Ellicot City, MD and Patapsco Valley State Park
Another great day trip from DC is Ellicot City, MD, a quaint and historic town about 10-15 miles west of Baltimore. I was planning to go to Richmond or Charlottesville, but did not feel like driving the 2 hours with my dog because he gets antsy in the car on rides over an hour or so. I definitely plan to visit those sites soon, just not this weekend. My plan was was to hit Ellicot City, explore a little bit and get lunch before heading to Patapsco Valley State Park, about 15 minutes from Ellicot City, to go hiking and leaf peeping.
This is one of those small towns around DC that have so much to offer but remain almost unheard of to people outside the Baltimore-DC region. Another example of such a city is Occoquan, VA. There is a sign for the Ellicot City on I-95, but there is nothing about that green road sign to indicate that it is a great place to visit. I first learned of Ellicot City after reading about a deadly train derailment that occurred there in 2012. Not the best way to hear about a town, I know. I visited in 2013 and was impressed enough that I would go back a year later.
Ellicot City has a really cool historic main street that runs downhill (or uphill, depending on where you’re coming from) towards the Patapsco River. On a Sunday around noon, I found parking in a free lot that was nearing capacity, near the upper end of the town. I leashed Ollie up and took him on a walk down the hill past a string of restaurants, antiques stores, cafes, and candy stores. At theend of the string of shops is a train tressle (where the derailment happened) and then a bridge leading over the Patapscot River.
I was starving but I had Ollie so finding a place to eat was a bit challenging. I ended up leaving him in the car while I went in to Bean Cafe to get a sandwich to go. I ate it in a cool back alley next to an antique store set back from the street over a stream running down to the river.
I took Ollie to a pet store called Work.Play.Bark and treated him with some “Peanut Butter and Double Carrot” biscuits. Yes, this dog eats better than people. Needing something sweet, I entered a chocolate and sweet shop and was quickly admonished with a “We don’t allow dogs in here” from the owner. Fair enough, I should have known that dogs aren’t normally allowed in places that sell food. I’m guessing that most of the thrift stores and antique stores would have allowed dogs, but I’m not sure.
Patapsco Valley State Park, MD
I had never heard of this State Park before but I’m glad I ended up making the trip, especially during peak fall foliage season. It’s only a short 15 minute ride on back roads from Ellicot City. The park is huge so I only could visit one area of it, so I chose the Avalon/Glen Artney/Orange Grove Area, the site of a Swinging Bridge and trail leading up from the parking lot along a creek with a bunch of waterfalls. The weather was perfect, so there were the inevitable crowds on the trail but I didn’t mind. The Swinging Bridge, which spans the Patapsco River, was unsettling to walk across because, as its name suggests, its bounces/sways up and down as you walk on it. Ollie was a little bit scared going across, especially after he accidentally stepped between two of the wooden boards of the bridge floor and face planted against it.
The trail leading up to the left from the parking lot was beautiful. Look for the dozens of small waterfalls that border the trail, especially a 10 foot waterfall only about a 3 minute walk from the parking lot. Ollie took a tip in the cold water. Other dogs were doing the same.
Nothing better on a warm fall day than to get out of the city and view the reds, yellows, and oranges of the changing leaves and to check out a historic city with a great main street.
Ellicot City: Bean Hollow: a funky coffee shop with good coffee and a selection of sandwiches and soup for lunch. I had the chicken salad sandwich and thought it was pretty good. I had Ollie in tow so could not sit inside. On a previous visit to Ellicot City, I had a coffee there and made it a point to go back.
Ellicot City: Work.Play.Bark!: A small pet supply store on the main drag of Ellicot City; focused on dog supplies. The owner was really nice and gave Ollie a few baked dog treats during “free treat Sunday” or something like that. The guy was pretty cool. And there’s a TV in the corner where he displays Instagram photos of dogs that have visited his shop.
Fulton, MD: Pet Barn: I discovered this place on a detour off Route 29N on the drive up from DC. It’s in one of those new strip mall type developments designed to look like a set of city blocks. Pet Barn carries a huge choice of baked dog treats and other cool stuff to for your dog. The selection was so huge that I was a bit overwhelmed. Not a knock on them though! The store is completely carpeted, which I thought was a little dangerous for a pet store due to dogs’ tendency to mark their territory. I know whenever I take Ollie to Petco, he pees on stuff and I have to clean it up with the cleaning supplies that Petco provides.
Catonsville, MD: Family Affair Produce: The pumpkins drew me to this place. I needed some fresh farm produce so I pulled off the road on a dime, almost sending my dog through the windshield. The guy behind the counter offered me a free apple to try and I obliged by buying a bunch of fruit and veggies. The fruit all looked really fresh and tasted great.
Fulton, MD: Sidamo Coffee and Tea: I love going to independent places and this cafe, occupying a corner storefront of a strip mall building, had awesome drip coffee but at one of the highest prices I’ve seen for a small: $2.25. I didn’t have time to hang out too long here but I liked what the store did to make its square section of a suburban strip mall into a cozy cafe.