rather than just for the exercise!

Another area of great interest is food, local food. We’re fans of US TV food programs such as DDD, but we would very much welcome personal recommendations for local food locations where home cooked meals are served.

(For information, this topic has already been posted on the Road Trips forum and that covers multi state trips well for general planning, and will be also posted on the forums for the other states that encircle the whole Chesapeake Bay area for more local input.)

Over to you, guys, with thanks!

PA
Destination Expert
for Hershey, Harrisburg
posts: 1,884
reviews: 107
1. Re: A Chesapeake Bay loop from Washington, DC in 18 days

There are so many possibilities in the area in which you will be traveling. Some places to consider in Pennsylvania would be Lancaster/Amish County, Gettysburg, Hershey/Harrisburg, and Philadelphia. For specific information on each of these places, you can post on that forum.

I would also consider a visit to one of the many sea shore towns in the Chesapeake area. Rehoboth Beach and Bethany Beach, Delaware or Ocean City, Maryland are possibilities.

gettysburg, pa
Destination Expert
for Gettysburg
posts: 840
reviews: 44
2. Re: A Chesapeake Bay loop from Washington, DC in 18 days

Be prepared for lots of variability in the weather. Those weeks can be warm and balmy in the 60s or cold and raw in the 30s...often in rapid succession! Since you mention that you like hiking, those weeks are often the peak weeks for the springtime ephemerals--wildflowers that bloom for just a few short weeks before the leaves come out on the trees. Hepatica, bloodroot, trout lilies, marsh marigolds, skunk cabbage, and Dutchmans breeches are just a few of the flowers that you can watch for. You'll be able to see differences in the progression of springtime even just from Washington DC to PA, which I always think is pretty neat.

The Gettysburg area is a great place to visit for history, scenery, and architecture. Lots of great walks along the battlefield. Nearby, the halfway point of the Appalachian Trail (2,000 + miles, Maine to Georgia) is a great photo spot and an easy hike. You can find it at Pine Grove Furnace State Park:

…state.pa.us/stateparks/…

which is located about 20 minutes north of Gettysburg. Pole Steeple is another good hike at this park, with a great view of the mountains.

Two other great spots that come to mind are Harpers Ferry WV and Longwood Gardens. Enjoy your planning!

Elizabethtown...
posts: 925
reviews: 30
3. Re: A Chesapeake Bay loop from Washington, DC in 18 days

Personally, I would not try to fit in W. Virginia, or even much of PA on a trip like this. With 5 or 6 nights in D.C., you would be forced to stay only one night in each place and endure some very long drive days in order to accomplish all of that.

My personal itinerary of the DelMarVa peninsula would start in the south, although you could also reverse this.

If you are truly interested in history, I think a visit to Williamsburg, VA is worth enduring the interstate driving to get there. Give yourself 2 full days to truly see all that Colonial Williamsburg has to offer. The recreated Jamestown is also a worthwhile visit, and it can be done in half a day.

From there I would cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel to get to the Eastern Shore. Pay attention for the pull off and stop for a bit half way across the bay. There is a junky gift shop and a greasy spoon restaurant (not in a good way.) But the reason to stop is the pier. Walk out to the end, and take in a view of the mouth of the bay. You will likely see some freighters traveling the inter-coastal waterway , and if you are lucky, some naval vessels may be entering or leaving port.

OK, now you have left the highways behind and entered the much slower paced culture of the Eastern Shore. Honestly, I probably wouldn't take the time to stop anywhere in VA, and work my way up to the MD portion of Assateague Island. Staying in Ocean City, MD would offer more hotel options, and it is a very short and easy trek to visit Assateague and the quaint town of Berlin. This will give you both the "boardwalk" and undeveloped experiences of the Atlantic coast in fairly close proximity. I'd spend 2 nights. My best friend and I do a girls' weekend here every April. You won't be getting into any water, but we love walking the beach in cool weather, and the shops and restaurants on the boardwalk are just starting to all be open, so there is a bit of excitement in the air as they prepare for the Summer season ahead. We always have at least one dinner at Liquid Assets in Ocean City and lunch one day in Berlin at the Atlantic Hotel.

Head back to the bay by visiting St. Michael's, MD. Definitely visit the Maritime museum, walk through town visiting shops, and learn how to eat Chesapeake Bay blue crabs at the Crab Claw. If you are interested in a sailing charter or other tours, you may want to consider more than one night here. But, I would maybe do those things further up the bay. My next destination would be Kent Co. MD. Rock Hall and Chestertown are 2 places worth a visit.

