With thirteen counties down on Diane and Jeff Caslow’s twenty-three counties and Baltimore City day trip explorations, the couple is sharing their day trip to Montgomery County. Established as a county in 1776, Montgomery County was once covered in a vast swath of forest crossed by the creeks and small streams that feed the Potomac and Patuxent rivers. A few small villages of the Piscataway, members of the Algonquian people, were scattered across the southern portions of the county. North of the Great Falls of the Potomac, there were few permanent settlements. Fast forward a few hundred years and Montgomery County is now the most populous county in the state with over a million residents. However, it has both an urban, dense feel in the southern part of the county and a rural aspect in the northwestern part of the county.  It also has some pretty amazing nature preservation to explore.  Off they go again…..

C&O Canal Park – Great Falls Overlook and the Billy Goat Trail

It was a bitter cold day on our first visit to Montgomery County, so we had promised ourselves that we would explore Great Falls section of the C&O Canal Park.  “The Park was established in 1961 as a National Monument by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to preserve the neglected remains of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and many of its original structures. The canal and towpath trail extends along the Potomac River from Georgetown, Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland.”  We started at the visitors’ center, the Great Falls Tavern which began “in 1828 as a a simple stone Locktender’s house, numbered 12 on the C&O Canal.”  What history it has witnessed through early years of transportation and commerce as a link to history and present day as a park for all to enjoy.  We started with the easy trail to the Great Falls Overlook.  At the end of the trail, there is a spectacular view of the rushing waters of the Potomac River from Olmstead Island.  It was dedicate in 1965 to Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr…..”illustrious landscape architect and advocate for the preservation of natural scenery, who, as an original member of the national capital park and planning commission from 1926 to 1932, was instrumental in preserving the Great Falls  and Gorge of the Potomac for the use and enjoyment of the people.” From there we tested our strength and agility skills on the most challenging section of the Billy Goat Trail.  “Don’t become a statistic. There are over 400 emergency calls and rescues each year on the Billy Goat Trail” was a little off-putting but we were game.  If you can handle jumping around rocks and crevices and a scramble up a rock wall, then this is the trail for you.

Glen Echo Park

Glen Echo Park was initially developed in 1891 as a National Chautauqua Assembly and only one of the original stone buildings remains on the grounds.  The site was into the Glen Echo Amusement Park from 1911 to 1968 and now operated by the National Park Service.  It retains its Streamline Moderne architecture and has a beautifully maintained carousel in the middle of the park.  It is the 100th anniversary of the Dentzel Carousel and the park was getting ready for a Carousel Family Day.  We bought our tickets to ride.  We picked two classic horses and rode to music that has been playing for a hundred years.  A perfect way to enjoy part of the morning after a hike.

Capital Crescent Trail

The Capital Crescent Trail follows an abandoned railroad right of way of the Georgetown Branch of the B&O Railroad and is one of the national “rails to trails” project.  It starts in Georgetown, but we picked it up in the heart of Bethesda Row.  Stopped first to grab iced coffee and croissants to sustain us on our walk at Paul French Bakery and Cafe.  It was fun to step off the busy street and within minutes feel like you are deep into nature.   Back into the busy shopping area, unless you looked up and paid close attention, you might miss the art deco architecture of some of the original buildings repurposed for a new life.

Brookside Gardens

From Bethesda, we headed north-east to Brookside Gardens within the Wheaton Regional Park.  It opened to the public in 1969 with “landscaping and conservatory designed by Hans Hanses and Carl Schoening, respectively. More gardens have been added and refined to showcase local species over 54 acres. Included in the gardens are several distinct areas: Aquatic Garden, Azalea Garden, Butterfly Garden, Children’s Garden, Rose Garden, Japanese Style Garden, Trial Garden, Rain Garden, and the Woodland Walk. The Formal Gardens areas include a Perennial Garden, Yew Garden, the Maple Terrace, and Fragrance Garden. Brookside Gardens also feature two conservatories.” We were not prepared for how many different gardens there were to enjoy.  They were each so unique and beautiful in their own right.  We tried not to rush ourselves through each one and “stop to smell the roses” so to speak.  Leaving Brookside Gardens, we had a decision to make about further northeastern or northwestern parts of the county.  We opted for northwestern and plotted a course towards Poolesville.

Rockland Farm Winery

On our way to Rockland Farm Winery, we were curious about the brown colored “rustic road” signs.  In Montgomery County, “rustic roads are historic and scenic roadways that reflect the agricultural character and rural origins of the County.  Preservation of rustic roads must be achieved by retaining certain physical features of rustic roads and by certain right-of-way maintenance procedures. Rustic and Exceptional Rustic roads are preserved under the Rustic Roads Program, which provides a system for evaluating, protecting, and enhancing these scenic roadways. The program includes 99 roads.”  We did some wine tasting, had a late lunch from some of the food trucks set up at the winery and purchased some wines to enjoy later.