The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Maryland
From towering waterfalls to lush secret gardens.
Maryland is a state surrounded by natural beauty and wonder—from the far reaches of the Eastern Shore to the peaks and valleys of the Catoctin Mountains, and pretty much everywhere in between. As people who grew up here know, it can be easy to take America’s ninth smallest state for granted.
But after taking countless road trips, and yes, even getting stuck in our fair share of Bay Bridge traffic, it’s easy to see why Maryland, while small, is mighty in its number of beautiful places, some of which you probably didn’t know even existed. From secluded beaches with must-see wildlife to lush gardens and epic waterfalls, here are 16 of the most beautiful places in Maryland to relax, unwind, and refresh.
Camping on an island at the beach with wild ponies? It sounds like a straight-up fairytale, but it’s real on Assateague Island. Camping spots during peak season go quick, so be sure to plan ahead and book with the National Park Service to secure your spot this summer.
Tilghman Island is a tiny fishing village, surrounded by Chesapeake Bay. Visiting here feels as if you’ve reached the end of the world, where it’s possible to take in sunrise and sunset on the same day. The furthermost point south on the island is Black Walnut Point, a popular spot for fishing rockfish and or netting a few crabs. At the end of the road, you’ll find a scenic and quaint B&B called the Black Walnut Point Inn.
Bikers, kayakers, and bird nuts will want to flock to the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s refuge, which offers solitude, serenity, and a dose of history, too. The land was established in 1933 as a waterfowl sanctuary for birds migrating along the critical migration highway, also known as the Atlantic Flyway. Aside from it being an ideal birding site, it has waterways for kayaking and miles of flat roadways for road biking. Plus, it’s the site of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument—where you can learn about the contributions of this American abolitionist.
Have you climbed the highest clock tower in Baltimore? Not only will you get your steps in, but every floor of this narrow building also happens to be artists’ enclaves for painting and drawing. You can make an offer on the spot for an original work of art, or climb higher to learn about Bromo Seltzer, a company that made America’s favorite hangover cure. When you reach the top, there are not only some impressive views of Charm City, but also a four-dial gravity clock that was the largest in the world—even bigger than Big Ben.
Located in the Southern Maryland town of Lusby are 24 miles of expansive, jagged cliffs that frame the west side of the Chesapeake Bay. While the cliffs are popular for birdwatching, fishing, and hiking, the reason most people flock to them is to dig for 15 million-year-old fossils on the shoreline, where teeth from the massive Megalodon shark are one of the most sought-after items.
Baker Park is a 44-acre linear park that slices through Downtown Frederick and in the heart of it is Carroll Creek. Walking alongside the lily pad-laden water with its fountains, colorful flowers, and stone bridges gives the illusion of being inside an Impressionist painting instead of a bustling Western Maryland metropolis.
Is this Maryland or the road to King’s Landing? This 80-foot, stone bridge seems like it was built in Medieval Times when in reality it’s been around for about 200 years. When it was completed in 1814, it was the largest arch bridge in the state and helped fuel the prospects of western expansion, filled frequently with heavy traffic, that included horse-drawn wagons carrying upwards of 10-ton loads.
Okay, so while there is another bridge in the state of Maryland that gets all the attention, we like the more charming structure in the tiny town of Chesapeake City in Northeast Maryland—with a population of just over 600. The simple arched bridge looms over the C&D Canal and looks particularly lovely during sunsets.
The entirety of the 207-acre Baltimore city park known as the Cylburn Arboretum is beautiful— with its magnolias, oaks, greenhouses, and various gardens. But the real showstoppers are the famed Japanese maples with arterial branches that seem to curl and tangle in all directions at once.
This museum of modern and contemporary art in Montgomery County integrates nearly 300 acres of gently rolling pasture and unspoiled woodland, and the best part is: it’s less than 15 miles from DC. Whether you’re simply looking for some time outdoors or are keen on experiencing some iconic works of art—this is the spot to take in the natural environment at the intersections of modern art and architecture.
The Potomac River acts as the border between Maryland and Virginia, but its greatest site, the Great Falls, is located 14 miles upstream from DC and belongs to the Old Line State. The best views of the series of 20-foot falls are offered on the bank of the C&O Canal parkland, on the Billy Goat Trail on Bear Island, and at vantage points on Olmsted Island. Watch out for the adventurous folks using the falls to kayak, whitewater raft, rock climb, and hike along.
Looking for a secret garden? Come April, there’s plenty to marvel at within the 22 acres of the Ladew Topiary Garden, which was established by 1930s hard-partying huntsman Harvey S. Ladew. The grounds contain 15 garden spaces, as well as countless detailed topiaries (one depicting an entire fox hunt scene). But the biggest stunner might be the serene space of the Iris Garden, with 770 plants of iris varieties from around the world, a koi pond filled with vibrant fish and delicate lilies, and a giant recreation of a Chinese sailing ship.
The town of Harpers Ferry is situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers where Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia meet. The states, more or less, share the beautiful historic site, and some of the best vistas are from Maryland Heights and the Appalachian Trail on the Maryland side, where you can spot Amtrak trains shooting in and out of the mountainside.
Of course, you’ve been to Seacrets, danced at Fager’s Island, and had one too many buckets-of-booze at Macky’s, but the quintessential bar in all of Ocean City is M.R. Ducks, an original harbor bar that doesn’t need 1980s cover bands to attract a clientele. You’re here for the sunsets, Orange Crushes, and yes, the chug-a-duck—an Amaretto cocktail that comes served to you in a hollowed-out wooden duck. Tails up and cheers to the gorgeous water view!
Located in Swallow Falls State Park in Western Maryland, this sight clocks in as Maryland’s highest free-falling waterfall. Muddy Creek Falls encompasses nearly 60 feet of river water that plunges into the Pottsville Formation. The roaring falls have provided such great inspiration through history that famous innovators Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone all camped by the falls together in July 1921.
This hidden oasis makes it feel as if you’re traveling the world with every step you take. From Japanese pagodas to Roman statues to a ballroom straight out of Bavaria, this scenic spot, which is now partially a residential development, has served as an all-girls prep school, a US Army annex, and a favorite vacation retreat for the DC elite.
It’s hard to determine what’s more beautiful: the inside or the outside of the Rawlings Conservatory in Druid Hill Park. The giant glass structure is surrounded by botanical gardens with vibrant tulips and inside there are five distinct rooms with individual climates—some full of cacti and others full of orchids and palm trees.
Find this mountain and park just 10 miles South of Frederick and take the 5.5-mile Blue Trail Loop for some amazing year-round views. Even amateur hikers can make it to white rocks, where views of rolling hills change color depending on the season. Bonus: a winery at the base of the mountain makes for a well-deserved reward.
Picking crabs is a rite of passage in Maryland’s summertime season by the Bay. But there’s an often-overlooked crab deck that shines brightest on the Eastern Shore—even if it has a not-so-appealing name—Suicide Bridge Restaurant. Not only will you find the freshest crab imperial or blue crabs steamed and doused in Old Bay, but you’ll also find an 80-foot turn-of-the-century paddle wheeler boat that cruises down the Choptank River and serves an all-you-can-eat buffet of Maryland crab.
Tim Ebner is an award-winning food, drink, and travel writer. He lives on Capitol Hill and has a weakness for Old Bay Seasoning. Follow him on Twitter: @TimEbner