From Rock Hall, you can visit Eastern Neck National Wildlife for some wonderful hiking and birdwatching. I like to kayak here. We have our own, so I don't know about rentals or tours. I am sure they are available. Rock Hall would also be a great spot to get a fishing charter if that is something that would interest you. North of Rock Hall on the Chester River is historic Chestertown. This is one of my favorite places on the Eastern Shore for walking around the little shops. Consider doing the historic walk, or at least part of it. http://www.chestertown.com/places/ The restaurant at the Imperial Hotel holds sentimental value to me, as my husband and I ate there the night he proposed. But, it's been many years and I can't say with certainty it is still as good as it was. Check out more recent reviews. We've had nice lunches at Lemon Leaf Cafe. I'd spend 2 nights in Kent Co. area, depending on your interests.

I think that takes you up to about 8 nights outside of your 5 or 6 in D.C. From here it is an easy drive through some lovely farm country to get to the Lancaster Co./Amish area if that interests you. You are also quite close to Kennet Square and Longwood Gardens if that is more within your interests. If curious about the Civil War, definitely take a trip to Gettysburg. Any of these PA locales could be an easy 2 night stay. There is always Hershey and it's chocolate to consider as well. Of course, along the Chesapeake, there is still the Western Shore to see - Annapolis and Baltimore are both worth a visit, but are also possible day trips from D.C. Havre de Grace is not worth a full day, but has interesting information about the very large waterfowl hunting culture that defined the northern part of the Bay known as the Susquehanna Flats and the folk art decoy carving that came from it.

As you head north, you will also pass over the Chesapeake-Delaware Canal in Chesapeake City. There is a C&D Canal Museum in town that is a fun and fairly quick stop, especially if you are going through the area at lunch time. My parents always ate a Schaeffer's Canal House, which is on the north side of the canal. Again, it's been years, so I can't say if it is still as good as it once was. If you do head into PA along these rural roads, consider a stop at Herr Foods in Nottingham for a tour, just north of the MD border. PA is the potato chip and snack food capital of the world, and Herr's is a good, regional representative of the industry.

And that probably gives you more ideas than you even wanted. :)

Lewes, United...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 10,725
reviews: 40
4. Re: A Chesapeake Bay loop from Washington, DC in 18 days

Hi guys

Thank you ever so much for your varied and interesting input. I will go through all the suggestions and links and have a good read before commenting, so may take a while.

I rather like some of the suggestions made by all of you, and find the full route offered by thefourskis very interesting. I will have to get down on my hands and knees and pore over my trusty map some more.

While I've been happy to be open to all sorts of suggestions, the more we consider the weather impact, the more we are likely to stay towards the coast and keep away from the west and any mountains. Looking at temp charts for our dates over just the last 5 years, I can see that the range has been huge on any given day, and the average is not ideal. We were aware of this when we booked, just had a window of time and a flight deal that we couldn't turn down!

Thanks again,

SWT

Elizabethtown...
posts: 925
reviews: 30
5. Re: A Chesapeake Bay loop from Washington, DC in 18 days

Yes, weather, besides distance is another reason to stay east. It's also one of the reasons I started you off by heading south. It is amazing what a difference a week can make, especially between Williamsburg, which is already Spring-like by the end of March. While that same week, Gettysburg could very easily have freezing rain or even, though rarely, snow. Yet, in April your chances of decent weather greatly start to improve up north. Gettysburg is not in the mountains, so nothing should be too bad.

I, obviously, am more familiar with MD. However, I realized I totally left out DE. I wanted to say that I think you could have a very similar experience to the Ocean City/Assateague environment in Rehoboth Beach, DE and nearby Cape Henlopen State Park. Something to consider if you'd rather spend less time in MD. It wouldn't be a huge difference in drive times or be out of the way. I don't think it would be very different in feel either, and so if you wanted to be able to "cross another state off your list" it's a good option.

You said in your OP that you already had several places in mind that you wanted to visit, but you gave no hints as to what those were. I'm curious to see how what others have said compare to your expectation.

Southeastern...
posts: 1,635
reviews: 59
6. Re: A Chesapeake Bay loop from Washington, DC in 18 days

If you drive as far north as Rehoboth Beach, you surely should drive 20 minutes farther to visit Lewes, the First Town in the First State, in Delaware's Sussex County. It's considerably smaller than your Lewes (under 3,000 year-round population) but a charming little town where Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. The Zwaanendael museum is modeled after a Dutch city hall (the Dutch were among the earliest settlers). At Shipcarpenter Square there's a walking tour of nine historic buildings; the oldest dates back to 1690. Nearby Cape Henlopen State Park has nice hiking trails, some oceanside.

Lewes, United...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 10,725
reviews: 40
7. Re: A Chesapeake Bay loop from Washington, DC in 18 days

Thanks again for further thoughts and comments.

Funnily, and naturally, Lewes, DE (of course it's in Sussex county!) is on the possibles list - somebody else, elsewhere suggested it and I always knew of the town's existence and location, and connections by name to the UK.

We have a big plaque outside an old, historic inn in the middle of Lewes which is dedicated to Thomas Paine. Although he came from some other town, nowhere near where I live, it was in Lewes, UK, in that inn where he held his first meetings to discuss revolution and those kinds of ideas, or so the local historians would have it. Our local, small brewery also sell a popular beer named after him!

I don't have time now to list out all the large number of possible places to visit, based on suggestions from other posters on other forums (not all of which are realistic, often because of distances involved) but we are building up a very interesting trip. Of course, these trips are always compromises. We could happily fill 6 weeks of driving and visiting without leaving the states that encircle the bay! As we have other plans to visit other countries and even another trip to the USA later next year, 18 days is all we can spare on this occasion!

Are you suggesting Rehoboth Beach area instead of Assateague area? If so, please explain further why? (I'm not doubting you, I just wish to learn more about the differences of each place. One of the challenges is always that folk recommend places they know themselves, and omit places they don't know about, and thus it can be difficult to evaluate two or more similar but different destinations and decide sometimes, as I guess you will understand.)

Thanks again,

SWT

Elizabethtown...
posts: 925
reviews: 30
8. Re: A Chesapeake Bay loop from Washington, DC in 18 days

Rehoboth Beach could easily replace Ocean City as a boardwalk based beach town. Boardwalks create their own unique feel to a beach town with typically similar types of shops, restaurants and bars right on the beach. If anything, Ocean City has a bit more of a cheesy feel to it than Rehoboth. Rehoboth is a little bit smaller and quieter unless things have really changed in recent years. I, personally, wouldn't see the point in visiting 2 "boardwalk" towns. I think the experience would be too similar.

Assateague is a protected area. So it will have beautiful beach and no development or boardwalk. Cape Henlopen will be the same, but again smaller and no wild ponies, but you could have that protected, undeveloped beach area experience close to a "boardwalk town."

I've actually never been to Lewes, but I have always heard really wonderful things about it. I feel really silly for not even taking notice of your home's name suggesting the community there. If Lewes was on your list for that reason, I would skip Ocean City, MD and go to Rehoboth and Lewes instead.

A lot of people really want to go to Assateague to see the famous ponies. It is lovely, and it is well known. But, and this is going to sound terrible, I actually to think that the barrier island beaches are all pretty similar on the Atlantic Coast. Granted, Cape Henlopen is the mouth of the Delaware Bay and not the long narrow barrier island like Assateague or Cape Hatteras. But I think you'd get a good enough idea of a feel for the coast by going to one area or another and wouldn't try to do both with my limited time.

That's JMHO. Lot's of people want to visit the land of Misty of Chincoteague and I certainly understand why.

Lewes, United...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 10,725
reviews: 40
9. Re: A Chesapeake Bay loop from Washington, DC in 18 days

Thanks for the further comments.

Don't feel bad about not registering Lewes. It's not high on our list, we just know it's there, and, if our route ends up taking us that way, we will check it out for the heck of it. At this stage, it's not more than that in the importance of places to stop in.

I take on board your comments regarding Assateague area and the barrier islands. We're not beach folk, and it's not really the best time of year to be there, we'd get a bit wind blown, I'd guess. So other options are certainly worth considering.

As I'm getting ideas and recommendations from all sorts of directions, I need to take stock and do some serious considerations to weigh up pros and cons of the different options and how they fit with either or both of our travel plans and travel style and do some elimination. However, the more info I have, the more I have to go on to choose wisely!

SWT

10. Re: A Chesapeake Bay loop from Washington, DC in 18 days

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