It felt like fall today. Though the afternoon temperature at home may have reached the high 70s, the early morning temperature was in the 50s. It felt like a day for apples, pumpkins and a trip to the country.
And I knew just where I wanted to go. Route 15 north of Frederick may seem like a truck highway to Gettysburg to some but it has always taken me to places to celebrate nature: Cunningham Falls, the Grotto of Lourdes in Emmitsburg, hiking routes near the Appalachian Trail, the apple orchards.
This trip, though, I had a new (and very old) destination in mind: the covered bridges of Frederick County. There are three of them, all red-painted wood and stone, built in the 1800s. All of them have remained in continuous use since.
Driving directions on Frederick County tourism’s website got me to all of them without one wrong turn. And when we had seen them all, we ended up back on Route 15 and right in front of one of my favorite little shops in Thurmont.
But I get ahead of myself.
A trip along Route 15 is a tradition I inherited from my parents. I have no idea when they started taking the traditional fall drive, but every year I heard about the apples, the fall foliage, the restaurants. Now I’m hooked, too. Usually I wait until later in October, but on a fine September day, just as the leaves were tinged with red, I had to go. I needed apples. I needed a drive in the country. The covered bridges called to me, too.
Wander along these back roads that meander past farms and through tiny towns to find the covered bridges.
The three bridges, three of eight remaining covered bridges in Maryland, are all listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While they resemble one another, they have their differences. They are all one-lane bridges — so be careful as you drive through or, as we had to do, peek in to see how they were built. Each runs over a pretty little creek, and in the case of the Loy’s and Roddy bridges, there’s room for a picnic. (You’ll even find a picnic table at each.)
Bringing kids? Make a point of stopping at the Loy’s Bridge for a picnic and a romp on their playground.
The Utica Bridge started out as one of five covered bridges over the Monocacy River. But the 1889 Johnstown Flood damaged most of them. The Utica Bridge was badly damaged. The half that survived was carted to its present location and rebuilt over Fishing Creek.
The Loy’s Station Bridge stretches 90 feet over Owens Creek. It’s the second bridge you’ll see. Best of all, it is situated next to a park with picnic tables, grills and a playground. There’s plenty of parking and a grassy area along the creek for relaxing and skipping stones.
The smallest covered bridge in Maryland is the Roddy Road Bridge. It stretches only 40 feet over Roddy Creek. But here, too, there’s a picnic table and space to stretch out for a few minutes.
Once you have had your fill of the three bridges — and the trip can be as quick as 45 minutes or so — you’ll find yourself back out on Route 15.
We had three destinations still to go on our fall ramble: an apple orchard, lunch, and a stop at Candyland.
Two apple orchards are located right on Route 15. We always go to Catoctin Mountain Orchard. It’s convenient and has plenty of apples (including samples), pumpkins and mums.
We also always go to Gateway Farm Market and Candyland. Sure, they have produce but they also have an eye-popping spread of “penny candy.” It’s more like $5 a pound now, but who can resist a table filled with caramel cremes, Mary Janes, peppermint patties and Now and Laters? They have lots of other stuff; I just never pay attention.
If you want to drive some more, you can head over to Sabillasville Road to Scenic View Orchards. It is appropriately named; the view is worth the drive.
The day is not complete without a stop for lunch in Thurmont. Fitzgerald’s Shamrock Restaurant goes heavy on the Irish knick-knacks but they can make a mean crabcake, too. Take your time reading the menu, there’s lots to choose from. The Cozy Restaurant has been a favorite for motorists for a long time, too. Not only are there all kinds of choices from buffet to fondue for two, there’s a Camp David Museum worth seeing. (Camp David is somewhere near here. Where exactly? That’s a state secret.)
© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman