Discover the 8 Best National Parks in Maryland

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: April 17, 2022
Image Credit Dennis W Donohue/Shutterstock.com
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If you’re planning to visit Maryland or just looking for some fun places to spend your holiday, check out the list we’ve prepared for you. You can go to any of the national parks, and historic sites in Maryland mentioned below. Whatever you choose, we’re sure you’ll have a great time!

Maryland is found in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The state is also called the “Old Line State,” the “Free State,” and “The Chesapeake Bay State.” Another curious fact is that it’s named after the English Queen Henrietta Maria. Maryland’s capital is Annapolis, while the largest city is Baltimore. It has three national historical parks, various historic trails and monuments, and unique state parks worth visiting, as you’ll soon see!

1. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park
Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park was designated to preserve the remains of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

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Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park
LocationCumberland, Allegany County
Size19,586 acres
Animals to spotDeer, bats, butterflies, dragonflies, various species of birds, reptiles, amphibians
Recreational activitiesHiking, biking, camping, boating

The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park was designated to preserve the remains of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The construction of the canal started in 1828 and lasted 22 years. Its trail goes all the way from the Potomac River from Georgetown, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland, and has a distance of 184.5 miles. This tourist attraction will clearly be rich both in natural and historical details. 

This park in Maryland provides outdoor enthusiasts with various recreational activities, including hiking, biking, camping, and boating. If you’re planning a more extended visit, the park has five drive-in campgrounds and 30 sites along the canal for hiking and biking. A visitor’s center will provide you with more information regarding the park, as well as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. 

2. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is situated at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers.

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Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
Location in MarylandHarpers Ferry, at the border between Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia
Size3,660.72 acres
Animals to spotAmphibians, reptiles, mammals, spiders, fish, birds, insects
Attractions to seeThe historic town of Harpers Ferry, natural surroundings

Animal, nature, and history lovers will certainly delight in visiting Harpers Ferry National Historical Park! It’s situated at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. 

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are only two of the many prominent figures who left a mark on this park. The place has a rich history. Some important events are the first successful application of interchangeable manufacturing, John Brown’s attack on slavery, and the education of formerly enslaved people.

Besides the historic town of Harper Ferry, the surroundings consist of scenic wooded slopes, fields, and rocky cliffs. The natural area hosts around 15 amphibian and reptile species, around 30 mammal and spider species, 43 fish species, and more than 170 types of birds and insects.

3. Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park commemorates Harriet Tubman, an American abolitionist and political activist.

Zack Frank/Shutterstock.com

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park
LocationChurch Creek, Dorchester County
Size17 acres
Attractions to seeExhibits, museum store, seasonal interpretive programs

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park commemorates Harriet Tubman, an American abolitionist and political activist. She is the most well-known Underground Railroad worker, a network of secret passageways and safe houses. Before the Civil War, she risked her life repeatedly to help free 70 enslaved people.

The 15,000-square-foot visitor’s center on the site provides tourists with an audio-visual program, a museum store, various exhibits, a research library, and seasonal interpretive programs. The exhibits focus on a few topics: Tubman’s family and faith, the local community, the Underground Railroad, and how and why Tubman’s actions are still relevant.

There’s also a 0.75-mile memorial garden where you can go for a walk to savor the beautiful landscape.

4. Chesapeake Bay

Chesapeake Bay
The northern portion of Chesapeake Bay is located in Maryland, while the southern part is located in Virginia.

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Chesapeake Bay
LocationEastern Shore of Maryland
Size in Maryland1,726 square miles
Animals to spotBottlenose dolphins, crabs, oysters, waterfowl, various species of mammals, and reptiles

Chesapeake Bay can easily be called the largest estuary in the United States and the third-largest in the world. The northern portion of the Bay is located in Maryland, while the southern part is located in Virginia. Therefore, it is one of both states’ most important ecological and economic elements.

The exciting thing is that you don’t have to go to a specific place to enjoy the beauties of the Bay. Sixteen counties in Maryland and the largest city of the state, Baltimore, border the estuary, so it will be easy to find scenic views, especially if you’re on a road trip in Maryland or Virginia. If you’re lucky enough, you can even spot a bottlenose dolphin that can sometimes be found near harbors.

Check the official website of Chesapeake Bay, which provides you with specific details about specific locations.

5. Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Appalachian National Scenic Trail
Appalachian National Scenic Trail crosses 14 states, including Maryland.

