The change of seasons brings reasons to visit Charles County, in Southern Maryland. Often considered a commuter enclave for Washington, D.C., the county along the Potomac River has much more than housing developments and shopping malls along Route 301.
Once off the highway, you’ll find picturesque scenery and waterside dining. The county has a 30-mile riding trail for bikers, and it works just as well for auto-touring. It passes plenty of farms, roadside stands, and shops selling furniture and crafts.
Another driving option is the Heron’s Flight Trail from the Southern Maryland Trails Guidebook. It’s a ramble through the region, exploring the peninsulas and necks defined by the waterways and roads. Nicely illustrated with directions and descriptions, the guide highlights parks, studios, farmers markets, bed-and-breakfasts, inns, and restaurants.
You’ll probably see farmers harvesting their final crops of the season during the drive. Harvest celebrations are part of the rural traditions of the county. Two are worth adding to your calendar.
Serenity Farm holds its annual Kasper’s Kastle party every weekend in October. Designed specifically for families with younger children, it’s an activity-packed, Halloween-themed play and adventure area. Kids (and parents) take a hayride to the Kastle, where there’s a “haunted” Halloween barn that’s suitable for younger kids — no gruesome ghouls or scenes from Freddie Kruger movies here. There’s a large petting zoo, a pumpkin patch, and a hay bale maze. Kasper the Friendly Ghost appears to hand out candy to the kids.
The whole county comes out for Fallfest. This is the fourth year for the party, set for Oct. 24, noon–4:00pm, at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf. The event gets larger every year, and brings together the community’s artisans, craftspeople, purveyors of food and drink, and musicians. Plus, there’s a Family Fun Zone play area for kids. Keeping in mind that Halloween comes just a few days after the event, kids are invited to try out their costumes along the Trick or Treat Trail, which winds through the vendor area. There are plenty of stops at booths, where the kids get candy and their parents can look over wares and get in some early holiday shopping.
Check out the arts
Another option that combines arts, the outdoors, and holiday shopping is at Smallwood State Park. The park is the location of Smallwood’s Retreat, the home of Revolutionary War Gen. William Smallwood. The house is open for tours that show what life was like for a gentleman farmer in the 1780s.
Also at the park is the Mattawoman Creek Art Center. Housed in a farm building renovated specifically for the center, the galleries, which overlook Mattawoman Creek, are light, airy, large, and ideal for displaying the works of 100 local artists and invited painters and sculptors. Through Oct. 18, the exhibition Expressions of Nature and Wit is featured. The center holds its annual Multimedia Holiday Salon Oct. 23–Dec. 13. The event features fine arts and gifts.
From the grounds of the art cent-er, visitors can explore the bird watchers trail, which loops through the fields and woods, passing some of the sculpture exhibits. The park has other walking trails and a fishing pier. The park admission fee is waived for visitors to the art center.
October is generally a gentle month for weather, so bikers can enjoy the scenery before the roads and weather turn foul. In addition to the Amish Trail, the newest bike adventure is along the Indian Head Rail Trail. The 13-mile-long bike-and-hike path runs along an abandoned railroad right-of-way from Indian Head to Route 301 in White Plains.
For more ideas on autumn activities in Charles County, check the county listing on the Destination Southern Maryland website, destinationsouthernmaryland.com.