To mark Veterans’ Day, here’s a bit on the Civil War-themed camping trip I took last weekend with my husband and our goofy dog. It was our last camping trip of the season. Smoke inhalation (we had a little trouble with the cabin’s stove) and frozen digits aside, we had a great time. It’s amazing how much history and wildness is so close to Washington, DC.
About 60 miles out of DC we arrived at the Treehouse Camp at Maple Wood Campground in Roehersville, MD, just outside historic Burkittsville, home of the fictional Blair Witch. We’d booked a cabin for two nights. It was rustic but clean. We headed to Boonsboro (founded in 1792 by cousins of Daniel Boone) for food and beer before night fell. The campground’s owner recommended Palettie, a cozy Italian restaurant offering hearty food, much of it organic and locally sourced.
The next morning we woke early; cold and eager for the sun to rise. We headed to tiny Weversville to hook up with the Appalachian Trial. Fifteen minutes on the trail, dodging sections of Highway 340 above us, we arrived at the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath. We hiked along the Potomac River, remnants of the old canal, and the rail line, three miles west to the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. We coaxed our horrified dog across the old railroad bridge into the historic town and explored. Site of abolitionist John Brown’s raid of the federal garrison there in 1859, Harpers Ferry is also significant for the range and quantity of weapons it produced, outfitting even the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1803. The hilly town features a lot of quaint places to eat though most are pricey and crowded with day-trippers.
As the sun began to sink, we hustled back along the towpath to the Appalachian Trail and our car. Another trip to Boonsboro for provisions, this time pulled pork sandwiches, coleslaw, and fries from The Mountainside Deli. The darkness and the chill in the air made for an early (and smoky) night. If camping isn’t your thing, check out the recently renovated eight-room Inn BoonsBoro, part B&B, part boutique hotel owned by novelist Nora Roberts and her husband, bookseller Bruce Wilder. The inn is housed in the town’s first stone building, likely from the 1790s. Its rooms are named after literary couples who found their happy endings: Jane and Rochester, Nick and Nora, and even Westley and Buttercup from The Princess Bride.
The following morning we headed off to the Antietam National Battlefield, site of the bloodiest single-day battle in American history during which 23,000 of the 100,000 men fighting were killed, injured, or went missing. We opted for the self-guided 8.5-mile, 11-stop tour of the expansive battlefield in the car, hopping in and out as we desired. Antietam impressed me; its topography is carefully preserved and provides a sense of the battle’s stages and scale. The signage was meticulous and everywhere.
Next time you’re in DC, consider moving beyond the city’s monuments and checking out historic and beautiful sights beyond its borders. Living in DC for over six years, I’m constantly finding new and authentic places to explore.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
On December 5th, Antietam will put on its annual Battlefield Memorial Illumination, during which 23,000 candles will be lit starting at 6 pm, one for each of the soldiers, Confederate as well as Federal, who died at Antietam on September 12, 1862.
Photo: courtesy NPS