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Seeking Springtime in Southern Maryland

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Until recently, my only experience with Wicomico County was traveling through it to get somewhere else. You know you’re in Wicomico County when you pass Salisbury on your way to Ocean City, Maryland’s favorite ocean resort. But then I stopped for a while, explored two lovely house museums, lingered in an unusual art museum, and went hiking, biking, and kayaking along the picturesque Wicomico River.  And I was ever watchful for osprey, herons, and egrets.

The verdict? Wicomico County is worthy of more exploration!

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The Lay of the Land

The land is quite flat in and around the Whitehaven Hotel, a bed & breakfast inn where we stayed. This well-restored Victorian era home dates back to the early 1800s, sitting serenely on the banks of the Wicomico River at 2685 Whitehaven Road.  It offers weary travelers a place to de-stress in rural Wicomico County.

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Each guest room has access to their own private bathroom and a gourmet breakfast is available in the stately dining room.  There is even an interesting little gift shop on the first floor which features crafts from local Eastern Shore artisans.

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Dinner Plans?

For dinner, try The Red Roost Crabhouse & Restaurant, located in the middle of nowhere down a gravel driveway, just three miles away from Whitehaven.  Located at 2670 Clara Road in Quantico, MD, the Red Roost is opened seasonally from spring to mid-fall, with Opening Night occurring in late March.  As an award-winning crabhouse, you can pick Maryland blue crab until you are full and happy.  They also feature an extensive menu with plenty of other seafood, meat, and non-meat options.

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When the weather is lovely, the Bull Lips Shanty & Dock Bar is a great place to enjoy outdoor seating,  just down the road from the Red Roost.  Situated right along the banks of the Wicomico River, you can watch the water flow by to the sounds of local bands, sipping an alcoholic Orange Crush.  This is a great place for kids as seating is a mixture of picnic benches, hammock swings, and Adirondack chairs.  On a sunny day, don’t forget to bring the sunscreen!

Biking Over Country Roads

Biking was lovely in Wicomico County – the quiet rural roads are surrounded by farm fields and marsh flats.  There’re few vehicles and the drivers seemed to be courteous, making the biking pleasant.

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The Ferry-to-Ferry Ride

We met a fellow rider at the bed & breakfast inn who recommended that we try the Ferry-to-Ferry Ride.  This 25-mile loop goes from Westhaven Ferry to Upper Ferry through the rural countryside.  Although we didn’t have time for this pleasant-sounding ride, I’m including the mapped out ride in this article because it comes well recommended.

If you do end up doing the Ferry-to-Ferry Ride, stop at Kelly’s Unique Primitives – a country home décor & gift shop.  Located near the halfway point at 5201 Cooper Road in Eden, MD, you’ll want to leave some extra room in your saddlebags or backpack.

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Whitehaven Ferry

Instead, we took our bikes on the Whitehaven Ferry, the oldest continuously operating ferry in U.S. history.  After crossing over the river, our intent was to ride the roads through the mud flats.  While chatting with Dennis, the ferryman, we learned that recent storms and high tide would cut us off.  Apparently, the ferry will shut down when the river gets too high, which was good information delivered at right time!

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So we rode the ferry back over – it’s free, so nothing lost. We enjoyed chatting with Dennis who showed us his photos of eagles and the river.  Once back in Whitehaven, we headed out on the one roads leading out of town for a nice jaunt.  We passed by old family graveyards, abandoned historic houses which were slowly deteriorating, and scores of farms with barns. Along one stretch of our journey, we encountered a collection of old worktrucks, aging in a shed.

Such a lovely place to ride!

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Kayaking Along the Wicomico River

Another activity we’d planned on doing was kayaking along the Wicomico River itself.  If you hug the shore and venture up into the inlets or creeks feeding the river, you’ll find plenty of interesting scenery for a hours of happy paddling.

If you don’t have your own kayaks, the Whitehaven Hotel have two kayaks available to their guests.

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Geographical & Historical Context

The Wicomico River is a 24-mile-long tributary of the Chesapeake Bay on the eastern shore of Maryland. The lower 20 miles are a tidal estuary and home to several wildlife management areas. The regional watershed drains an area of low marshlands and farming country in the middle Delmarva Peninsula.

