Items of Interest: Beautiful Drive, Hiking,
Parks, Camping, Fishing, Scant Traffic
(Major Maryland Route between Frederick, Maryland
and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania)
Those of us who grew up in the forties and fifties when life was slower and more family oriented remember well the family "Sunday" drive. After lunch, the family would pile into the Ford, or Chevrolet, or Dodge, or, yes, the Nash Rambler and go for a drive with no particular destination on the agenda. The intent was to enjoy the countryside and small towns.
There are very few roads today where you can still do this kind of driving because there is always the 18-wheeler or massive SUV behind you ready to run you off the road just to be in front of you to get to the next stoplight or stop sign! Yes this happens even in the "country".
Route 15, which meanders through Virginia and Maryland, is still a good road for a traditional country drive. Even though this route will take you through some urban sprawl and congested commercial areas (particularly in Loudon County), there are enough open and uncluttered sections to allow you to escape from urban stress and enjoy the driving and the views.
In the fall, you do not have to drive to clogged Skyline Drive to enjoy the foliage. You will have wonderful color without the hassle on Rt. 15.
There are many ways to get on Route 15. You may enter off of Rts. 29 - 211 west of Gainesville, VA; you may exit onto Rt. 15 off Interstate 66 at Haymarket; or you may join the road outside of Frederick, Maryland. (See the Leesburg, VA page of this site for a brief description of the drive east of Leesburg.)
Our favorite part of Rt. 15 is that west of Frederick off of Interstates 70 and 270. In addition to the wonderful drive, you can visit two terrific locations highlighted on this site - Sabillasville and Thurmont.
Once outside of the city limits of Frederick, the countryside opens up with vistas of fields and farms. This fairly expansive section of Maryland is mostly untouched by sprawl except for the occasional single new house construction.
Here it is a safe four-lane (divided) highway with large grassy median.
In the distance are the Catoctin Mountains and to your immediate left and right are working farms with all of their outbuildings and accoutrements. Just off the road you can encounter small communities, many with downtown areas frozen in the time period of the early twentieth century.
Blue Ridge Summit Overlook
Courtesy, National Park Service
As the road ascends westward beyond Thurmont, you will see signs for the Grotto at Lourdes (a replica of the French, Catholic shrine) near Mount St. Mary's College.
Catoctin Iron Furnace
Courtesy, State of Maryland
Look for the sign pointing to Catoctin Iron Furnace along the way. This structure is the one remaining stack from the 19th Century and is steeped with local history.
Visit the furnace (only a mile or so off Route 15) and check out the Maryland State web site on the history of "Isabella," as this stack was affectionately named.
Emmitsburg, MD offers a large antiques mall as well as a national memorial to fire and rescue workers and the basilica of Sister Ann Seton, the first American saint. Bubba's Barbecue is also located here, and according to the Washington Post review, the food is quite good.