The paved Virginia Capital Trail runs between Richmond and Williamsburg. Photo by Jesse Peters of Backlight Photography

1. Connect the dots

The 51-mile Virginia Capital Trail (virginiacapitaltrail.org) opened in 2015 and has been attracting cyclists ever since. Informally known as the Cap2Cap—it connects the current and former Virginia capitals of Richmond and Williamsburg—the paved, multi-use trail follows Virginia State Route 5, transporting travelers past inns, campsites, barbecue joints, former plantations, museums, farms, waterways and more. Though the trail has no major climbs, there are some hills, particularly on the trail segments near Richmond. Don’t want to do all 51 miles? A popular and accessible ride is the 7-mile segment between mile 0 at the Jamestown Settlement and Chickahominy Riverfront Park in Williamsburg. 

—Jeffrey Yeates


Adventures on the Gorge in Lansing, West Virginia, features five sky bridges and 10 zip lines. Photo courtesy of Adventures on the Gorge

2. Buzz the treetops

For a bird’s-eye view of forests and fields, hook yourself up with a zip line adventure. Open March to November, the Tree Top Zip Tour at the Salamander Resort in Middleburg, Virginia (empoweradventures.com), has five zip lines and two suspension bridges that collectively span 20 acres of tree canopy at heights of 35 to 65 feet ($149).

Bear Mountain Ziplines (bearmountainadventure.com) in the Shenandoah Valley near Luray, Virginia, offers the year-round Mama Bear zip line ($75), whose seven runs across 50 acres reach speeds of up to 35 mph. 

Daredevils can take it up a notch at Adventures on the Gorge (adventuresonthegorge.com) in Lansing, West Virginia, home to the 1.5-mile, 200-foot-high Gravity Zipline, as well as the AdrenaLine, a 3,150-foot run that sends willing parties careening above the forest at speeds up to 65 mph. Here, the year-round Treetops Canopy tour includes 10 zip lines, five swinging sky bridges and a 35-foot rappel. Tickets are $104 and up for ages 15 and older; $57 for ages 10-12. 

—Amy Brecount White


“Voices of Perseverance,” a mural by Ed Trask and Jason Ford, in Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Visit Richmond, VA

3. Retrace Black history

At the start of the 20th century, Richmond’s Jackson Ward was one of the wealthiest Black neighborhoods in the nation. Known as the “Harlem of the South” and “Black Wall Street,” it’s where tap-dancing legend Bill “Bojangles” Robinson rose to fame and where Maggie L. Walker, the nation’s first African American bank president, founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, giving Black entrepreneurs access to capital. For a self-guided walking tour of Jackson Ward, a National Historic Landmark District, access a map at visitblkrva.com/jacksonward. Download the National Park Service app for a narrated walking tour podcast and transcript. 

—Jenny Sullivan


See Baltimore’s Inner Harbor by kayak on a guided tour. Photo courtesy of Waterfront Partnership

4. Cruise the harbor, hon

Here’s a new and different way to explore Baltimore’s Inner Harbor—by kayak. Departing from the Maryland Science Center, this three-hour guided circuit tour (waterfrontpartnership.org/enjoy/kayak-tours) passes historic ships, including the USS Constitution and a Coast Guard lightship (think mobile lighthouse), as well as the USS Torsk, a World War II submarine. Near the National Aquarium are two noteworthy eco-initiatives: floating wetland prototypes composed of native plants that naturally remove pollutants from the water, and an oyster colony dedicated to repopulating the bivalves that serve as natural filters for the Chesapeake Bay. Paddlers can take a selfie with Mr. Trash Wheel, a floating device that uses solar and hydro power to collect litter and debris from the harbor. At Fells Point, spy an old train pier before crossing the harbor for views of the city skyline and Federal Hill, a former military outpost. Inner Harbor Kayak Tours ($20) are limited to experienced paddlers ages 12 and older. Available Sundays, May through October.

 —Amy Brecount White


Lost River Caverns, near Allentown, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Discover Lehigh Valley

5. Go underground

Descend into cool caverns, where the alchemy of limestone and water has created stalactites, stalagmites and other calcium-carbonate wonders over thousands of years. In the Crystal Grottoes Caverns (crystalgrottoescaverns.com) about 20 miles northwest of Frederick, Maryland, spelunkers can discover bacon, cauliflower, soda-straw and ribbon formations (to name a few) in a guided tour that includes seven chambers and rimstone pools ($20; $10 for kids younger than 12). 

Alternately, head to Lost River Caverns (lostcave.com) near Allentown, Pennsylvania, where, in the late 1800s, locals built a wooden dance floor underground in a section of the cave now known as the Crystal Chapel. Bootleggers also stored their wares in these caverns during Prohibition. Admission is $14.50; $9.50 for ages 3 to 12. 

—Amy Brecount White


Take a kayak excursion in Maryland’s Antietam Creek to pass under the historic Burnside Bridge. Photo courtesy of River & Trail Outfitters

6. Paddle through history

Poetic accounts of the Battle of Antietam suggest that Antietam Creek flowed red on Sept. 17, 1862, after the bloodiest day in American history left 23,000 soldiers dead, wounded or missing. Today its placid waters and quiet banks in Western Maryland are a refuge for kayakers, canoeists and tubers, as well as Civil War history buffs. For a leisurely six-hour paddle or float, put in at Devil’s Backbone County Park, glide beneath the 140-foot-long aqueduct (circa 1834) that channels the C&O Canal Towpath overhead, and follow the snaking creek to the point where it spills into the Potomac River. Along the way, you’ll skirt Antietam National Battlefield and pass under the limestone blocks of the historic Burnside Bridge. Antietam Creek has a few minor rapids, but the journey is gentle enough for kids. Bring your own boats and floats, or rent equipment from an outfitter such as Antietam Creek Canoe (antietamcreek.com). It provides shuttle service to drop-off and pickup points. See websites for prices.

