When the journey is paved with beef, mollusks or cardigans, the destination is almost an afterthought.
Over the years, states have plotted out themed trails that spotlight local specialties and cultural touchstones, such as barbecue, oysters and Mister Rogers. Most of the routes revolve around food and drink,
though several focus on nonedibles, such as artisans and history. Some are compact and doable in a day;
others sprawl and require a leave of absence from work.
There are many ways to tackle the trails. You can follow a methodical course or bounce around like a pinball. Visit all the sites or a smattering. Nibble or binge. Designate yourself the driver or the drinker. Whichever tact you take, remember that the trails are not racecourses or eating contests. Drive slowly, and stop and sample often. Also, depending on the trail, you might want to throw in some antacids and elastic-waist pants.
Here’s a selection of trails in four Mid-Atlantic states.
Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail
Statewide, nine stops
Raise a triple-scoop cone to Maryland, the first state in the country to serve the frozen dessert (Gov. Thomas Bladen treated his guests to strawberry ice cream in 1744) and open the nation’s first ice cream factory (by a Baltimore milkman in 1853). All roads lead to creameries, where you can thank the dairy cows for keeping your freezer filled with pints. Before choosing your flavor, watch the farmers milk the girls, or help feed the next generation of vanilla half-gallons. South Mountain Creamery holds daily feedings at 4 p.m. With the trail’s passport program, receive a stamp at each destination and provide the answer to such questions as “How many dairy farms are in Maryland?” and you could win a $50 gift certificate at the creamery of your choice.
Will brake for: Rosé-flavored ice cream at Kilby Cream in Rising Sun and “milking” the robotic recirculating cow at Chesapeake Bay Farms in Pocomoke.
Maryland Crab & Oyster Trail
Central, southern and western Maryland, Capital Region and Eastern Shore; more than 350 stops
Grab your plastic bib and wooden mallet for the miles-long and -wide sealife buffet. “The trail speaks to the history and heritage—and consuming of—Maryland seafood,” Connie Spindler, a spokeswoman with the Maryland Office of Tourism, said of the year-old culinary adventure. Several museums and marine centers, such as the Rock Hall Waterman’s Museum and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, teach visitors about the crabbing and oystering industries that have shaped the state’s culture, economy and palate since the 1600s. History goes down easier with a shake of Old Bay seasoning or a splash of mignonette sauce. So hit a raw bar or crab shack and learn the art of crab-picking and oyster-slurping.
Will brake for: A ride in an oyster buy-boat at the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons; crab cakes at the original Stoney’s Seafood House on Broomes Island; and pulling up crab pots and oyster tonging on the Waterman’s Heritage Cruise with Fish the Bay Charters in Dameron.
Maryland Wine Trails
Statewide; 65 stops
Founded in 2007, the trails are not a singular route but 10 tributaries flowing with vino. Choose by region, such as Patuxent, Frederick or Antietam Highlands; beverage type, such as cider or mead; or sparkling newness: the Legacy Wine Trail, the latest addition to the network in Prince George’s and Charles counties. The wineries vary in setting and size. Linganore Winecellars in Mount Airy pumps out 40,000 cases on 70 acres; Janemark Vineyard in Prince George’s County ekes out 1,000 cases on about 2 acres. Sign up for a vineyard tour and tasting, and hit the wine shop afterward to start stockpiling for the holiday party season. Many wineries also organize special activities and events, such as live music, sound therapy, goat yoga and paint-your-pet sessions.
Will brake for: The organic apples, pears, blueberries and black currants that Willow Oaks in Middletown uses in its ciders; the winery-brewery-distillery trifecta at Springfield Manor in Frederick, plus the lavender fields that flavor its gin; and Maryland’s oldest winery, Boordy Vineyards in Hydes, which dates from 1945.
Pursue Your Scoops Ice Cream Trail
Southeastern and south-central Pennsylvania; about 12 stops
The trail, which was launched last year, puts sprinkles on the state’s motto, “Pennsylvania. Pursue Your Happiness.” The cow-to-cone experience highlights creameries where the main ingredient comes from the cows that you probably moo-ed at while you were parking. The farms are family-owned and kid-friendly. Children can watch the milking process at Merrymead and help with such back-to-the-land jobs as collecting eggs at Chester Springs Creamery at Milky Way Farm. At each location, flavor choices run in the double digits, with such tough decisions as Cow Tracks vs. Candy Scramble (Patches Family Creamery) or Salty Caramel Truffle vs. Peanut Buttle Ripple (Oregon Dairy). With the passport challenge, which begins in June, visit six stops to win a T-shirt and the full dozen for a scooper.
