Staycations: Getaways in Howard County

The ocean, beach and mountains may be appealing vacation spots, but they’re also hours away. Why travel when you can have just as much fun here in Howard County?

We put together four weekend “staycation” ideas for everyone from the thrill seeker to wine connoisseur that could make you forget, at least for a weekend, you live right around the corner.

The Thrill Seeker

What to do: Feel your heart race as you zip around the track in a Formula One-inspired go-kart and through steep, rock-filled trails on a mountain bike.

Autobahn Indoor Speedway in Jessup is home to two indoor, Grand Prix-style tracks, where racers compete for the best times using high-speed, electric “pro-karts.”
“It’s a thrill,” says Sean Maher, general manager. “You’re going 50 miles per hour in a small electric cart. The steering is real, the turning is real and it’s very competitive. … By the end of it, you’re sweating, your adrenaline is pumping and you’re ready to go again.”
Racers ages 13 and older and at least 56 inches tall can drive the adult karts, while children ages 8 to 12 years old who are at least 48 inches tall drive the smaller junior karts, which top out at about 22 miles per hour.
The second adrenaline-packed leg of your trip is Rockburn Skills Park, a collection of off-road, all-terrain trails in Elkridge’s Rockburn Branch Park. The skills park includes a pump track (a continuous mountain bike and BMX course filled with hills), dirt mounds and jumps, a rock-filled, uphill bike trail and three courses for riders of varying skills.

Autobahn Indoor Speedway
8251 Preston Court, Jessup

$19.99-$100. Discounted multi-race packages available on weekends.


Rockburn Skills Park
5400 Landing Road, Elkridge

Skills park is at the top of the hill, above the turf fields. Call closure hotline before you go in case weather causes a temporary closure: 410-313-4455

Where to eat: After your day of racing is done, head north on Route 1 to Frank’s Diner, a traditional, locally owned diner serving breakfast all day and favorites like hamburgers, tuna melt sandwiches, homemade meatloaf and homemade coconut cake. The diner celebrates its 20th anniversary in May.

Frank's Diner
7395 Cedar Avenue, Jessup



Where to stay: To rest up for mountain biking, stay overnight at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Elkridge. This hotel is a five-minute drive — or a 10-minute bike ride — from Rockburn Branch Park.


Holiday Inn Express & Suites
6064 Marshalee Drive, Elkridge


The Wine Connoisseur 

What to do: Why go to the vineyards when the vineyards can come to you? More than 30 wineries from across the state participate in Wine in the Woods, Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks’ annual two-day festival with wine, live music, food and crafters in Columbia starting May 16. Visitors can sample a variety of locally made chardonnay, pinot grigio, rosé, riesling, cabernet, merlot and sangria — or buy a bottle to share under the canopy of the Symphony Woods trees.

New this year is a “wine and canvas” tent where visitors can enjoy their wine while painting one of four images on canvas: a crab on the seashore, a tree, the Baltimore City skyline or a glass of wine. Food choices range from Chinese to barbecue-style. Visitors are also welcome to bring picnics, blankets and chairs with them, says Phil Bryan, superintendent of recreation services. But leave the kids at home — this event is geared for ages 21 and older. Last year, more than 26,400 people attended Wine in the Woods, so get there early to secure your spot, Bryan says.
If one day of the festival is enough for you, visit another wine-tasting hot spot just 10 minutes away. Iron Bridge Wine Company carries more than 300 different bottles and 30 wines by the glass, many of which are hard-to-find, small-production varieties. You can even take a bottle to go.

Wine in the Woods
5950 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia

May 16: 11 a.m.-6 p.m., $32 in advance, $40 at the gate, $25 for designated drivers and ages 3 to 20
May 17: 11 a.m.-5 p.m., $27 in advance, $35 at the gate, $20 for designated drivers and ages 3 to 20
Those with advance tickets can enter at 10:30 a.m.


Iron Bridge Wine Co.
10435 State Route 108, Columbia


Where to eat: After the festival, dine at nearby Petit Louis Bistro on Saturday night. The classic French bistro’s menu includes grilled salmon, whole roasted chicken, braised lamb shank and, well, lots of wine. If you head to Iron Bridge on Sunday, be sure to sample the restaurant’s funky, shareable small plates or stay for a meal.

Petit Louis Bistro
10215 Wincopin Circle, Columbia


Where to stay: Committed festival-goers can check into the Sheraton Columbia Town Center, which is within walking distance of Symphony Woods and Petit Louis — no need to find a designated driver or get stuck in post-event traffic. The hotel offers special Wine in the Woods rates starting at $159 a night. Those visiting Iron Bridge might consider a stay at the Columbia Inn at Peralynna, a manorlike boutique hotel just a five-minute walk from the restaurant. The elegant estate overlooks the rolling hills of Clark’s Elioak Farm — not wine country, but close enough.

