You're rambling down a country road admiring the fiery-hued foliage when it hits you: You're hungry and only one food will do—pie, perhaps the quintessential fall fare. A warm wedge of apple à la mode would fit the bill nicely, or a slice of lofty lemon meringue. Chances are the next small town will have just the dining spot you're looking for: large parking lot (promising), lots of cars with in-state plates (better yet), a neon sign of a certain vintage (bonus points), and customers leaving with telltale pie boxes (bingo!). We all crave comfort food, especially when traveling. Fresh-baked pies, homemade soup, and anything slathered in gravy represent a piece of home on terra incognita and a sample of the local cuisine, all rolled into one. Here are four fall getaways sure to satisfy your tastes in leaf looking, apple picking, and local flavor.
The Maryland Countryside
Why: Farm bounty and fall glory
Plan: A full day
What can top the autumn scenery along Falls Road? Okay, maybe the scenery from above Falls Road if you're in one of those hot-air balloons lifting off from Oregon Ridge Park. Make the most of your day in the countryside; rise early like the balloonists and get rolling before the morning dew dries. Let whim be your GPS. You could detour to Reisterstown for a breakfast pizza piled with scrambled eggs and cheese at Martha & Mary's, a popular downtown gathering spot (75 Main St., 410-833-3336). Or simply stick with Falls Road all the way to Alesia. As you pass century-old stone houses, stream-laced valleys, and rolling farmland, you'll see why the highway, officially Route 25, is designated a Maryland scenic byway.
From Manchester (about three miles west of Alesia), follow MD 27 south to Westminster, home of McDaniel College, the Carroll County Farm Museum, and an apple empire that dates to the Roosevelt era (Teddy, that is). Pick a peck of apples or the perfect pumpkin at Baugher's, a pick-your-own orchard with a busy restaurant and market that has been in the apple biz since 1904. All of the pies—over a dozen varieties, including four types of apple—are baked in-house. Order a slice à la mode, and you can sample Baugher's luscious homemade ice cream, too. Other Baugher's attractions: wagon rides, a petting zoo, and a maniacally grinning mascot, "Apple Man." (Farm: 1236 Baugher Rd., 410-848-5541; pick-your-own hotline, 410-857-0111; restaurant, 289 W. Main St., 410-848-7413.)
Walk off one of Baugher's home-style meals by hiking the trails at Sugarloaf Mountain, a mounded promontory rising 800 feet above the farms that surround it. Take MD 27 south to the town of Mt. Airy. Follow back roads southwest to Comus Road and the entrance to the Sugarloaf recreation area. Sugarloaf has no mountainous neighbors, so you'll enjoy unobstructed views from overlooks located near the east and west parking lots. If you're feeling ambitious—or crowd-shy—hike the five-mile Northern Peaks Trail for spectacular views from White Rocks overlook. The trail is a favorite of local hikers (7901 Comus Rd., Dickerson, 301-874-2024). As the afternoon sun paints the fields in gold, savor a glass of Merlot at Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, whose 92 acres abut the Sugarloaf Mountain property (18125 Comus Rd., Dickerson, 301-605-0130).
Plot a route home by way of Eldersburg and order a few gooey-good BCT (bacon, cheddar, and tomato) sandwiches to go at Grilled Cheese & Co.—or eat in if you're too famished to wait (in Johnsville Center, 577 Johnsville Rd., Eldersburg, 410-920-3238).
THE DETAILS: Must-Try Pie: Anything seasonal, like apple crumb or pumpkin, at Baugher's in Westminster. Don't Miss: Fall festivals at the Carroll County Farm Museum: The Maryland Wine Festival takes place Sept. 17 and 18, and the Fall Harvest Days Jamboree, featuring scarecrow-making, tractor pulls, threshing demonstrations, and bluegrass music, is Oct. 1 and 2 (500 S. Center St., Westminster, 410-386-3880). Don't Forget: Binoculars for Sugarloaf's summit, where you can spy the Potomac River, Catoctin Mountain, and hawks soaring above a patchwork of farm fields and brilliant fall foliage. Bring Home: A plump pumpkin suitable for "scary" cosmetic surgery.
Maryland and West Virginia Mountains
Why: Vistas and mineral springs
Plan: A weekend
Glaciers move faster than Friday night traffic on I-70 West, but persevere; once you've passed Frederick, your mountain getaway has begun.
