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A Holiday East Coast Road Trip

A holiday road trip in the USA is something many people plan and look forward to all year long. Winter can be a complicated time to travel in parts of the US but it is also beautiful and exciting with light shows and holiday festivals.

A 10-14 day road trip on the East Coast starts with a visit to Washington, DC. It can be easily modified removing some days or extending stays in the same place extra days.

The US East Coast featuring some of its main cities and attractions

Day One - Washington DC

If you like historic monuments, you will get your fill here. You can visit the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall, the White House, US Capitol buildings and more. Government and politics are integral in the capital of the United States so two weeks could easily be spent here learning about the history and how the US government is led.

If you prefer more cultural visits, Georgetown and college campuses are wonderful and beautiful places to walk around. Arlington National Cemetery and the Holocaust Museum are located in DC along with the US Botanic Gardens and Union Market to shop artisanal food vendors.

US Botanic Gardens

There is a large Christmas market located in DC, taking up two blocks off of F Street, and has a wide range of seasonal, local and national products from over 70 vendors. This runs from mid November to late December.

Day Two - Baltimore

Baltimore: a city much larger than DC but also less overwhelming. The city offers a variety of sight-seeing including the U.S.S. Constellation, a giant floating museum. This ship is the last surviving ship from the Civil War and it is currently a museum.

The Baltimore Aquarium is one of the best in the US and features a full Australian rainforest. It is definitely worth a visit.

Baltimore is known for its great Afghan cuisine. There are plenty of options to find Afghan dining and it is recommended to try that!

Afghan dishes of beef, lamb and chicken kabob

Days Three and Four - Philadelphia

While DC is the political hub of the US, Philadelphia is the main historic spot in the US. Since Philadelphia was the original capital of the US, there is plenty to see and do here. Walking around the Old City allows one to experience walking on the cobblestoned streets of the 1700s.

Independence Hall is the first stop to view where the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were signed. This will take several hours so plan on spending a half day here.

The Liberty Bell is significant as it represents the abolitionists fighting slavery.

The Liberty Bell found in Philadelphia, PA

The Betsy Ross House is important as Betsy Ross was the first person to sew the American flag. Her home is a museum and is dedicated to the history of the flag and her role in the American Revolution.

Another place to see is Elfreth’s Alley. This is a historical street that is almost perfectly preserved. It has colorful doors, great gardens and a lot of cobblestones.

Philadelphia’s modern section has photo-worthy mural street art and is worth exploring to see all the murals. The Reading Terminal Market offers a large selection of market vendors and has been active since the 1800s.

The Eastern State Penitentiary is worth a visit as it once housed Al Capone and was once one of the most notorious and feared prisons in the US.

The Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site

Before you leave Philadelphia, you should get a classic Philly Cheese Steak sandwich!

Day Five - Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg is considered by many the turning point in the US Civil War. It was a three day battle marking the failure of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to invade the north. It was the bloodiest battle in the war and it killed over 50,000 people, nearly a third of two armies. Today a visit to the battlefield offers a great history lesson about the Civil War. The museum offers displays as well. This visit could take a half a day at least, and there are many dining options in the town.

Day Five continued and Six - Harpers Ferry

Like Gettysburg, Harpers Ferry is rich in 19th century history. It is situated on the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers at the intersection between Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia. Today the historic center has been turned into a sort of living museum with model shops, homes and traditional stores. It is a fun place to spend an afternoon/evening exploring the town and visiting the old cemetery as well. There are great dining options here.

Harpers Ferry is a great spot to find hiking trails. There are many historical trails to hike but there are also some scenic mountain view trails. Maryland Heights Overlook offers a moderate trail with the best view of the town and rivers and hills beyond.

View from the Maryland Heights Trail in Harpers Ferry National Historic Park

From the center of town, you’ll also find other trail starts such as Maryland Falls trailhead and other trails that lead from there that offer views of the Potomac.

Although weather dependent, another attraction Harpers Ferry offers is white water tubing. The rapids are Class III and although it isn’t too scary, it is definitely more than flat water tubing and offers a thrilling ride that takes from 3-6 hours.

Days 7-10 - Shenandoah National Park

The next three days will be full of hikes, waterfalls and wildlife. While winter can be colder and snowy, this is still the perfect spot to explore any time of year. The national park was founded 1935, primarily to bring tourism to Virginia like other national parks have done for other states. It is such a wonderful and vast area to explore, so several “must sees” will be listed to let you choose how to best spend your time.

Some places that must be visited in Shenandoah:

- Little Stony Man: a short, easy hike with a view that is beautiful

- Little Falls Trail: this hike is steep going down but it has a longer and gradual route back up.

- Hawksbill Mountain: this is the highest peak in the park

- Old Rag: this is the most popular hike and most recommended. The summit is a rocky bald with panoramic views.

- White Oak Canyon: a little harder but there are seven waterfalls along the way

While exploring the park, you can also do wildlife watching, primarily watching the black bear. They are shy and do not approach people usually so it is not much of a safety risk.

Shenandoah National Park in winter

This trip can also be extended into other areas in Virginia such as Richmond, Charlottesville, Carytown, etc. There are many places to see that can be added on during this road trip but this highlights many of the places that stand out. Hopefully you enjoy this area of the US!

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