Near the northern headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay, Elkton is a small town of 15,800, couched in beautiful farmland.
Many of Elkton’s attractions are out in this pastoral countryside, where you can connect with rural life, picking your own fruit in summer, saddling up for horseback rides and taking part in all kinds of family fun in fall.
Due to its important position on the Elk River, Elkton saw action during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, when the town was defended by a pair of batteries, one at Elk Landing, where an historic property is open to visitors.
Elkton’s Main Street has a noteworthy community of small businesses, artists and restaurants, with regular events like First Friday bringing people downtown.
1. Milburn Orchards
Dating back to 1902 and now in its fourth and fifth generations, this traditional farm is the premier agritourism spot in the area. It would be impossible to list everything happening here, without destroying our word count.
But the headline is the Milburn’s Farm Market and Country Bake Shoppe, for a huge choice of local produce, cheeses, jams & jellies, butter, sauces, honey, dips, spreads, together with pies and other delectable baked goods made fresh.
Summer and fall is U-Pick season, when you can visit for cherries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, raspberries, grapes and apples, with a ripening schedule published on the farm’s website, and hayrides to and from the orchards.
For kids there’s Milburn’s Big Backyard, featuring a playground, sand dig, tractor tire tower and petting zoo with barnyard animals.
2. Main Street
From Bridge Street in the west to Cecil County Courthouse, Elkton’s main commercial artery is lined with an unbroken succession of local businesses.
In terms of shopping you’ve got clothing, flowers, jewelry, party supplies, handmade gifts and more, while the dining lineup is eclectic, running the gamut from pub food and pizza to Jamaican specialties.
There’s also more culture than meets the eye, thanks to the Cecil County Historical Society, studios (Art Space on Main), a gallery (The Palette & The Page), and the Showcase on Main performing arts theater.
The Elk River Brewing Co. meanwhile is a thriving brewpub, and one of a couple of destinations in Elton for craft beer.
Throw in First Friday, the Downtown Elkton Car Cruise (Second Saturday) and the cherished Elkton Fall Festival in September, and there’s plenty to look forward to downtown.
3. Elk Landing
The site of Elkton’s earliest settlement is a property by the confluence of Little and Big Elk Creek. In 2000 Elk Landing was purchased by a non-profit organization from the Hollingsworth Family, which had owned the land since 1735.
During the War of 1812, the property contained an earthen fort that participated in the successful defense of Elkton from a river attack in 1813.
In the last decades of the 20th century the historic buildings at Elk Landing had fallen into disrepair, and the Historic Elk Landing Foundation has overseen a long-term restoration.
You can visit the late 18th-century Hollingsworth House, which is presented as it was in the 19th century.
The museum room on the upper floor displays exciting archeological finds from the property, among them a letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Delaware Baptist Congregation.
To raise funds for ongoing restoration work, there’s Elk Landing the Defenders’ Festival, with local music, food trucks, craft beer and vendors every April.
4. Historical Society of Cecil County
Edging Elkton’s downtown commercial district on the east side is an ornate building with a mansard roof. Originally a bank and then a public library, the bulk of this structure dates to the mid-19th century.
Today it is home to the Cecil County Arts Council and the Historical Society of Cecil County. You can drop by (check opening times), to peruse the society’s extensive collection of artifacts, particularly strong for militaria and presented at the John F. DeWitt Military Museum here.
The Arts Council hosts The Market at 135, selling a trove of farm-fresh products and specialty foods from around Cecil County.
Framed by a rock wall, the Gardens at 135 are a joy, with edible flowers and herbs like spearmint, oregano, chives, rhubarb, sorrel, poppy and thyme planted along a path with bricks repurposed from the sidewalk in front of the Elkton Presbyterian Church.
At the back of the building is Rev Duke’s Log Cabin, believed to date to the late 18th century, and relocated to this spot from Bow Street.
5. Fair Hill Scottish Games
One of the region’s most unique and popular annual events takes place in May at the Cecil County Fairgrounds to the north of Elkton.
Running for more than 60 years, Fair Hill Scottish Games attracts male and female Highland Games competitors from around the world.
You’ll get to see incredible feats of strength in events like Stone Put, Caber Toss, Hammer Throw and Sheaf Toss.
The games are one aspect of a lively cultural celebration, with competitions for dancing, fiddling and piping & drumming, which soundtracks much of the event.
There’s also live traditional and modern Scottish music on stage, a marketplace with traditional food and crafts and live sheep dog demonstrations.
6. Gilpin’s Falls and Covered Bridge
A few miles west of Elkton the North East Creek descends more than 100 feet in just a third of a mile.
In the 18th century the power of this fast-flowing stretch of river was harnessed by saw and corn mills, which were joined by a hydroelectric plant at the turn of the 20th century.
These were all shut down in the 1930s and the property has returned to nature since that time. At the beginning of your visit you’ll be met by the Gilpin’s Falls Covered Bridge, one of just six of its kind in Maryland and dating back to 1859.
The falls meanwhile are lined by massive igneous rocks, perfect for bouldering if you come prepared.
7. Plumpton Park Zoo
Slightly further afield, this zoo in Rising Sun is still within 20 minutes of Elkton, and deserves special mention for its humane practices and large team of volunteers.
