Best National Parks Near Baltimore

March 14, 2015 6:00 AM

Credit: Captain Jeff Long

When one thinks of a national park, one tends to think of a grand vista of great repute, such as South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore, Arizona’s Grand Canyon or Wyoming’s Yellowstone. However, it’s often overlooked that there are a number of parks that actually receive national attention right within driving distance of Baltimore. There is a reason that Maryland is called “America in Miniature” and this list of national parks that happily call Maryland their home whilst receiving begrudging admiration from the nation at large prove that this saying isn’t just a bunch of talk. If you have some vacation days coming up, pack up a few bags, maybe a tent or two, and head on out to one of these hallowed locations to experience both nature and history in the Old Line State!
Catoctin Mountain Park
6602 Foxville Rd
Thurmont, MD 21788
(301) 663-9388
www.nps.gov

Visitors to Catoctin Mountain Park will be treated to babbling rivers leaping with trout and a beautiful forest of maple, hickory, ash, oak and cherry trees full of the full spectrum of Maryland wildlife. Looking down over the lush forest growth from the stone plateau of Catoctin Mountain, it may be difficult to believe that all of this natural beauty is a regrowth of a forest area which was practically logged to death in the 1800s. However, these logging camps still remain in the form of rustic cabins which have been maintained and left available for staff and visitors to lodge. Now you may think “I’ve never heard of Catoctin Mountain Park,” and yet on a regular basis, the nation turns its attention to this very location. You see, in 1942, this lush retreat in the mountains was selected by President Franklin Roosevelt to become his personal retreat and he modeled the main lodge after his winter retreat in Georgia. Originally named USS Shangri La, Roosevelt subsequently re-named the retreat after his grandson David. Camp David has remained the presidential retreat ever since, and frequently hosts meetings with foreign dignitaries. While the camp itself may not be available to wander about, you can see what all the fuss is about by visiting the national park that hosts it. It’s well worth the trip.

Appalachian National Scenic Trail
900 Arnoldstown Rd.
Jefferson, MD 21755
(304) 535-6278
www.nps.gov

The Appalachian Trail is a beautiful and nationally recognized hiking trail that stretches along the Appalachian Mountain chain beginning in Maine and terminating in Georgia, covering a total of 14 states. The trail itself traverses practically every kind of terrain a nature-loving hiker could hope to see, and the Maryland stretch sees wetlands, woodlands, bald mountain overlooks, shaded groves, fern-shrouded gullies and more. Come to any point along the trail and take a day hike, or take the epic challenge that about 300 other hikers take each year, and travel the entire length of the trail. Either way, you are enjoying a national treasure that is held dear to Marylanders.

Fort McHenry
2400 East Fort Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 962-4290
www.nps.gov

From little league to major league, all across the country the National Anthem is sung with pride. This hallowed song, which has remained near to the hearts of all Americans for two centuries, has its origins enshrined in a National Park of its own. The lyrics of the song echo the sentiments of an anxious Francis Scott Key as he watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. The brilliantly designed fort withstood the British Naval attack, and the flag still waived at dawn after the battle. This same brilliant design has kept the fort in good condition for 200 years since the battle, and now any American may come and witness where this historic moment took place. Fort McHenry is well aware of the event that made its fame, and runs a calendar of events throughout the year celebrating and demonstrating the naval battles and flag waving ceremonies that make it a National Treasure.

Related: Best National Parks To Visit In The Winter

Assateague Island National Seashore
7206 National Seashore Ln.
Berlin, MD 21811
(410) 641-1441
www.assateagueisland.com

There are precious few places in the nation where one can go and see wild horses frolicking in ecstatic freedom, but Assateague Island is one place in the United States that is a protected habitat for the species. While certainly its claim to fame and primary draw, wild horses are not the only thing that make Assateague a worthwhile visit. This beautiful stretch of coastal island has nearby beaches on both bay and ocean sides, and several nature walks along trails and boardwalks where one may see the island habitats, including some of the famed Maryland wetlands.

Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail
51 West Earleigh Heights Rd.
Severna Park, MD 21146
(410) 222-6244
www.nps.gov

The United States is full of historic trails blazed by some of the famous names that have withstood the cruel brush of history. However, this particular trail is considered the first, and one of the very few water trails. Ambitious boatmen and kayakers may try their hand at following the path of early American explorer Captain John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) who mapped over 3,000 miles of the Chesapeake Bay, rivers and tributaries. While there are certainly land paths to explore in this national park, it would be a shame to pass up the rare opportunity to boat along an historic trail and to see all of the water-fowl, fish and other wetland-dwelling wildlife for which Maryland is famous.

Related: Under The Radar National Parks

Joel Furches is a freelance writer and researcher for The Examiner and Logos Software, and also manages his own catalog of writing on Hub Pages. Joel is on the board of directors for Ratio Christi. He has a bachelors in Psychology and a Masters in Education.

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