“America in Miniature.” Maybe you’ve heard Maryland described that way. The nickname actually comes from a journalist who wrote for National Geographic back in the early part of the 20th century, but the description has risen to prominence over the years because…well, it’s true. Maryland really does feel like America in miniature, with its mix of rural countryside and big cities, its mountainous terrain and its sprawling fields, its sandy beaches, and its lush forests. In fact, if you explored all 10,460 square miles of the state, you would encounter practically every type of natural feature except for desert.
For residents of Anne Arundel County, all of this is available within a three-hour drive. Seriously! Want to go to the beach for the day? You’re only two hours from Ocean City. Want to do a day hike along a portion of the Appalachian Trail? You’re only an hour and a half from an entry point. This means that living in Annapolis giving you proximity to all kinds of adventure.
For the City Lover
City people will be thrilled to know that Annapolis sits in equal distance between Baltimore—Maryland’s largest city—and Washington, D.C.—the nation’s capital. Approximately 30 miles from Annapolis, both of these cities offer plenty of things to do, whether you want museums, dining, live entertainment, or just some memorable sightseeing. (But if you’re more of a country person than a city person, Maryland’s Eastern Shore sits just on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and its expansive farmland offers breathtaking scenery for a drive—be sure to check it out at sunset!)
The Atlantic Coast Plain
In terms of topography, Maryland can be divided into three terrains: the Atlantic Coast Plain, the Piedmont Plateau, and the Appalachian Region. Annapolis and the rest of Anne Arundel County sit right within the Atlantic Coast Plain, which encompasses all the Eastern Shore—including counties like Queen Anne’s and Talbot—and the central and southern portion of the Western Shore—including not only Anne Arundel but also Prince George’s, Charles, and Calvert counties. This portion of Maryland is mostly flat—there’s little to no elevation on the Eastern Shore, and on the Western Shore, the terrain rises only to about 400 feet.
When you explore the Atlantic Coast Plain, you’ll find rivers and creeks that weave their way between forested wetlands and saltwater marshes. All of these places are ideal for fishing, birdwatching, kayaking, and other outdoor adventures. All the way to the east is the seashore along the Atlantic Ocean. If you’re a beach bunny, you can plan a trip to Ocean City, Maryland’s popular vacation destination where you’ll find beaches, boardwalk, and nightlife.
The Piedmont Plateau
As you head west, you’ll encounter the Piedmont Plateau, the central portion of the state where the sloping land joins the coastal plain with the western mountains. The elevation is slightly higher here, going somewhere between 800 and 1,200 feet. Here the flat countryside gets increasingly hillier as you move west, encountering the Susquehanna and Potomac rivers as you go. When you explore the Piedmont Plateau, you’ll discover large rock formations among the hills, and the rivers are interspersed with waterfalls and rapids.
The most popular of these rough rivers is Great Falls on the Potomac River, a rock-strewn portion of the waterway where powerful rapids make for some of the best whitewater rafting the state has to offer. If rafting isn’t your recreational activity of choice, you can still enjoy kayaking, rock climbing, and hiking.
The Appalachian Region
The westernmost part of Maryland is where it gets mountainous. This terrain is known as the Appalachian Region. Here the elevation is much higher, often 1,000 feet at its low points and extending up to 3,360 feet at its highest. Because of the elevation, Western Maryland is often much cooler than the rest of the state—something that can offer a nice reprieve during the summer, when the Chesapeake region becomes hot and humid.
The ridges and valleys that run between the mountains are covered with forests waiting to be explored. A popular place for vacations is Deep Creek Lake, the largest lake in Maryland, where visitors can enjoy boating and kayaking on the water or hiking in the woods.
The Appalachian Region is also home to—you guessed it—the Appalachian Trail. Well, part of the Appalachian Trail, at least. Although the trail (often called the “AT”) stretches from Georgia to Maine, a good 40 miles of it crosses through Maryland, offering a nice challenge for Maryland hikers who want an adventure not far from home. There’s only a 1,650-foot change in elevation along Maryland’s portion of the AT, where hikers will encounter a few rocks and steep climbs without too great a challenge.
Maryland’s expanse of the AT can be done over the course of a four- or five-day backpacking trip, but there are also portions of it that are appropriate for either an overnight backpacking trip or for day hikes. Check out Annapolis Rock, which, despite the name, isn’t located directly in Annapolis—but it’s only about an hour’s drive from Annapolis. From Annapolis Rock, you can find a moderately difficult 2-mile stretch of trail that can be done in an afternoon.
Want more information on the natural wonders Maryland has to offer? Be sure to check out the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to learn about parks, boating, forests, hunting, lands, water, and wildlife.