Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
January 31, 2023

An unexpected trip to Ellicott City and Patapsco River

By ALYSSA WOODEN | September 20, 2018




A calm moment, surrounded with natural beauty, by the Patapsco River.

I’m normally the type of person who likes to have a set schedule for the day. I don’t like it when plans change unexpectedly and I don’t like taking trips without knowing where I’m going and what I’ll be doing. That being said, when I went on an unplanned excursion to Ellicott City, Md. a few weekends ago with a group, I found myself learning to love the unexpected.

We had originally planned to go to Ocean City, Md. for the day, but it turns out that Zipcar charges an extra 45 cents per mile for rides over 180 miles. So the morning of the trip, we frantically searched the internet for alternate destinations a little closer to Baltimore. We settled on Ellicott City, a medium-sized colonial-style town about a half-hour drive from Hopkins. Established in 1792, its streets are lined with tourist and specialty shops, restaurants and cafes. 

Earlier in the summer, the low-lying Ellicott City suffered a devastating flood that severely damaged buildings, roads and cars. But the day we went was sunny and clear, and it was hard to connect the town’s bright, idyllic appearance with the scenes of destruction I’d seen on the news. 

We walked down Main Street, taking in the sights and dropping in a couple of the shops. We spent a while in Hi Ho Silver Co., a store that sells silver jewelry and other antique items. I bought a pair of turtle-shaped stud earrings.

When we left the store, the sound of live music took us to Little Market Cafe, a restaurant where patrons were sitting around an outdoor patio and listening to a jazz band. I pet a few dogs and we listened to the music for a bit before moving on.

A popular Ellicott City attraction is the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad Museum. Built in 1829, the B&O Railroad was the first commercial long-distance railroad in the U.S. The museum opened in 1953 and boasts the “oldest and most significant railroad collection in America,” according to the museum’s website. 

History nerd that I am, I thoroughly enjoyed looking at a recreation of the stationmaster’s quarters and a replica of a telegraph machine. There was also an electric model train running through a miniature version of 19th century Ellicott City, complete with lumberyard, station and schoolhouse. Outside the museum there was an actual railroad car and caboose that you could go inside. As fun as that was, I couldn’t imagine having to suffer through a long, hot, cramped journey in that tiny space. 

Feeling grateful for air conditioning, we got back in the car and drove to our second location of the day: Patapsco Valley State Park. 

The park comprises over 16,000 acres of campground, hiking trails and woodland along the banks of the Patapsco River. We’d passed signs for the park on the way to Ellicott City and decided on a whim to check it out.

Though the sundress and sandals I was wearing were definitely not ideal for traipsing through a rocky, mosquito-ridden forest, we hiked down from the camping area and across the railroad to the riverbank. It was cooler down there in the shade, and the sound of rushing water was soothing and tranquil. We sat in silence for a few minutes, reveling in one of the last peaceful days of summer.

Planned or unplanned, taking some time to get away from Hopkins is always a good idea. The act of driving down North Charles Street and leaving campus behind is an incredible feeling, and we got back that night exhausted but very much satisfied. Although we didn’t get to go to the beach or visit the Ocean City boardwalk, we spent a lot less time in the car and a lot more time exploring new places and enjoying the late summer day. 

Ellicott City is easy to get to by car; close enough for a full-day or half-day trip but far enough away to feel like you’ve definitely escaped the Hopkins bubble. Patapsco State Park is a great place for some chill day hiking or even to just sit at a picnic table and surround yourself with nature (just make sure to wear well-fitting shoes). Now is the perfect time to take the trip, before the semester gets too intense and while the warm weather still lingers.

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