Length: About 170 miles, plus side trips.
When to go: Best between May and October.
Not to be missed: The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, from Cumberland to Frostburg and back.
Nearby attractions: Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, Harpers Ferry, WV. City of Washington, DC.
Further information: Allegheny County Visitor Bureau, Madison St. and Harrison St., Cumberland, MD 21502; tel. 800-508-4748, www.mdmountainside.com
1. Swallow Falls State Park
Lured a century or so ago by blue-green mountains, cool forests, and swift, icy rivers, the well-to-do of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., built grand homes in and around Oakland, where the drive begins. Here they lolled away the summers with chilled lemonade and leisurely strolls. Many of their opulent homes still stand—mostly gingerbread Victorian in style—east of Oakland in the little town of Mountain Lake Park.
To get a sense of the unspoiled territory that first attracted these urban bluebloods, meander northwest from Oakland on Herrington Manor Road to Swallow Falls State Park. In the midst of this leafy paradise, serene Muddy Creek splashes over a rock ledge framed by mountain laurels, maples, hickories, and rhododendrons. Trails wander along sandstone cliffs beside the furious Youghiogheny River, whose rapids—with such knee-knocking nicknames as Triple Drop, Meat Cleaver, and Double Pencil Sharpener—are to many rafters a dream come true.
2. Deep Creek Lake State Park
Heading east on Swallow Falls Road, follow signs to Rte. 219 and then motor north to Deep Creek Lake, tucked among steep, forested slopes. This outdoor wonderland—and the 1,800-acre state park that lines its eastern shore—beckons sailors and water-skiers. Anglers come to entice walleye, and hikers tromp along trails that wind through groves of cherries, oaks, and sugar maples. In winter cross-country skiers glide beside the frozen lake past ice fishermen bundled up against the cold.
3. The Cove Overlook
Passing the high-steepled church in the town of Accident, Rte. 219 comes upon a picturesque pocket of farmland surrounded by the Alleghenies. Stop at The Cove Overlook to savor the tranquillity of this fertile valley fenced in by mountain peaks. Once reaching as high as the Alps, the Alleghenies—part of the Appalachian chain that stitches the eastern coast from Quebec to Alabama—are now relatively modest in size, softened and rounded by the elements over millions of years. The road winds north among these ancient mountains to the rugged summit of Keysers Ridge, where Rte. 40A veers east to Grantsville beneath the branches of oaks, hickories, and birches.
Chestnut-colored horses pull sleek black carriages through the streets of Grantsville, a mountain village populated mostly by Amish and Mennonites since the 1800s. A walk through the pleasant downtown brings you to the Casselman Hotel, a historic roadside inn with gleaming woodwork, a fireplace in every room, and the mouth-watering aroma of freshly baked bread wafting from the inn’s on-site bakery.
Nearby at Penn Alps, a center that encourages local craft traditions, Amish people clad in black and white sell handwoven baskets, homemade apple butter, and colorful patchwork quilts. Next door at the Spruce Forest Artisan Village, a renowned whittler turns chunks of wood into graceful bird carvings that, from a distance, look like they just might fly away and join their real-life counterparts.