Maryland's Deep Creek Lake has watersports and mountains, fishing and hiking, keeping tadpoles and tree huggers happy, too.Maryland's Deep Creek Lake has watersports and mountains, fishing and hiking, keeping tadpoles and tree huggers happy, too.
Summer vacation again – the beach or the mountains? Hmmm – I can never decide, but what about both at the same time? Well, it is possible and I am not kidding. Within driving distance of many East Coast and Upper Midwest communities lies the under-discovered and relatively secluded Deep Creek Lake – a massive yet cozy vacation community nestled in the natural Appalachian Mountain heritage of Western Maryland.
Such a lake might seem out of place atop the Appalachian Ridge, and far below any region with natural lakes. But while no one was looking, an enterprising plan to build a dam across a mountain stream in the 60s resulted in what is now a premier natural resource destination.
Mountains & Seashore in a Small Package
A quick review of basic geography reveals that Maryland, known as “America in Miniature,” is so designated by its unique shape. It captures the Atlantic Ocean seashores of the East, Chesapeake Bay and Baltimore/Washington, DC regions in the middle, the semi-rural coastal plains of the South and the Appalachian continental divide to the West. The manmade, amoeba-shaped Deep Creek Lake of Maryland’s panhandle is a prime family retreat for many non-Maryland metropolitan areas as well such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia.
So next time the crowds and familiarity of overpriced seaside resorts get old, consider a western Maryland cottage rental, for the best of the beach and the best of the mountains in one experience. The vastness of this Deep Creek Lake is only exceeded by its Blue Ridge Mountain vistas. This destination is best described as seashore with fresh water and trees instead of sand and brine. Throw in perfectly cool nights to relieve the hot days, fewer crowds then elsewhere and lower costs, you may not ever see the ocean again.
While boating, fishing and water-skiing are the prominent activities, many are surprised to learn of the many non-water oriented adventures available as well. The secluded and rolling terrain offers all those outdoor things you may have been too busy to try back home – horseback riding, trout fishing, mountain biking, ATV riding, paintball, good old fashioned nature appreciation and hiking.
Non-Stop Action for the Active
A good starting point for the undecided is the area’s all-season focal point: Wisp Mountain Resort (301/387-4911). While a premium ski destination (great snow conditions due to an altitude of 2,415 ft. at the base and 3,115 ft. at the summit), this winter resort is just as fun in the summer as a one-stop-shop for any recreation. Activities range from Frisbee golf, to a skate park, ATV tours, mountain biking, paintball, fly fishing or kayaking.
My favorite was trying the adventurous mountain boarding – a summer version of snow boarding – which is a skateboard with larger, air filled rubber wheels and a hand brake for negotiating the grassed mountain ski trails; lessons are included. Don’t pass up the Super Sunday Outdoor Expo every (of course) Sunday which lets anyone try all the activities as much as they want for free. Complimentary snacks, treats, kiddy games and souvenirs are included – definitely one of the best buys in the area.
A Convenient & Affordable Resort
In fact, consider staying at Wisp at their Wisp Resort Hotel and Conference Center (800/462-9477). While many visitors rent local cottages (usually by the week) because they are the best for a waterfront access and view, The Wisp Resorts puts you at the foot of their mountain, near everything you would want including an excellent restaurant (DC's Bar and Restaurant). Get one of Wisp Resort Hotel’s family packages – especially if golfing at championship courses is a priority. The family package includes a myriad of passes and discounts for the activities and it’s even more rewarding if your vacation is scheduled around the various golfing, mountain boarding, ATV and mountain biking tournaments the resort hosts.
Wisp also holds the honor for best local pampering. Their Sewickley Spa provides types of salon services and massages so varied that I never even of heard of them – but I am a guy. The peak seasons are summer and winter – but the summer peak isn’t in full force until after the July 4th holiday period. If the warmer lake water temperatures of August are not a priority, take advantage of the mini-shoulder summer season between the end of school and the 4th of July – providing the best of summer with fewer crowds, better prices and more flexible accommodation opportunities.
Having praised the resort, for waterfront access and seclusion, many rent from lodges, cottages and condos. A good starting point for all things Deep Creek and, therefore, an excellent resources for rentals, is the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce. They publish a slick and comprehensive one-stop-shop guide; another online source for help with rentals is Deep Creek Resort.