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Appalachian National Scenic Trail
Location in MarylandFollows the ridgeline of South Mountain
Length in Maryland40 miles
Animals to spotWhite-tail deer, squirrels, chipmunks, coyotes
AttractionsHiking trails and historic sites

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is a hiking trail in the eastern United States. It starts in Georgia, from Springer Mountain, and ends in Maine, on Mount Katahdin. The trail crosses 14 states, including Maryland, and has a length of about 2,200 miles.

Forty miles of this trail are located in Maryland, following the ridgeline of South Mountain. This part is considered easy compared to those in the other states. The lowest point is at the Potomac River (250 feet), and the highest is at High Rock (1900 feet). Even beginner hikers can give it a try, as there are also shelters and backpackers’ campgrounds. The views encountered along the way are, of course, spectacular! If you’re a true hiker, we’re sure you won’t regret this.

If you’re not up for more days of hiking, you can opt for day hikes – from Greenbrier State Park to Annapolis Rock and Black Rock, from Greenbrier to Washington Monument State Park, and from Gathland State Park to Weverton Cliffs.

6. Antietam National Battlefield

Antietam National Battlefield
Antietam National Battlefield commemorates the American Civil War Battle of Antietam that took place on September 17, 1862.

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Antietam National Battlefield
LocationWashington County (nearest city Sharpsburg)
Size3,229 acres
Animals to spotWoodchucks, white-tail deer, various species of birds, including Eastern Bluebirds and Grasshopper Sparrows
Attractions to seeBattlefield site, visitor’s center, field hospital museum, national military cemetery

An interesting historical and natural destination, Antietam National Battlefield commemorates the American Civil War Battle of Antietam that took place on September 17, 1862. It was dubbed “the bloodiest day in American history.” It features a battlefield site, a visitor’s center, a field hospital museum, a national military cemetery, and the Burnside’s Bridge. At the visitor’s center, you can purchase an audio tour to accompany you on an 8.5-mile self-guided tour of the battlefield. 

Besides being an incredibly unique destination that enriches your knowledge with historical facts, it’s also a beautiful place in nature. It is situated near the Potomac River, on the fields among the Appalachian foothills. Nature lovers will most certainly enjoy the scenic views, and the variety of animals spotted there. The eastern bluebird is one of the beautiful birds that can cross paths with the visitors of the Antietam National Battlefield.

7. Catoctin Mountain Park

Catoctin Mountain Park
Catoctin Mountain Park is a scenic destination located in north-central Maryland.

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Catoctin Mountain Park
LocationFrederick County
Size6,154 acres
Animals to spotSquirrels, chipmunks, white-tail deer, pileated woodpeckers, black bear
Recreational activitiesHiking, horseback riding, camping, picnicking, fishing

Catoctin Mountain Park is a scenic destination located in north-central Maryland. Hiking enthusiasts will find this national park an exciting destination, as it has trails measuring more than 25 miles long. Six of these trails are used for horseback riding. Even if you’re a beginner or an experienced hiker, you’ll have a great time on the trail.

The Presidential retreat, Camp David, can also be found in this national park, but it’s not open to the public. Don’t worry; you won’t be bored because the park includes a campground as well as designated areas for picnicking and fishing. If you’re lucky enough, you can even spot a black bear; just make sure to do so from a distance!

8. Assateague Island National Seashore

Assateague Island National Seashore
Assateague Island National Seashore has three public areas and a visitor’s center.

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Assateague Island National Seashore
Location in MarylandWorcester County (nearest city Ocean City)
Size41,320 acres
Animals to spotWhite-tail deer, red foxes, Chincoteague pony, merlin, sika deer, brown pelican
Attractions to seeNational Seashore, State Park, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, visitor’s center

Visiting Assateague Island National Seashore will undoubtedly exceed your expectations! It’s the largest natural barrier island ecosystem located along the Atlantic Ocean, mainly in Maryland and a smaller part of it in Virginia. You’ll be able to enjoy the beautiful landscape or engage in various recreational activities the island offers.

The island has three public areas and a visitor’s center. Alongside the National Seashore, the Assateague State Park is an 855-acre public recreation area with wildlife landscape, beach, and camping facilities. The Assateague horse, also known as the Chincoteague pony, is only one of the unique animal species visitors can spot in the park.

The third area is the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, a large wildlife preserve where various species of animals live. Some of them include merlin, brown pelican, sika deer, and black skimmer. Most of this preserve is located in Virginia, but it only takes a one-hour drive to get there from Assateague State Park.

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