Eagles, lighthouses, the longest river on the East Coast, and the head of the Chesapeake Bay are all just a short hop north of the Washington and Baltimore beltways. Sound like a great getaway? It is. And we have the plan for you with our lighthouse-to-lighthouse loop in Harford and Cecil counties.
We begin our trip at the Concord Point Lighthouse, in Havre De Grace, Md., conveniently located just off I-95.
The Concord Lighthouse is the northernmost lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay, dates back to 1827, and occupies the point of land where John O’Neil fought a single-handed battle against British invaders during the War of 1812.
O’Neil and four generations of his descendants served as keepers of the lighthouse. Stroll through Tydings Park and the beautiful promenade, where you can see the cannon memorial to O’Neil and the nearby Decoy Museum, which is packed with Chesapeake Bay history.
Next, take a walk through historic Havre de Grace. In 1789, the first Congress of the United States almost named Havre de Grace our nation’s capital, missing by just a single vote. The streets are lined with quaint Victorian houses, shops, and restaurants — some of which have spectacular water views.
Just minutes from Havre de Grace, up the Susquehanna River on the Harford County side, you’ll find Susquehanna State Park, where the Steppingstone Farm Museum is located. The museum, a working farm, depicts the rural heritage of Harford County during the 1880-1920 era with 7,000 tools and artifacts.
There is a functioning water wheel-powered grist mill where you can see corn being ground into meal and other live demonstrations. The kids or grandkids will love the experience.
Continue upstream on the Susquehanna to the Conowingo Dam and hydroelectric power plant, among the largest non-federal dams in the country.
On one side, you’ll see a 9,000-acre lake created by damming the river, and one of the only lakes in Maryland where you can water ski and power boat.
On the other side, you will find fantastic rockfish spawning grounds and a river that can be calm and flat with thousands of rocky islands, or a raging turbulent river depending on how many gates in the dam are open.
Take a tour of the dam if available and don’t miss the observation area on the Harford County side. Next, drive right over the dam into Cecil County where you’ll immediately turn right and drive along the other side of the river on Susquehanna River Road.
Cecil County eagle sightings
Want to see some bald eagles? There are hardly any better locations in the U.S. than here. At one point, there were as few as 400 pairs of eagles remaining in the country.
Today, this stretch of the river contains about that many. On a bad day, we’ve seen only a dozen eagles, and on a good day we’ve spied too many to count.
Insider tip: There is a contest for eagle photography that will post winners Nov. 12 at the Conowingo Bald Eagle Event at the dam. Winning photos will later be exhibited at both the Conowingo Visitor Center and the Muddy River Visitor Center.
As you continue with your eagle sightings along Susquehanna Road, don’t miss the Union Hotel and Tavern constructed of hemlock logs in 1794. Stop in for a bite to eat and be served by staff wearing attire from the 1790s.
As you continue down Susquehanna Road, it turns into Main Street in the town of Port Deposit. This tiny town, with only 653 residents, sits on land first visited by Captain John Smith in 1608. In 1729, a ferry began crossing the Susquehanna, and a canal was completed in 1812 to handle the growth of the timber, granite, and trade in the area.
A railroad came to the area in 1832. Today, remnants of structures and old buildings remain along the road. More recently, the “tubes” for the Fort McHenry Tunnel on I-95 were constructed in Port Deposit and transported to Baltimore.
Next, head north to the city appropriately named North East, Md. Settled by the English in 1658, this town is teeming with history. Visit the St. Mary Anne’s Episcopal Church, with graves of Susquehannock Indians dating back to the 1600s. Check out the shops along Main Street, visit the Upper Bay Museum at the end of Walnut Street, and visit the Gilpins Falls covered bridge, built about 1860.
Elk Neck State Park offers 2,188 acres of woodlands, fields, white clay cliffs, beaches, and more as you continue down the end of the peninsula.
There is also a campground with tremendous views of the Chesapeake Bay. It’s one of our favorites. At the very tip, you’ll find the Turkey Point lighthouse. Built in 1833 atop a 100-foot-tall bluff, it was manned for 115 years until automation came along.
Looking across the bay, what do you see? Your starting point at Havre de Grace! It’s a beautiful loop to drive any time of year, but it is especially enticing in the autumn, with the colorful foliage you’re sure to see along the way.
Cecil Co. Tourism: seececil.org
Harford Co. Tourism: visitharford.com