Riding, Boating, Hiking & More
Sometimes it can be difficult to figure out what to do first – I go for the opportunities least possible back home, and for me it was horseback riding. For beginners – as well as advanced – I heartily recommend the family run Circle R Ranch (301/387-6890). Their experienced guides will not only show you how to ride in a flash but make it immediately fun as well by leading the patient horses through leisurely winding trails over hill and dale.
Do not be surprised if the quiet clip clop gives way to fantasies of what it might have been like to use and rely on this transportation long ago. Some of the scenarios my kids shared: my daughter pretended to be a princess riding through the woods in Medieval times; my son participating in a battle scene; I rode through a famous town of the Old West as a gunfighter (I confess I succumbed to the imagery of Clint Eastwood while practicing his squint).
If budgets allow, Deep Creek Lake is one of the best places to explore and access by boat. You can book rentals through Bill’s Marine Service or Deep Creek Marina but if you own a boat and trailer, so much the better. For those in the know, it can substitute for a car, since most lakeside attractions and restaurants provide dockside moorings (some areas of the lake are only accessible by water). This is, of course, the only venue for water skiing. The popularity of this pasttime usually requires that boat rental reservations be made months in advance, so plan early.
A budget alternative to boating is nature appreciation. Try the trails of Wisp Mountain or Deep Creek Lake State Park nearby. This is the main public access to the lake’s only bathing beach, as well as picnic areas and a premium Discovery Center. The center offers excellent interpretive learning programs for budding biologists (try the Junior Ranger and Scales and Tales Campfire programs), and allows for some alone time for the parents. For a deeper immersion, sign up with outfitters such as Camp Earth, which provides naturalist guided hikes, kayak tours, farm tours and photography workshops. If burned out on hiking, try Western Maryland ATV Tours for true – and fun – remote wilderness exploration.
Weeklong stays may warrant a change of pace, and there are nearby opportunities for exploration and cultural appreciation. Try hiking Muddy Creek Falls at Swallow Falls State Park, or exploring the country communities, specifically historic Oakland – the county seat. Billed as “A Great Small Town”, Oakland offers great walking tour opportunities.
One of my favorite exploration activities in this cozy country community was a horse and buggy ride through vast Amish farmlands with Pleasant Valley Dream Rides. Also offering winter sleigh and Cinderella wedding carriage rides, the proprietor will regale you with local tales of the surrounding mountain vistas, Amish lore and farm life, as well as the Clydesdale horse are so massive they seem able to haul a Bradley assault vehicle.
For something really different, early risers and fanciers of the husky dog breed should sign up for a real-life dog sled ride on wheels. It is early in the A.M. so as to avoid overheating of the winter favoring tykes. Summer dog sledding is offered by www.yellowsnowadventures.com and www.huskypowerdogsledding.com
Numerous excellent dining opportunities abound – most are meat and potatoes fare. Try DC’s Bar and Restaurant at Wisp or Smiley’s. The Cornish Manor (301/334-6499) at 830 Memorial Drive, Oakland, is an excellent quality restaurant in a B&B style building with varied menu. It’s great for Sunday brunch as well as an upper scale lounge with entertainment.
The Sweetwater Grill at The Inn (301/387-5555) is part of a popular lodge. I had understood this to be a favorite restaurant for many from word-of-mouth reviews but, alas, it was closed on the Sunday we went. I can vouch that the scenery is spectacular on the lake with waterfront docking – especially at sunset.
For a bit of civilization and comfort, try a lakeside night out at Uno’s Chicago Grill with a couple of after dinner drinks at the adjacent Honi-Honi bar. Both combined establishments are also family-friendly with waterfront boat access as well as a unique kid playground with opportunities for memorable photographs.
A more hi tech and stimulating experience without the eats can be found at Smiley’s FunZone – the ultimate arcade and game park of the western mid-Atlantic. Guaranteed to liberate the adult child as well as the obvious ones, this massive amusement playground offers literally hours and hours of go-kart racing, putt putt golf, laser tag, video games and pinball all tucked into the hilly lake shoreline. My favorite was the go-karts and laser tag. This is a great opportunity for a tech fix for kids but take a break at their excellent restaurant to rest.
In fact, keep on resting… until ski season. For more information, visit the site of the Deep Creek Lake Visitors Bureau.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.