Maryland : Safety by City
- Ellicott City
- Germantown & Gaithersburg
- Ocean City
- Silver Spring
It’s almost scary how much there is to see and do in Ellicott City, Maryland.
That’s not just because it’s considered one of the most haunted places in America, either.
Ellicott City was founded in 1772, so when I tell you there’s a lot of history to explore in Old Town, I’m not exaggerating.
You’ll hear people refer to Old Town Ellicott City and Ellicott City as two different places.
While they are technically the same place, the section outside of Old Town is mostly upscale residential and nature areas.
This location is actually a suburb of Baltimore, with the downtown being about 30 minutes away.
Columbia, Maryland, to the south, has more hotels and amenities.
It’s the old town area that brings tourists here in droves.
Of all the planning that went into this city, one thing was overlooked – the topography.
The Patapsco River on the city’s east boundary gave great water and power supply through its swift waters.
It also brought a flood risk.
Add to that several streams flow downhill to the river.
Those streams must pass through the city before meeting the larger water body.
During a regular rain event, this isn’t a problem.
During heavy or extended periods of rainfall, it can – and has – brought devastating floods.
The city saw two 1,000-year floods in 2016 and 2018.
If you really want to prepare for the ghostly possibilities, there’s a book called “Haunted Ellicott City” you might want to buy to read on the plane.
Several of the bed and breakfast inns are alleged to be haunted by guests who refused to check out for good.
Warnings & Dangers in Ellicott City
OVERALL RISK : LOW
Crime is the least of your concerns in this city, as the weather is the top risk. It's also an affluent city with low crime and poverty rates. Outside of Old Town, you won't find much to do in Ellicott City, but there are great parks and other small towns nearby.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
If you want to use public transportation, you'll have to hopscotch between different bus lines to get to Baltimore, but having a car is going to be the best way to get around. Taxis and rideshares are available as well.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
There's a low risk, but use extra caution during weekends or crowded local events. Carry the bare minimum and only take your phone/camera out when you're using it to take pictures. Wallets should go in front pant pockets or inside jacket pockets to avoid an easy steal from the traditional back pocket.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
Flooding is the biggest risk here, but as of late 2022, a massive project is underway to deter water from flooding downtown during each intense rain event. Winter and severe weather can happen here, and tornadoes are also possible. Bitter cold temperatures can happen in the winter, so pack layers of clothing.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
This is a low risk, with just two robberies happening between 2018 and 2020. The same safety rating is certainly not true in Baltimore, so research our article on that city before you head downtown.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
Ellicott City has a low risk and is not considered a potential target in any way. Flooding is really the top concern, far and above anything else.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
A scam in this area involves a broken down car with a desperate couple offering gold for cash, so they can get their car fixed. In the end, the gold is worthless, and you won't get your money back. Other than that, the biggest scam risks are for local homeowners.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Women have a low risk but use all the standard personal safety steps to keep it that way. Don't walk around at night, and if you want to explore the haunted attractions, please do so on a tour, so you'll be with a group of people.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2022 Water Quality Report shows full compliance with all standards and no violations. Don't drink or use tap water during or after flooding without confirming the water supply isn't compromised.
Safest Places to Visit in Ellicott City
Go to visitoldellicottcity.com for the official tourism site of the city.
Using the vendors on this website will reduce the risk of ticket scams or overcharging.
You’ll also get emails and phone numbers to call if you have additional information.
For country-wide attractions, go to visithowardcounty.com.
Old Town is filled with more than 70 businesses, from unique shops to fine dining, and home to the country’s oldest working passenger train station.
You can learn more about that at the Baltimore & Ohio Ellicott City Station Museum.
Admission is free.
This is also an artsy community, so you’ll have different galleries and studios to explore.
Ghost tours are held in Old Town, on Mt. Misery, and at the Historic Savage Mill.
Walking and history tours are also available, not related to phantoms, while the Museum of Howard County is a great place to learn more about the historical moments in this community since 1772.
Several scenic byways go through Ellicott City, including the Civil War Trail, National Historic Road, and Network to Freedom underground railroad.
In greater Ellicott City, a popular attraction is Clark Elioak Farm, with an enchanted forest, petting zoo, and freshly picked farm produce.
It’s open from April through October.
Nearby you’ll also find Centennial Lake and Centennial Farm, with fishing, hiking, and other outdoor activities.
Patapsco Valley State park is nearby, too, spanning 32 miles along the river.
Horseback riding is offered here, along with canoeing, hiking, and wildlife viewing.
One of the trails does include a swinging suspension bridge which is quite popular with hikers.
The Historic Savage Mill is worth the 20-minute drive, even if you aren’t there for the ghost tour.
The mill is a symbol and historical building from the region’s industrial past.
In fact, this area is credited with being the force behind the Industrial Revolution.
Now this mill is an entertainment district, fun both day and night.
Places to Avoid in Ellicott City
You won’t find a dangerous area or bad part of town in Ellicott City.
The average income here is more than $136,000, with a low poverty rate.
