My husband and I recently took a little excursion to try something off the beaten path (literally). Just miles from Frederick County, Washington County, MD offers the Western Maryland Rail Trail — 20+ miles of asphalt paved path made for running, biking, or even a spontaneous stroll. The trail runs parallel to the much longer, much more intense C&O Canal Towpath. But, if you’re looking for something as a novice, or for something to do casually on a date or Sunday afternoon, the Rail Trail might be exactly what you’re looking for.
So, the idea was this: Rail Trail & Bail. We would hop on at a checkpoint location, ride a few miles, and then grab some grub, being sure to intake many more calories than we would actually burn on a slow-paced bike ride.
As we are not avid bikers, we needed to rent equipment for riding on the Rail Trail. We both like to run, but as we wanted to cover some ground to maximize our time on the trail, we decided biking was our best bet. There are a couple of places all along the trail that you can begin to bike. If you’re traveling from Frederick, you’ll want to head to Big Pool, MD off of Interstate 70. There is direct access to the rail trail there, and you can then ride the 20 miles west. We recommend renting from Gravel & Grind in Downtown Frederick, MD (and grab a delicious cup of coffee while you’re there). They rent ‘town bikes’ for $25.00 per day, so if you’re in need of a bike just for a mini-excursion like the one we embarked on, it’s a great price to be able to test the waters before buying your own bike and equipment.
We, however, were traveling east after a weekend in the mountains, and chose to stop in Hancock, MD, also off of Interstate 70. This is a great location to jump on, as it is almost exactly in the middle of the 20+ mile trail. We rented bikes from C&O Bicycle, where we had friendly staff set us up with bikes and any equipment we might need, such as helmets, etc. This Hancock stop is also one of the stops where the towpath meets up with the Rail Trail, making C&O Bicycle an ideal stop for riders no matter which path you’re riding on. They have a place to wash off your bike, fill the tires up with air, shower if you need to, and food for purchase if you need extra fuel. (But we’ll get to the food we chose later.) Our bikes were seven dollars per hour, making it a very affordable outing.
When you hop on the Rail Trail in Hancock, you can ride about 11 miles in either direction. The rail trail is almost completely flat, so neither direction would have been ‘harder’ than the other. Starting at mile marker 10 on the rail trail, we headed East. The rail trail is shaded and runs directly through the woods, surrounding you with the peaceful sounds of trees rustling and the nearby canal flowing over rocks. Since we were out to kill some time instead of burning calories, we took our time riding about 5 miles East. We stopped at the Little Pool stop around mile marker six where there was an inviting set of rock stairs leading down to the canal. There was a walking bridge where you could walk from the rail trail to the tow path, making this a great spot to hop from one to the other if you wanted to. It was scenic and peaceful, and was obviously an ideal selfie-location.
Upon hitting mile marker 5, we turned around and headed back through the tree-covered, shaded rail trail, tearing up a bit from either the beauty of nature or the dreadful pollen allergies, definitely one or the other.
We returned our bikes to C&O Bicycle and got cleaned up for the part we’d both been waiting for: the BAIL part. This meant the exercise portion of our date was up, and it was time to satisfy our appetites! We visited BuddyLou’s Eats Drinks & Antiques, easily a walk, bike ride or very short drive from the bike rental shop. With adorable outdoor seating, and a local funky flare made up of treasured items from yesteryear, Buddy Lou’s was a great place to grab a sandwich and a beer after our clearly strenuous ride. I recommend the wings as a starter, and the Fried Bologna sandwich as your entrée (and by the way, don’t substitute the chips for fries, you’re going to want the chips). Located right off Main Street in Hancock, this gem provides a darling location to have conversation and craft beer. We will definitely be returning, perhaps on a day when we can sit in the open-air patio overlooking the canal.
Our 11 mile ride (when all was said and done) took us about 90 minutes. As we sat sipping our craft beer and eating our wings in the adorable colorful cottage, we both realized how we hadn’t looked down at our phones. We were immersed in the nature around us, the food in front of us, and the good company. After spending about $55.00 on lunch (two meals, one starter, and two beers) we headed home with leftovers and a new favorite date-day activity.
If you’re looking for something to try that’s a little different, check out the Western Maryland Rail Trail. You won’t be disappointed when you Rail Trail & Bail (for yummy beers)! Cheers!