A big proportion of the animals at Plumpton Park Zoo are rescued, and, at the time of writing, these included a variety of exotic birds, tortoises, tigers and domestic breeds like llamas, pigs and highland cattle.
A real bonus for smaller visitors is that you can purchase animal feed to give to many of the inhabitants, including the goats, sheep, mini-donkeys, alpacas and cavies.
The grounds of Plumpton Park Zoo are roamed by peacocks, and go back to colonial times. A holdover from that period is the Jeremiah Brown House and Mill Site, with architecture dating from the mid-18th century.
8. Elk Neck State Forest
Directly southwest of Elkton is a 3,500-acre parcel of public land, spread across four different tracts. Planted in the 1940s but never harvested, Elk Neck State Forest is at the north end of the peninsula of the same name, and is open to the public for a wide range of recreation.
You can head to this mixed hardwood and evergreen forest for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and hunting.
The forest also features a number of shooting ranges for shotgun, hand gun, rifle and bow. For nature lovers there’s a fabulous array of wildflowers all through the summer from as early April, while more than 140 bird species have been identified here.
For birdwatching there’s a tall observation tower close to the entrance of the Main Tract. From here you might see birds of prey like bald eagles (year round), osprey (March through November) and a host of different raptor species during their migration down the peninsula in fall.
9. Painted Horse Ranch
On Elkton’s northern outskirts, Painted Horse Ranch is a family-oriented facility managed by a non-profit organization.
Since 2007 the ranch has offered trail rides and lessons for riders of all abilities, from beginner to advanced, together with boarding and leasing services.
If you’d like to get out and enjoy northeastern Maryland you can take a one-hour trail ride, or opt for a half-day adventure, with lunch included.
Lessons are available for all ages, from 4 to seniors, and include important skills like tacking and grooming.
10. Holly Hall
Dubbed “The Grand Dame of Elkton” by Preservation Maryland, this elegant Federal-style mansion can be seen on foot, right next to the Big Elk Shopping Centre.
Built around the 1810s by James Sewall (1778-1842), who had been an officer in the War of 1812, the house was the Sewall family seat for decades.
The residence was named for the many holly trees growing on the property, and examples can still be seen today. Holly Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, but when we wrote this list was still awaiting restoration.
There’s widespread political, private and public support to turn the mansion into an amenity for Cecil County.
11. Maryland Beer Company
Beer connoisseurs are spoiled in Elkton, as there’s another craft brewery a couple of minutes north of downtown on Bridge Street.
Maryland Beer Company is a small-batch brewery, with a 5 bbl brewhouse using 10 bbl unitanks, producing beers that are stocked at a slew of restaurants and liquor stores in the region.
There’s a friendly taproom attached, with 19 beers on tap at any time. Some of the stars when we wrote this article were Sneaky Pete (Dubbel), Wheat a Minute (Wheat Beer), Cloud Nein (IPA), Lady Oscuro (Stout), Chocolate Chessie (Porter) and Nuclear Blonde Ale.
Maryland Beer Company has a kitchen for shareable plates like chips and salsa, pita and hummus, soft pretzels, along with wings, hot dogs and chicken skewers. There are also specials all week, including happy hour on Thursdays.
12. Detwiler’s Farm Market
Easy to miss off Route 213 in the south of Elkton is a family owned farm stand with a massive selection. Detwiler’s Farm Market has a bounty of locally-grown produce that changes with the seasons, from asparagus to pumpkins.
There’s much more to pique your interest, with plants and flowers, baked goods, preserves, sauces, jams, artisanal sodas, home decor, furniture, homemade candy, honey, kettle corn, granola, ice cream, farm-raised meats, Thanksgiving turkeys and tons more.
The market is open April to December, and has a small play area for children, as well as views of livestock such as turkeys in the neighboring fields.
13. Walnut Springs Farm
Fifteen minutes out of Elkton there’s a berry farm, welcoming the public during the U-Pick season for half a century now.
Walnut Springs Farm is in a typically bucolic landscape, for a rewarding afternoon picking your own high-quality black raspberries and blueberries.
The berries are ripe for picking in a brief window in mid-summer, and opening hours fluctuate, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the farm’s Facebook page.
Usually the black raspberry and blueberry seasons overlap, running from around mid-June to early July.
14. Meadow Park
On the east side of Elkton the banks of Big Elk Creek have been left undeveloped, with a mix of public parks, gardens and recreation areas.
The main public park here is the picturesque Meadow Park, where an enormous open field is bounded by mature hardwood trees.
The park is a recreation go-to for Elkton, with amenities for walking, jogging, bicycling, basketball, soccer, football, sand volleyball, tennis and fishing.
You’ll also find a number of pavilions and grills, a dog park and a playground. Meadow Park hosts Elkton’s Fourth of July Fireworks, starting at dusk.
15. Elkton Golf & Batting Center
If you need ideas for a reasonably priced day out around Elkton, this spot rolls together a few attractions for active people.
The crowd-pleaser is the 18-hole miniature golf course, and the challenge comes from elevation changes and boundaries as opposed to crazy obstacles.
A 300-yard driving range is on hand if you want to practice your long game, with 30 hitting stations and a bucket of 115 balls costing as little as $10 when we wrote this list.
There’s also a set of batting cages, ranging from 35-70 MPH, along with slow and fast softball pitches.