—Jeffrey Yeates


A light installation by artist Bruce Munro at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. Photo by Serena Munro

7. Light the night

For a nocturnal outing, behold the glowing spectacle of some 18,000 illuminated lakeside orbs at Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens (longwoodgardens.org), where a series of eight large-scale light installations by British artist Bruce Munro is on display through Oct. 30. Visitors can arrive starting at 4 p.m. in September and October, Thursday through Sunday evenings, to wander the gardens and watch the installations come to life at dusk; a 30-minute illuminated fountain show begins at 8:15 pm. The property’s 1,100 acres of gardens also include 37 stainless steel lilies that shimmer with light, and 1,000 plastic flamingos awash in ever-changing colors, thanks to projection technology. Admission is $35; $32 for college students and seniors; $19 for ages 5-18; free for ages 4 and younger. Timed ticket purchases are recommended. 

—Barbara Ruben


The view from the Maryland Heights Trail in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Photo by Getty Images

8. See for miles  

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park has 22 miles of hiking trails spread across 3,500 acres and three states: West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia. The moderately strenuous 7.5-mile Loudoun Heights Trail—which includes a scant section of the Appalachian Trail—rewards hikers with spectacular views of Harpers Ferry and the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, as well as interesting phyllite and quartzite rock formations. The 4.5- to 6.5-mile Maryland Heights Trail offers equally spectacular views. For a more easygoing walkabout, the 1- to 3-mile Murphy-Chambers Farm hike passes through fields and wooded ravines to arrive at views of the Shenandoah River, the surrounding mountains and Civil War cannons. Leashed dogs are allowed on all trails, with hikes of varying lengths and difficulties. Pick up a trail map at the park’s visitor center or go to nps.gov/hafe/planyourvisit/hikes.htm to plan your route. If time allows, Harpers Ferry’s museums, ghost tours, quaint shops and cafes are worth a stop, too (discoveritallwv.com/attractions/harpers-ferry)

—Christine Koubek Flynn


Sculpted greenery at Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton, Maryland. Photo courtesy of Ladew Topiary Gardens

9. Tour the topiaries 

From shrubs shaped like horses and hounds, to a hedge coaxed to resemble swans gliding on waves, the topiaries at Ladew Topiary Gardens (ladewgardens.com) in Monkton, Maryland, rate among the best in the world. The Garden Club of America has named this northern Baltimore County destination “the most outstanding topiary garden in America,” with more than 100 leafy sculptures dotting 22 acres. The nonprofit’s grounds also feature hundreds of black-eyed Susans (the Maryland state flower), climbing roses, foxgloves and other summer blooms in various garden “rooms” and along a 1-mile nature walkway. The butterfly house, open through late September, showcases native butterflies, caterpillars and plants. Admission is $15; $10 for seniors and students; $4 for ages 2-12; free for kids younger than 2. Tours of the property’s manor house are an additional $5. Open April 1-Oct. 31; closed on Wednesdays. 

—Barbara Ruben


A horseback tour of Pennsylvania’s Gettysburg National Military Park. Photo by Darah Gardner-Hickman

10. Saddle up

Explore Pennsylvania’s Gettysburg National Military Park and learn about Civil War history the old-fashioned way—on horseback. Confederate Trails of Gettysburg and the Victorian Carriage Company, together known as Horse Tours of Gettysburg, provide equine tours ($99.50 for riders 8 and older) with licensed battlefield guides for a unique view of history. Riders receive headsets with single earbuds so as not to miss a word of the two-hour tour. Reserve your saddle in advance at horsetoursgettysburg.com. Carriage tours are also available, as are group discounts. 

—Christine Koubek Flynn


Annapolis Electric Boats rents 22-foot vessels by the hour. Photo courtesy of Annapolis Electric Boats

11. Set sail from Annapolis

For a private excursion on the Chesapeake Bay, hop aboard Capt. Mike Krissoff’s turbo-diesel-powered Markley 46 in Annapolis and chart your own itinerary—be it lighthouse-hopping, a trip to Chester River’s Conquest Beach for kayaking or paddleboarding, or a sail across the bay to St. Michaels and Tilghman Island. Krissoff’s Full Moon Adventures boat tours (capnmikesfullmoonadventures.com) generally cost around $250 per hour for up to six people with a two-hour minimum. He’s happy to transport bikes, boards and kayaks. 

Another option: Pack a picnic and captain your own 22-foot electric boat with Annapolis Electric Boats (aebrentals.com). Cruise along Spa and Back Creeks to see the Naval Academy, downtown Annapolis and beautiful homes and marinas from the water. Each canopied boat runs on batteries (similar to a golf cart), accommodates up to 10 passengers and has a top speed of roughly 5 miles per hour. Rates begin at $200 for a one-hour rental. 

—Christine Koubek Flynn

This story appears in the September/October 2022 issue of Bethesda Magazine.