John Smith, the first wave of the European invasion, encountered the Wighcocomoco (Wicomico) people in his exploration of the Chesapeake in 1608. They called the river Rokiawakin – there is now a Rockawalkin Creek that flows in the Wicomico River. The Wicomico people were slowly pushed westward as European settlers encroached on their land.

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Flow, Flora, & Fauna

The gentle free-flowing river is a popular destination for recreational canoeing and kayaking, as well as recreational fishing and crabbing. You’ll likely encounter some motor boats and sailboats on the main part of the river, and occasionally a barge, creating a significant wake to navigate.  We stuck to the shore, avoiding wavy bumpy wakes, choosing instead to head into the inlets and creeks. It was magical.

As you enter the creeks, the reeds loom several feet above you, creating rooms and hidden spaces in these tidal flats. We noticed numerous marsh crabs and their distinctive mud shelters, as they sift the mud hunting for food. Osprey, herons, egrets are all common to the area, although we didn’t see any during our paddling adventure. It was particularly lovely in the late afternoon, with the angles of the sun lengthening, creating the illusion of dusk in some of the narrow creeks.

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Hiking Through Pemberton Historical Park

In addition to excellent bike riding and kayaking, there’s also some hiking in Wicomico County. For that, we headed to a historic park, just outside of Salisbury.  Pemberton Historical Park is the site of the former Pemberton Plantation.  The historic house, built in 1741, still stands and is open for tours most weekends.

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The Trail System

But what really drew us to the park was the opportunity to explore its trail system, which takes you through a variety of ecosystems unique to Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the Delmarva Peninsula.  The park’s 262 acres offer 4.5 miles of Maryland nature trails. We spent a few hours exploring the trail system, which are all interconnect.  We had so much fun, we found ourselves traveling several portions twice.

Although we encountered several trail runners doing the trail loops, the trails weren’t too crowded, overall. Almost entirely level, this isn’t strenuous hiking – just a walk in the woods, though not always wooded!  One of the boardwalks takes you out into the sun along the boundary between the forest swamp and the river marsh.

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What You’ll See Along the Trail

The trails, if you explore them all – easy to do in a half-day of hiking – provide you the opportunity to explore unique ecosystems that bring together tidal and fresh water wetlands, fresh water ponds, upland pines, hardwood forests, and wild meadows. Occasionally, you’ll see overlooks, where you can relax for a moment and enjoy views of the river or the marsh. It was at one of these overlooks that we noticed a pileated woodpecker doing its thing. We watched it for a full ten minutes before it flew away.

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While at the park, check out Pemberton Hall, built in 1731, and reflective of homes built in the area at that time.

History & Art in Salisbury

Salisbury is the county seat of Wicomico County, operating as the commercial hub of the Delmarva Peninsula.  There is a collection of shopping and food offerings, as well as historical and art venues to enrich your visit to the area.

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Poplar Hill Mansion

Salisbury’s oldest home is Poplar Hill Mansion, located at 117 Elizabeth Street. The federal-style house was built in 1795 and was home to Dr. Huston and his wife Sarah, and later, the Waller family, who lived in the mansion from 1882 to 1945. Poplar Hill Mansion deals quite frankly with the Hustons and their enslavement of individuals.

The house is beautiful and is currently being restored, making the tour well worth a few hours of your time. Furnishings reflect the period but are not original to the house. In the 1980s, a local antique store owner provided furnishings in exchange for the publicity. It served both the house museum and the antique store well, and when the store owner passed away, she left the house museum the furnishings.

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Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art

While you’re in Salisbury, be sure to check out the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art. Lemuel T. Ward (1897–1984) and Steven W. Ward (1895–1976) were native Marylanders, who were born, lived, and died in Crisfield, on the Delmarva Peninsula.  The Ward brothers became famous for their wooden wildfowl carvings, which form the basis of the museum’s collection. They successfully elevated the folk art of decoy carving into a world art form – a craft which still survives, today.

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Located at 909 South Schumaker Drive, the museum features exhibits and events for a small fee.  The museum grounds will further your experience, offering a nature trail, sculpture garden, observation deck, and fishing pier.  These are open from dawn until dusk.

Wicomico County has become a perfect example in my family of local exploration.  We’ve discovered a wonderful collection of hidden gems which we’d unknowingly ignored for years.  For us, taking this chance has resulted in a new place to build memories.  ◊

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