Reward yourself with comfort chow at Barbara Fritchie Restaurant, whose giant candy-cane sign has lured motorists off U.S. 40 for decades. All-day breakfast, hot turkey sandwiches, liver and onions, mac and cheese, homemade pies, root-beer floats—Fritchie's serves nearly all the feel-good food groups. And in an age of retro-'50s diners, the restaurant's Formica counters and Sputnik-like chandeliers are the real deal (1513 W. Patrick St., Frederick, 301-662-2500).
From the restaurant, use Bletinger Road to access Alternate 40 and continue west. At Braddock Heights, gaze from atop Braddock Mountain at Frederick's poetic "clustered spires." In Middletown, the kids will insist you stop at South Mountain Creamery. This dairy farm, which offers glass-bottle milk delivery in metro Baltimore, has a store selling yummy ice cream and dairy goods a stone's throw from the herds that produced them. The kids can even help feed the calves (8305 Bolivar Rd., 301-371-8565).
Plot a day's trip to Berkeley Springs, WV, the spa town where George Washington famously soaked. To bypass downtown Hagerstown, where Alternate 40 ends, follow MD 68 west to hit U.S. 40 at Clear Spring. Stop to take photos at Devil's Backbone Park, where a historic stone bridge and a waterfall span Antietam Creek northwest of Boonsboro, and at the C&O Canal in Hancock, where the poignant remains of the Tonoloway Creek Aqueduct are a short walk from the new visitor center. Before taking U.S. 522 to Berkeley Springs, grab a rib-sticking lunch at Park-N-Dine, a roadside fixture in Hancock since 1946 (189 E. Main St., 301-678-5242).
A lot has changed, obviously, since the Father of our Country "took the waters" in the mountain town he christened Bath (still Berkeley Springs's official name), the latest being a $2-million modernization last year of Berkeley Springs State Park's historic bathhouse. Book in advance, if you can, to reserve a soak in the soothing mineral waters of the retiled Roman baths or the updated whirlpool tubs. Thirty-minute or one-hour massage packages (bath, shower, full-body rub) are your best value (304-258-2711 or www.berkeleyspringssp.com). Top off your relaxing day by dining at Lot 12 Public House, where chef Damian Heath creates slow-cooked stews (rabbit ragoût), seasonal desserts (pumpkin cheesecake), and other "upscale comfort cuisine" (117 Warren St., Berkeley Springs, 304-258-6264).
Make your homeward passage via MD 64 and MD 77 over the Catoctin Mountains. You'll wind through Catoctin Mountain Park, where 25 miles of hiking trails lead to stunning vistas of the Monocacy Valley and the town of Thurmont. Post hike, wind down with a pint of ale and a surf or turf dinner at Shamrock Restaurant, a favorite Sunday dinner destination for generations of Marylanders (7701 Fitzgerald Rd., Thurmont, 301-271-2912).
THE DETAILS: Sleep: The brainchild of novelist Nora Roberts, Inn BoonsBoro is part B&B, part Euro-hotel, and pure romance. Its eight rooms bear the names and period décor of beloved literary couples, from Deco for Nick and Nora's chamber to English country for Jane and Rochester's. Rooms have luxury bedding, opulent baths, and customized bath fragrances (heather, naturally, for Charlotte Brontë's moor-crossed lovers). Packages available (1 N. Main St., 301-432-1188). Must-Try Pie: Pecan in puff pastry with caramel sauce and vanilla whipped cream at Lot 12 Public House, Berkeley Springs. Don't Miss: Gathland State Park and its curious mountaintop monument to Civil War journalists. Once the home of Civil War correspondent George Alfred Townsend, the park encompasses several buildings and a 50-foot-high stone arch in the outline of a castle, which Townsend dedicated to his colleagues. You can gawk, picnic, and hike the Appalachian Trail (on Arnoldstown Road, one mile east of MD 67, in Burkittsville, 301-791-4767). Don't Forget: Bicycles to ride the C&O Canal towpath and, if you're demur, a bathing suit for the mineral baths; birthday suits are fine otherwise (cover-up towels provided). Bring Home: Pound cake (apple spice, blueberry, orange, cream cheese, or banana nut) from Catoctin Mountain Orchard's farm market (15036 N. Franklinville Rd., Thurmont, 301-271-2737).