If you’re traveling between Ellicott City and Baltimore, don’t stop for gas until you are west of Hilton Parkway, as the neighborhoods east of there start to get higher crime rates.
Avoid Old Town if there are heavy rains, or at least check the forecast for any weather watches or warnings before you go.
The water can rise very quickly.
A good indicator of potential flooding can be seen in the streams throughout the city.
Normally, these are low streams with a casual flow.
If the water is rushing and more like a river than a stream, it’s a good idea to head for higher ground.
This is a more expensive side of the Baltimore community, so don’t be surprised if restaurant and hotel prices are higher than you’d like to spend.
You’re also paying for the safe neighborhood and won’t be charged for parking, so that is a bonus you won’t always get at Baltimore hotels.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Ellicott City
- Howard County Police post a daily crime bulletin on Facebook, @HowardCountyPolice Department, and the department’s website. This will include the entire county, but each crime is listed by city. For example, the one I’m looking at today shows a wallet stolen from a car in Ellicott City.
- While there are stretches of day or even a week without crime in Ellicott City, the most common crime I’m seeing is stolen cars. Be sure to lock your car, keep the windows rolled up, and don’t leave any personal belongings inside.
- Read the Ready HoCo section of the county’s emergency management department website to learn about the weather risks and safety precautions you can take. You can also follow @HoCoOEM on Facebook or Twitter.
- Since this community has been hit hard by flooding in the past decade, it’s important to shop and eat at local establishments when possible. Some businesses and historical buildings were destroyed in the flooding, and too many businesses couldn’t rebuild. Even years later, the tourism dollars really help this community stay strong.
- Traffic safety is taken seriously here, and there are red light, speed, and school bus cameras waiting to catch traffic law violators. Tickets will be mailed two weeks to a month after the violation, and they can track down rental car drivers.
- If you’re visiting a state park, plan to arrive as early as possible. The park system has a capacity policy that closes the main entrance when it’s at full capacity. The only people who will be let in are those with campground reservations.
- Anglers need a fishing license from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. You can get a non-resident license, even if you’re an international traveler. You’ll need to carry your license and photo ID while fishing.
- When walking Old Town, starting near the river and working your way up is wise. This is because the city is built on a hill. If you start the visit walking uphill, you’ll be able to walk downhill on the way back. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes, too, as this is a great workout but could leave some blisters if you wear dress shoes or sandals.
- Ellicott City has a sizable Asian Population, with a five-mile stretch of Highway 40 being designated as the “Korean Way.” Enjoy the abundance of Korean restaurants and shops. This isn’t in the same area as Old Town, so explore all the great neighborhoods in this community. Koreatown was just officially opened in 2021, so this is a newer experience to enjoy. Marylandskoreaway.com is the official website where you can learn more.
- Ellicott City has plenty of bars, breweries, and distilleries, which can add to the risk of drunk drivers on the road. Seasonally, rideshare companies might offer discounts to help people get home safely. Never risk drinking and driving. Take a cab or rideshare, and you can get your car later.
So... How Safe Is Ellicott City Really?
For all the talk you’ll hear and read about how dangerous Baltimore is, this distant suburb is safe compared to Baltimore and most American cities.
You likely won’t find a safer part of the metro area to visit that still offers so many attractions and amenities.
The flooding risk is ongoing, but new projects have been implemented with each major flood to help stop the problem.
The massive tunnel running the same route as Main Street is expected to reduce the risk greatly.
Another project created a large pond, the size of a football field, to hold floodwaters as they work their way to the river.
“Ellicott City residents can rest a little easier knowing this major stormwater management project is complete,” said Maryland State Delegate Courtney Watson.
“This project is one important piece of the puzzle in creating a flood-resilient historic Ellicott City.”
Since this is a hilly area, winter weather like snow and ice can cause the roads to be dangerous or impassible.
Use Maryland 511 to check on road conditions before you venture out.
How Does Ellicott City Compare?
- Visas - All international travelers will need a U.S. Visa or Visa Waiver and a valid passport. The U.S. State Department offers a Visa Wizard module on its website to get you started on the right path. Start planning about three months ahead of time.
- Currency - You can only use the U.S. Dollar here. It's wise to exchange currency before arriving to get the lowest exchange rates and fees from your bank. Some American banks will buy back unused currency for a small fee.
- Weather - This is a casual area, and those hills will require comfortable walking shoes or hiking boots. Dress in warm layers for winter, as it can get bitterly cold. There are warming centers that open when the temperature gets below freezing. Winter and spring can have fluctuating temperatures, so bring different options. Summers will be hot and humid, and you'll likely sweat through your clothing. If you don't have access to laundry facilities, bring a couple of extra outfits. Don't forget bug spray and sunscreen.
- Airports - Baltimore's airport (BWI) is just 20 minutes from Ellicott City, but plan extra time if you're traveling during the rush hour. Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., is about an hour away.
- Travel Insurance - You'll want travel insurance, especially for international flights. Delays and cancelations happen frequently during rough weather. You'll also want supplemental health insurance if you don't have coverage in the U.S.
Ellicott City Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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