Sheraton Columbia Town Center
10207 Wincopin Circle, Columbia


The Columbia Inn at Peralynna
10605 State Route 108, Columbia


The History Buff

What to do: Delve into local and national history by spending a weekend touring historic Howard County spots. Howard County Historical Society’s “Passport to the Past” is a free program highlighting 24 sites from Elkridge to Lisbon. Beginning May 30, users can pick up passports that provide details about the sites, such as Belmont Manor and Historic Park, the National Road Mile Markers, Savage Mill and the former Renehan Apple Butter Factory. Then users visit the sites, logging each visit in the passport through photos, notes and drawings. As an extra incentive, the historical society will award prizes from its museum gift shop to children who visit at least 15 of the sites this summer.

“It’s a great opportunity to get out, do something active with your family and learn a little bit about local history,” says Shawn Gladden, the society’s executive director.
If cowboy-riding, bull-bucking, gun-slinging action is more your style, stroll on down to the third annual Mid-Atlantic Wild West Fest, a two-day event starting May 9 at the Howard County Living Farm Heritage Museum, to celebrate life out west between 1865 and 1895. Rockin’ R Western Productions transforms the museum’s grounds into a western-style Main Street, with everything from hardware and general stores to a bank and a gun shop.
“People walk back in time and step into Dodge City, Kansas,” says Chip Ridgely, owner of Rockin’ R Western Productions.
Events include gunfight re-enactments, a rodeo, cowboy-mounted shooting competitions, chuck wagon cooking competitions, live music and rope skills demonstrations. Neckties, suspenders, boots and cowboy hats are welcome.

Passport to the Past
Howard County Historical Society office at Miller Branch Library, 
9421 Frederick Road, Ellicott City
Howard County Historical Society Museum, 8328 Court Ave., Ellicott City
Passports will be distributed during the library's summer reading program kickoff May 30 at the Miller branch. After May 30, pick one up at the office or museum.

Wild West Fest
Howard County Living Farm Heritage Museum

12985 Frederick Road, West Friendship
May 9-10, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Adults: $8 in advance, $10 at the gate. Children under 13: $4 in advance, $6 at the gate. Children under 4: free.


Where to stay — and eat: Spend the night at the Wayside Inn, a historic bed-and-breakfast in Ellicott City. The 18th-century inn, owned by David and Susan Balderson, has rooms with old-school charm, such as candles in the windows, wood-burning fireplaces and a queen size four-poster rice bed. But it also has modern amenities, such as rainforest showerheads, double Jacuzzi tubs and high-definition televisions. Wake up to a made-to-order breakfast. Lemon blueberry pancakes? Ham and apple frittata topped with four cheeses? Cranberry orange croissant soufflé? You decide. Rates range from $159 to $219 a night. Special weekend packages are also available.

Wayside Inn
4344 Columbia Road, Ellicott City


The Outdoorsman/woman

What to do — and where to stay: Pack your tent, some roasting sticks and a flashlight, and head over to the Hollofield campground at Patapsco Valley State Park. The campground has 73 campsites for tents and recreational vehicles and offers picturesque views of the Patapsco River Valley despite being so close to Baltimore National Pike, says Rob Dyke, park manager.

“There’s very little sound of suburbia,” he says. “It appears much more remote than it really is.”
Each campsite comes with a picnic table, parking for at least one car and a fire ring, where campers can cook oatmeal, hot dogs, s’mores and even campfire banana splits. Some of the sites also have electric hookups.
After setting up camp and getting a healthy dose of fresh air, hikers can explore the Campground Connector Trail, which surrounds the campground. More experienced hikers can explore the “River Ridge” trail, which takes them from the campground, down an almost 250-foot hill, over railroad tracks and to the river. Here, you can access the nearby Union Dam Trail. Or just pull out your fishing rod and fish in the cool waters of the Patapsco.
If the outdoors are your thing but you don’t have all the equipment to stay overnight, check out the Maryland Park Service’s “Operation: Campout!” gear lockers. The free lockers include a tent for six people, ground tarp, lantern, four folding camp chairs, four sleeping pads and a cooking stove. Check availability before making your reservation.

Hollofield Campground at Patapsco Valley State Park
8820 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City

$25 per night. Pets are permitted.
Reserve a campsite and gear locker: 410-461-5005 or 888-432-2267

Where to eat: Stock up on camping food before you leave. Trader Joe’s in Elkridge has easy-to-pack trail mixes, dried fruit, instant oatmeal and shelf-stable meals that won’t weigh your backpack down.

Trader Joe's
6610 Marie Curie Drive, Elkridge


Recommended on Baltimore Sun