Lancaster County, PA
Why: Antiques and shoofly pie
Plan: At least a weekend
Escape to Pennsylvania on the road most traveled (historically anyway). The East's oldest highway, Route 1 was serving Maryland motorists long before it earned "U.S." status 85 years ago. As the Mother Road crosses the Susquehanna River atop Conowingo Dam, watch for bald eagles soaring above the spillway hunting fish.
Turn west onto U.S. 222 and cross into a slower, simpler world where horses—real ones—often provide vehicular power and farm fields unfurl over seemingly endless hills. PA 272 offers a slightly more scenic ride than 222, but either route carries you into the heart of Amish country in Lancaster County. Miller's Smorgasbord and its Route 30 emporium are über-touristy, but they offer one-stop immersion into Pennsylvania Dutch food and folkways. For half the price of a porterhouse in the city, stuff yourself on chicken corn soup, chow-chow, roast turkey, baked ham, fried chicken, buttered noodles, and shoofly (molasses) pie (2811 Lincoln Hwy. East, Ronks, 717-687-6621).
Reserve a full day to explore the county's northern tier on PA 272 and 772. Chock-a-block with antiques shops and markets, Adamstown on 272 is the place to hunt for indigenous folk art (quilts, coverlets, primitive furniture, rugs, pottery, and tin ware) as well as fine antiques. Visit on Sundays, when Renninger's holds its indoor/outdoor market, one of the largest around (7:30 a.m.-4 p.m., 2500 N. Reading Rd., 717-336-2177), and Stoudt's Black Angus Antiques Mall opens its outdoor pavilion and German-style beer garden at 5:30 a.m., two hours before its more than 300-dealer indoor market commences. Post-antiquing, dine at the microbrewery's restaurant/pub surrounded by its collection of political memorabilia and vintage beer trays (2800 N. Reading Rd., 717-484-4386).
Follow 772 west through the small towns of Ephrata and Lititz, formerly German-speaking religious communities. Today, only a state museum, the Ephrata Cloister, survives to tell of the town's founding by would-be hermit Conrad Beissel. You can tour several of the original buildings in which Beissel and his followers led their monastic lives and buy local handicrafts—including replicas of the "pillows," actually blocks of wood, used by the brothers and sisters—at the Cloister Museum Shop (632 W. Main St., 717-733-6600).
By contrast, the Moravian Church remains active in Lititz, where its congregation dates to 1749. But modern pilgrims journey to this lovely burg for another reason: chocolate. Buy it fresh at the irresistibly aromatic Wilbur Chocolate Factory Store on the site where the confection has been made for over a century (48 N. Broad St., 888-294-5287). At Café Chocolate, owner Selina Man preaches the virtues of cocoa solids and fair-trade coffee. Stop by for a Turbo (organic hot chocolate with an espresso shot), and you might see MSNBC anchor and Lititz weekender Mika Brzezinski sipping her morning joe (40 E. Main St., 717-626-0123).
Finally, return home along the Susquehanna's east shore, stopping in Columbia, PA, for a bite of the Bayou at Prudhomme's Lost Cajun Kitchen. Yes, that Prudhomme family. Chef Paul's nephew, David, and his wife, Sharon, serve authentic gumbo, red beans and rice, crawfish étouffé, and other Cajun fare in an old hotel with a colorful past (50 Lancaster Ave., 717-684-1706).
THE DETAILS: Sleep: Cradled by rolling farmland, The Inn at Twin Linden offers eight rooms—including two private-entrance suites—that feature canopy and feather beds, spa tubs, fireplaces, and stunning views. Guests get preference for reservations for the inn's four-course, prix-fixe dinners on Saturday nights (2092 Main St., Churchtown, 717-445-7619). Must-Try Pies: Shoofly and whoopee (really an overgrown chocolate cookie) anywhere. Don't Miss: Oktoberfest in Stoudt's beer garden, featuring German music, dancing, and food (Sept. 24-25 and every Sunday in October). Don't Forget: Your furnishings' wish list; in addition to Adamstown antiquing, there's a Shaker furniture shop in Lititz. Bring Home: Fresh-baked fruit and cream pies from Wilson's Farm Market, which grows its own fruit and uses locally sourced ingredients. Call ahead to reserve your favorites (2826 Conowingo Rd., Bel Air, 410-836-8980).
