TAKING THE SCENIC ROUTE

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The fall colors may have peaked, with more leaves clinging to turf than trees, but it's still not too late for an autumn auto tour.

Last month, the Federal Highway Administration designated four Maryland routes as America's Byways, placing them among the nation's most scenic roads to drive and bringing the state's total number of routes in the National Scenic Byways Program to six. (For details, go to byways.org or visitmaryland.org.)

Here's a look at Maryland's most scenic byways:

Baltimore's Historic Charles Street

Designation: : National Scenic Byway, 2009

Distance: : 10 miles, stretching from the urban landscape of downtown Baltimore to the wooded edges of Lutherville in Baltimore County

Driving time: : One hour. But you could spend an entire day shopping, dining, sightseeing and more along the route.

Highlights: : Charles Street is one-way on the south end, so start there and head north. A visit to Mount Vernon Square and its 208-foot-tall Washington Monument is a requirement. Look for the rowhouses of Charles Village, a neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Take in the Baltimore Museum Art, where admission is free or stop in at the Homewood House Museum - on the campus of the Johns Hopkins University - to see fine furnishings from the early 19th century. More education institutions line the byway as you travel north, including the College of Notre Dame, Loyola College and The Friends School, which opened in 1784 and is the oldest private school in Baltimore. Near the byway's northern end is the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, a massive stone church built in 1959.

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway

Designation: : All-American Road, 2009

Distance: : 125 miles, along the Eastern Shore from Cambridge to Greensboro, including parts of Route 313, Route 404 and Route 16

Driving time: : Six hours to one day

Highlights: : Start in Cambridge with a visit to the Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge offers a two-mile Tubman Road Hiking Trail. In nearby Bucktown, Tubman was born. She spent her childhood at Brodess plantation. Heading north to Denton, stop at the Courthouse Square, site of a former slave market, and then stop off along the Tuckahoe River; you'll be in the area where abolitionist Frederick Douglass was born. Farther north, near Greensboro, see the path to freedom taken by former slaves as they traveled along the Choptank River.

Religious Freedom Byway

Designation: : National Scenic Byway, 2009

Distance: : 195 miles, from Port Tobacco to Point Lookout, following parts of Route 234, U.S. 301 and Route 5

Driving time:: Five hours to one day. The best bet is to plan to stay overnight and explore the route over two days.

Highlights: : Tracing the Potomac River in Southern Maryland, the byway features some of the nation's oldest churches. Near Port Tobacco, visit the former home of Thomas Stone, one of four Maryland signers of the Declaration of Independence. Along Chapel Point Road, stop at St. Ignatius Catholic Church, founded by Jesuits in 1641. Have lunch on Cobb Island, known for its seafood, then head north and east. Look for a turnoff just before Leonardtown to find Francis Xavier Church, the state's oldest Roman Catholic Church. Plan to spend a few hours in Historic St. Mary's City, Maryland's first capital and often called the birthplace of religious tolerance.

Journey Through Hallowed Ground

Designation: : National Scenic Byway, 2009

Distance: : 95 miles (Maryland's portion), from Emmitsburg to Point of Rocks, including parts of Route 15, Route 77 and Route 17

Driving time: : Two hours, but you could easily spend the day

Highlights: : The route traverses at least three states, including Pennsylvania, Virginia and Western Maryland, where it includes two loops near the Catoctin Mountains. Begin in Emmitsburg, the northern end of the byway, where the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is located. Heading south, stop at the National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes, set on the campus of Mount St. Mary's University. Nearby is a state park - Cunningham Falls, which has a 78-foot waterfall and a lake for swimming - and a national park - Cactoctin Mountain Park, which has camping, fishing and hiking . The route also provides access to several Civil War sites, including Gettysburg National Battlefield to the north and Monocacy Battlefield to the south.

Historic National Road

Designation: : All-American Road, 2002

Distance: : 170 miles (Maryland's portion), tracing parts of U.S. 40, Route 144 and Interstate 68

Driving time: : Seven hours. Plan an overnight trip to sightsee along the way.

Highlights: : The byway follows America's first federally funded interstate and the main east-west route used by settlers before the arrival of the railroad. The route begins in Baltimore, but make your first stop in Ellicott City, where Thomas Isaac's Log Cabin was a way station along the early road. In Frederick, stop at Rose Hill Manor, an 18th-century Georgian mansion that was home to Maryland's first elected governor. Heading west through Hagerstown, look for the waterfront park on the Conococheague Creek, where you can catch scenic views of the Wilson Bridge, an arched stone bridge dating to 1819. . Near Cumberland, there are several historic inns that once catered to pioneers traveling the National Road, including the Flintstone Hotel, also known as the Piper Hotel. As the byway nears its end, go back to its beginning in LaVale by visiting the National Road's first toll gate house built in the 1830s.

Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway

Designation: : National Scenic Byway, 2002

Distance: : 419 miles (86 miles is nationally designated), from Chesapeake City to Elliott Island, including the Bay Bridge and parts of Route 213, Route 662 and U.S. 50

Driving time: : Three hours. An overnight trip will allow more time to visit the many historic small towns along this route.

Highlights: : Start in Chesapeake City at the northern end of the byway and explore that city's historic district before heading south to Georgetown, where the British attacked during the War of 1812, burning everything except for a church and two houses. After a quick visit to Rock Hall and Chestertown, stop at Centreville to see the Museum of Eastern Shore Life and Maryland's oldest courthouse dating to 1792. Near the southern end of the byway, you can go fishing or boating along Hooper Island Branch, a chain of three islands on the Chesapeake Bay.

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