By Kurt Jacobson
GoNOMAD Senior Writer
When we moved from Colorado to Baltimore, Howard County appeared on our radar as a great place to live. More than one publication either mentioned or featured Colombia, MD in Howard County as one of the best cities in America to call home.
During my extensive explorations of Maryland, I’ve found that Howard County has many reasons to visit. Let’s take a road trip and explore this county near Baltimore and Washington, DC.
The Columbia Mall was one of the first places we visited in Howard County. I’m not big on hanging out at a mall while my wife shops, so I was thrilled to find the hiking path around Lake Kittamaqundi- Lake Kit to locals. I like hiking the 1.7-mile path at a fast walk, stopping for occasional turtle sightings.
Not far from Lake Kit, the same trail system will take the adventuresome hiker to the Merriweather Post Pavillion and the Symphony Woods. This park/concert venue is one of Maryland’s best places to catch an outdoor performance.
With over 40 acres, the venue has thrilled concertgoers with artists like JimiHendrix to the National Symphony.
Howard County is a place of contrast. One minute you might be in a modern city, and the next, in Maryland’s best farm country. Mary’s Land Farm is one of my favorites.
They have events throughout the year, including cooking demos, sunflower festival, lamb cuddling, live music, summer camps, and more. Their farm store is one of Maryland’s best. They sell meat, produce, cheese, and other local products here.
Not far from Mary’s Land Farm, find Larriland Farm for u-pick fruit, veggies, pumpkins, and a farm market. Their harvest calendar lists the dates and what’s available to pick. Autumn hayrides and a corn maze are popular events for families wanting their kids to get a taste of farm life.
Small Town, Big History
Savage might be off the beaten path, but it’s worth the detour. The Savage Mill is a remodeled vintage mill building turned shopping destination. On our first visit to the mill it was too brief to take in all it has to offer. The next visit, some 10 years later, we spent almost two hours there and thought it was one of the best examples of an industrial mill retrofit ever.
Many mills dotted the Maryland landscape in the 1700s to 1800s. Some have been torn down, but Savage Mill, Meadow Mill, Mill Number 1, and other Baltimore area mills have been re-purposed. Twenty shops draw locals and tourists for antiques, books, art, gifts, and chocolate to Savage Mill.
Artcraft is perhaps the most attractive art shop I’ve seen anywhere in the US. The layout of the art and the colors of each room highlight the quality wares sold here. They hold a girl’s night out event four times yearly that draws up to 1,000 RSVP requests and packs the mill.
Green With Envy
For a one-of-a-kind green wall, check out Xanadu for incredible moss wall art. These living pieces of art vary from small wall hangings to entire walls. For adrenalin junkies, Terrapin Adventures has a zip line, climbing tower, high ropes challenge, and other fun ways to have high-energy fun outdoors.
We love the patisserie Roggenart Bistro and Café for pastries, sandwiches, and coffee. With indoor or outdoor seating, customers have plenty of places to sit and enjoy exceptional French pastries. Dive Bar and Grill offers lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch throughout the week.
Take a Howard County Hike
The Savage Mill Trail is just across a vintage Bollman Iron Truss Bridge from the Savage Mill. There was a time when trains chugged across over 100 of these sturdy bridges, but this one at Savage is the last of its kind.
A hike on the Scenic Savage Mill Trail will take you 1.4 miles, round trip, into the forest. The Little Patuxent River can be seen and heard during your hike. If you stray off the trail, beware of poison ivy.
For a large park experience in Howard County, Patapsco Valley State Park draws over a million visitors each year.
This truly magnificent park has over 16,043 acres of woodlands, riverfront, and meadows.
Patapsco Valley State Park is Maryland’s oldest state park. The park has several historic buildings and the ruins of old structures.
Every big city in America should be as lucky as Baltimore to have a park of this magnitude close by. Activities in the park include horseback riding, hiking, picnicking, foraging, deer hunting (archery and muzzleloaders on specific acres), camping, and birding, to name a few. Fees are reasonable at $2 per vehicle for Maryland residents and $4 for out-of-state visitors.
Howard County Dining
I have explored Howard County by visiting some excellent restaurants within its borders. Here are some of my favorites.
Victoria Gastro Pub is a good place for excellent food and drink, whether you are dining in their sizeable bar, dining room, or outdoors.
We go for the fantastic duck-fat fries poutine. Open for lunch, dinner, and brunch, check them out for burgers, seafood, and a long list of tasty starters like the Bang Bang Cauliflower, one of our favs.
Elkridge Furnace Inn is one of Maryland’s oldest, started in 1744, and a perennial for fine dining, special events, and wine.
Another good choice for fine dining is Iron Bridge Wine Company, which is on the outskirts of Columbia.
Delicious Entrees Since 2003
Started in 2003, they’ve built a reputation for delicious entrees paired with one of the three hundred bottles of wine in their cellar.
I appreciate a good food hall, and Clarksville has one named The Common Kitchen: An International Food Hall.
Clarksville is an interesting town. I drove around to explore the area before lunch at the food hall and almost everything in this small town looked at most 15 years old.
Newish neighborhoods sported biking/walking trails amongst pristine-looking homes. I tried Guigui’s Haitian fare for lunch at Common Kitchen and liked the beans and rice. I also tried a mushroom empanada at Tasty Empanadas, which serves Paraguay-style fare.
Historic Ellicott City
Some of the deepest history I’ve found in my travels within Maryland is in Ellicott City. The oldest train station in America is here. The B&O Railroad started passenger service in May 1830 using horse-drawn cars on the tracks. A visit to the Baltimore & Ohio Ellicott City Museum is essential for railroad buffs.
After the B&O Museum, take a walk on Frederick Road, Ellicott City’s Main Street to peruse shopping and dining options. Several good restaurants and shops are on this street, like Tersiguel’s French restaurant, Syriana Café, and Sweet Cascades Chocolatier, to name a few.
If you like a good walk, hike the Trolley Line #9 Trail located on the Baltimore County side of the Patapsco River, next to the Trolley Stop restaurant on 6 Oella Avenue.
Trolley Line #9 is one of my favorite trails in all of Maryland. A 10-15 minute walk takes you through towering tulip poplars, sycamore, and oak trees.
Take the Red Trail cutoff to the Banneker Museum and Park, or continue up the main trail to the intersection with a historical marker about Benjamin Banneker.
Both routes take you through the forest on a pleasant, gently sloping walk. Fascinating African-American history can be found at the Banneker Museum.
Benjamin Banneker was a free African-American who excelled in mathematics, surveying, farming, and writing.
He grew up on this homestead his parents purchased in 1737 and spent his whole life on the farm.
Howard County People
On one of several trips to the Savage Mill I met Casey Allred who had moved from Harford County, MD, to Columbia.
I asked what he liked about living in Howard County, and he told me, “There are so many beautiful trees in the area and trails. It’s so easy to get around on bike paths and trails.”
Casey rides his bike to work most days on the numerous trails in the area.
Pat Rodeheaver, the chef du cuisine at Elkridge Furnace Inn loves the location of Howard County for the proximity to Baltimore or DC.
He said, “I find Howard County to be a good mix of suburbs and rural areas
with lots of green spaces. We also have lots of cultural diversity here.” Pat is one of a few certified forager chefs and has plenty of good foraging places in Howard County.
Howard County is easily accessed off of I-95 or I-70. The best time to visit is in spring, summer, or fall.