Will brake for: The Pennsylvania Dutch County ingredients at Fox Meadows Creamery in Ephrata, including Wilbur chocolate, honey and shoofly pie; the flavored milks, including vanilla, raspberry and cherry, at Crystal Spring Farm in Schnecksville; and the two mini-golf courses at Freddy Hill Farms in Lansdale.
Fred Rogers Trail
Pittsburgh area and Laurel Highlands; about 14 stops
The state’s tourism office introduced the trail last year for the 50th anniversary of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and its creator, Fred Rogers, the Keystone State’s favorite neighbor. “The stops showcase the personal connection that Fred Rogers had with Pennsylvania—his high school, his place of burial, the largest collection of original artifacts from his show at the Heinz History Center,” said Carrie Lepore, Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary for tourism. The trail follows his footsteps from childhood (his family home in Latrobe) to adulthood (puppets from his show at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh) to the future (Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood at Idlewild & Soak Zone). On select dates in July, the Pittsburgh Festival Opera will perform his compositions, “Windstorm in Bubbleland” and “Spoon Mountain,” which first delighted living room audiences in the 1980s.
Will brake for: The “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” sign on Route 30, from Idlewild to Latrobe; the turntable and records from Rogers’s label, Small World Records, at the Ace Hotel Pittsburgh; and a banana split at Valley Dairy Restaurant in Latrobe. The frozen dessert shares the same birthplace as Rogers and appeared in Episode 1385.
Lawrence County Craft Burger Trail
Lawrence County; eight stops
Eight restaurants in the county north of Pittsburgh tempt carnivores with their signature burgers. “It’s like a pass to eat a lot of red meat,” said Lepore. Hazel’s Restaurant pays tribute to its owners’ Greek roots by smothering a half-pounder with mushrooms, onions, peppers and feta. Ben Franklin’s Taproom, Grille & Bottle Shop found its inspiration in McConnells Mill State Park, home of the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge, a National Natural Landmark. Its Hells Hollow Burger is named after a hiking trail, and you could easily break a sweat eating the burger topped with pepper jack cheese, grilled jalapeño peppers, bacon and Sriracha sauce. The Grill on the Hill singles out its Cliffhanger burger, a trio of American cheese-covered patties with nine pieces of bacon, but for a less jaw-stretching bite, consider one of the other 15 burgers on its menu, such as the peanut butter and bacon burger or the deep fried cheeseburger. Dine at all eight establishments and earn a Burger Trail T-shirt sized for your post-burger body.
Will brake for: Zambelli Park in New Castle, named after the company that helped the county claim the title of “Fireworks Capital of America”; a film screening at the Historic Warner Cascade Theater Museum in New Castle, the Warner Bros.’ first movie theater; and New Castle chili dogs, a culinary tradition cooked up by Greek immigrants who moved to town in the early 1900s.
Info: visitlawrence county.com/local-attractions/featured-attractions/burger-trail
Delaware on Tap
Statewide; 32 stops
The trail launched nine years ago as the Delaware Wine and Ale Trail but updated its name when meaderies, cideries and distilleries joined the cocktail party. The majority of stops are breweries, however, and include such whales as Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and Iron Hill as well as such minnows as 38°-75° Brewing, which serves its beers only at Gary’s Dewey Beach Grill, and Volunteer Brewing Company, the state’s smallest brewery. In 2017, the organizers released a free app that lists all the drinking establishments with their addresses, hours, featured beverages and travel tips. For instance, book your tour in advance at Dogfish Head and check out the Sunday farmers market at Nassau Valley Vineyards.Visit 10 places to score a commemorative beer mug.
Will brake for: Flights of mead served on a Viking ship model at the Brimming Horn Meadery in Milton; the hammocks and cornhole at Crooked Hammock Brewery in Lewes; and Food Truck Fridays at Dew Point Brewery in Yorklyn.
Delaware History Trail
Statewide; 36 stops
A Delaware historian compiled the points of interest for this trail, which follows the First State’s long and winding journey from the early 1600s to modern times. The destinations include monuments, museums, state parks, wildlife refuges, downtown districts and even the starting place of the Mason–Dixon Line. Visit 18 sites—six in each of the three counties—and receive a copy of the book, “Landmarks and Legacies,” with a preface by former vice president Joe Biden. If you still have gas in the tank and room in your brain, squeeze in the Fabulous Fifteen, which include such attractions as the Delaware State Police Museum, Fenwick Island Lighthouse and the Geographic Center of Delaware, a discovery sparked by an inquisitive seventh-grader.
Will brake for: The “living history” volunteer guides at the Air Mobility Command Museum on the Dover Air Force Base; the ferry ride and ghost tours at Fort Delaware State Park in Delaware City; and the Brandywine River views and demonstrations of the country’s only operating black powder roll mill at the Hagley Museum in Wilmington.
Virginia BBQ Trail
Statewide; more than 250 stops
The sauce flows through seven regions, including Appalachia, Coastal Virginia and the capital area. The emphasis is on eating, of course. The barbecue joints and smokehouses along the trail uphold a culinary tradition practiced by a long line of pitmasters, including the Powhatans, George Washington and Tuffy Stone, the world record holder on the competitive barbecue circuit and founder of the Q Barbeque chain. Crisscross the state to sample the different styles, such as the barbecue chicken with vinegar-based sauce in the Shenandoah Valley and the tomato-based sauces sweetened with spices, herbs and fruit in Northern Virginia. You can even rustle up some Texas- and Memphis-style barbecue without breaching state lines.
Will brake for: Musicians chowing down at Wolfe’s BBQ in Marion, a stop on the Crooked Road Music Trail; the sand under your feet at Woody’s Beach BBQ on Chincoteague Island; and barbecue school at Shawn’s Smokehouse BBQ in Warrenton.
Monticello Wine Trail
Central Virginia; 34 stops
Consider it your patriotic duty to visit the birthplace of American wine, where Thomas Jefferson dabbled in viticulture, founding two vineyards at Monticello. The Virginian aspired to produce wines that rivaled those from the Old World. Unfortunately, he did not live to see the Monticello Wine Co. earn a gold medal in Vienna in 1873, nor did he witness the creation of the trail dedicated to his mission. The nearly three dozen wineries fall within the Monticello American Viticulture Area, the grape-growing region that contains about 40 percent of Virginia’s 3,800 acres of vineyards. If you base yourself in Charlottesville, you won’t have to venture more than 25 miles, and if you plot well, you can walk from one winery to another. First Colony Winery and Michael Shaps Wineworks, for example, are only a half-mile apart. When you need a respite from the reds and whites, seek out the purples and grays in the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains.
Will brake for: The handmade chocolates, including a red wine buttercream-center sweet, at Glass House Winery in Free Union; the historical accommodations at Jefferson Vineyards, which grows its grapes on the same site as Jefferson did; and a self-guided tour of the Jefferson-designed mansion, Landmark Ruins, at Barboursville Vineyards in Barboursville.
Salty Southern Route
Southeastern Virginia; more than 50 stops
You won’t find the recommended daily sodium allowance posted on this month-old trail, which celebrates regional foods that predate the downfall of salt: Settlers feasted on Virginia ham in the 1600s, and the first known commercial peanut crop broke ground in Suffolk in 1842. The multicounty route swings through towns synonymous with salty foods, such as Smithfield and Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, and Suffolk and Planters Peanuts, headed by that nut in the top hat. Bounce between attractions and restaurants, pigs and peanuts. Build your own backyard salt lick with supplies purchased at such stores as Gurganus Peanut Outlet, the Planters Peanut Center and Taste of Smithfield, the flagship store that sells hams, bacon and 240 flavors of peanuts. If you get thirsty, don’t sweat it: You are near several bodies of water.
Will brake for: A salty selfie with the Mister Peanut statue in Suffolk; the folk art and peanut lore at the Miles B. Carpenter Museum in Waverly; and the maple-frosted doughnuts with bacon sprinkles at Ringo’s Donuts in Smithfield.
Statewide; more than 1,000 stops
The network débuted with the Monticello Trail in 2011 and has since grown to 17 artisan trails. “Every year we add one or two more,” said Kathy Johnson, trail coordinator at the Artisans Center of Virginia. The latest additions: City Streets & Country Roads Artisan Trail, which covers Lynchburg and Amherst, Appomattox and Campbell counties, and Front Royal–Warrenton County. No two trails require the same investment of time or gas. The Western Highlands Artisan Trail has only 20 stops, but the route covers four counties with sites that are hours apart. Loudoun County lists more than 100 attractions, but most are concentrated in Leesburg. You can meet woodworkers, blacksmiths, potters, painters, photographers, weavers, instrument-makers and other artists and buy their pieces. The guide also highlights points of interest, agri-artisans, farms, restaurants and lodgings. Not all of the listings have an artsy connection, but they do share a Made in Virginia ethos.
Will brake for: The 60-plus artists under one roof at Crozet Artisan Depot; the Unicorn Spit class at All Things New Again in Leesburg; and the outdoor sculpture garden at Michael Hough’s gallery in New Hope.