Virginia's Shenandoah Valley
Why: Valley views and apples
Plan: A long weekend
From Baltimore, make haste westward on I-70, then plot a slower course via Routes 340 and 15 to Leesburg, VA, crossing the Potomac at craggy Point of Rocks. Your reward is nearby.
Housed in a handsomely renovated brick bank, Lightfoot Restaurant showcases historic Leesburg's demi-Dixie sensibilities. For lunch, order shrimp and andouille gumbo or a GCOTD (grilled cheese of the day) sandwich, oozing melted Havarti and pumpkin butter (11 N. King St., 703-771-2233).
Route 7, a gentle roller coaster of a road, leads west to Winchester, VA, the heart of apple country and the beginning of your Shenandoah Valley exploration. From there, U.S. 11 slices southward between mountains, linking small towns with solid Civil War pedigrees.
Wander down side roads and take your pick (literally) of apples and pumpkins at local orchards and farm markets. You'll find a diverse choice of comfort cuisine in the valley, from house-made gnocchi at family-run Violino Ristorante (181 N. Loudoun St., Winchester, 540-667-8006) and fair-trade coffee and fresh-fruit pies at folksy Cristina's Café (219 W. King St., Strasburg, 540-465-2311) to creamy peanut soup with country ham at the neon-lit, road-foodie favorite, Southern Kitchen (9576 S. Congress St., New Market, 540-740-3514).
On day two, head south and east to Front Royal, gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains and a 75-year-old treasure, Shenandoah National Park. Whether you plan to drive, hike, pedal, or saddle up to see the mountains' colorful canopy, fill your tummy first. Try a curry chicken wrap with mango coulis at Soul Mountain Restaurant, whose eclectic menu is peppered with pulled pork, jerk chicken wings, Cajun fried catfish, and other pleasingly piquant lunch and dinner dishes (300 E. Main St., 540-636-0070). If Skyline Drive, the park's illustrious highway, is too congested, take a lesser-known, nearly-as-scenic western route through sparsely settled Fort Valley. From Front Royal, take Route 55 west to Waterlick, turn left and follow VA 678 as it winds south through a national forest and acres of farm fields and pastures.
Detour onto VA 758 to visit Woodstock Tower, a National Forest Service landmark perched on one of the highest peaks around. Climb the tower to spy the seven bends of the Shenandoah River along with the occasional hang-glider riding the ridge drafts below. Continue on VA 758 west to U.S. 11. Stop in Middletown for a hearty supper of corned beef and cabbage at the refreshingly authentic Irish Isle Restaurant and Pub (7843 Main St., 540-868-9877). Dine upstairs to hear live folk music, but do sneak a peak at the leprechaun-sized basement bar.
On day three, pick your way home along Routes 55 and 50 through Virginia's vineyard and horse-farm territory. In Linden, don't miss The Apple House, a farm market/restaurant/gift shop (4675 John Marshall Hwy., 540-636-6329). The pork barbecue is good (a porcine-shaped smoker outside attests to its authenticity), but the house treat is apple doughnuts. Order at least a dozen of these kinda-teeny-but-very-tasty treats to go. In tweedy Middleburg, scour the Middleburg Humane Foundation's thrift store for hunting jackets, vintage riding boots, original artwork, and other lightly used finds (Second Chance Thrift Shop, 6 W. Washington St., 540-364-3272). At Aldie, follow the historic "Carolina Road" (U.S. 15) northward back to Point of Rocks.
THE DETAILS: Sleep: Nestled in the countryside, yet less than a mile off U.S. 11, the ultra-romantic Inn at Vaucluse Springs has six comfortable guesthouses clustered around a limestone spring and its millpond. On Saturday nights, guests gather in the hilltop manor house for a five-course candlelight dinner (reservations required) specially prepared by the chef de la maison (231 Vaucluse Spring Ln., Stephens City, 540-869-0200, vauclusespring.com). Must-Try Pie: Coconut cream or coconut custard at Southern Kitchen, New Market. Don't Miss: A ride (nighttime is more romantic) on the Gen. Jubal A. Early, the lone survivor in a long tradition of Potomac River ferryboats (White's Ferry, 24801 Whites Ferry Rd., Dickerson, MD, 301-349-5200). Don't Forget: Hiking shoes for Shenandoah Park. Bring Home: A Shenandoah Valley favorite, Rinker Orchards's fresh-pressed apple cider, sold at the orchard (1156 Marlboro Rd., Stephens City, 540-869-1499) and local stores.