A Fun-Filled Adventure to Deep Creek Lake
Kick back, relax and spread out lakeside in Maryland, on a COVID conscious getaway!
Life on the lake is simple. Whether you're floating on the water, hiking past waterfalls, or experiencing spotty cell service, a long weekend (or day trip) to Deep Creek Lake will make you forget about the outside world thanks to its slow speed and relaxing atmosphere. Dig into it.
Approximately three hours from DC and Baltimore, Deep Creek Lake is located in Western Maryland and offers 69 acres of shoreline suitable for swimming, boating, floating, jet skiing, fishing, and stand up paddleboarding. (Actually, the lake’s many inlets and coves offer great options for beginner SUPers – like yours truly – thanks to the calm water that makes it easy to stand up and stay up while paddling along.)
Best Time to Visit
Deep Creek has two popular seasons: Summer on the lake, winter on the slopes. (Wisp Mountain has an equally fun array of winter activities, aside from skiing, according to its website.)
Where to Play?
The lake, which – like all lakes in Maryland – is man-made, is surrounded by several little towns including the unincorporated area of Swanton and Oakland. Wisp Ski Resort in McHenry is also nearby the lake and provides some fun, on-land play options including a mountain coaster and ropes course. In fact, Deep Creek Lake has no shortage of ropes courses for kids of all ages to enjoy. While the area is teeming with activities ideal for curating the perfect amount of action and relaxing for you and your crew, there are a few notable standouts for us.
Deep Creek Lake State Park
Dozens of rental properties surround the lake and feature direct water access, but the shore and all its offerings can also be reached by the public via the 1,800 acres of Deep Creek Lake State Park. This wonderful spot is perfect for those wanting to camp – there’s a 112 site campground on the premises – or just for a short day trip to the water.
The park is open for day use from 8 am to dusk (the park, as mentioned, also has campsites and is quite shaded, but we only visited for a morning). Dogs are welcome in the park – we saw many! – but they cannot come on to the beaches so plan accordingly. Luckily, the shade and the lake keep the area from ever getting so hot that it’s uncomfortable to be outside.
There are two popular beach spots, near which you’ll find two small but well-stocked playgrounds, complete with slides, climbing areas, and one is shaped like a castle. Older kids might be drawn to the nearby basketball court that's open for shooting hoops.
For more structured activity, Wisp Mountain has also set up shop along the lake to provide watercraft rentals. This includes kayaks – singles ($19-$44) and doubles ($34-$54) – as well as canoes ($39-$59), paddleboards ($24-$44), and innertubes ($14). At the centrally-located rental shop, which is currently enforcing social distancing measures and deep cleaning the rentals – you’ll also find mountain bikes for rent ($24 for an hour, $44 for all day), tandem bikes ($34 for an hour, $54 for the day), and beach chairs so you don’t have to worry about packing in your own. Wisp Mountain also rents out basketballs, frisbees, Bocce, disc golf discs, and giant Jenga for $5 apiece.
Get there early for prime real estate. As one might expect, this place gets pretty crowded during summer weekends. We arrived just before 10 am and there were still lots of options for shaded spots along the water, but by 11 am the place was crowded. However, picnic spots – featuring grills and picnic tables – are spaced well apart. Perfect for social distancing and a little privacy. A lifeguard stand was set up on the beach when we visited, but no lifeguard was on duty. The water, however, was mellow and the swimming area was roped off from the rest of the lake.
Cost: $3 for instate visitors, $5 for out of state visitors.
The Mountain Coaster at Wisp Resort
This adventure in McHenry was a huge hit for our family. (Our calls to figure out whether or not the ride was open, however, went unanswered so we just took our chances.) Once strapped into the cart of the mountain coaster (a gravitational hybrid of an Alpine slide and a roller coaster), the ride lasts less than 10 minutes. To start, a motorized pulley carries the cart uphill offering awesome views of the lake and wooded area. At the top, the cart releases – the rider controls the speed with a set of hand-operated breaks – and takes you on curvy descent on the mountain. The top speed doesn’t surpass 30 and, we promise, if you’re nervous about the ride, it’s not at all scary, but it sure is a lot of fun.
Kids as young as three (and at least 38 inches tall) are allowed on the ride, with an adult. Children seven and under must be accompanied by a rider 16 years of age or older, but eight-year-olds over 54 inches can ride alone if they desire once they prove they can safely operate the hand breaks. Adults and teenagers must ride alone. Rides cost $14 each for single riders, $19 for a double; the resort also offers a three-ride package for $29 or $44 respectively. It’s worth noting, however, that the line to enter the ride can take some time, especially with extra cleaning and social distancing measures currently in place. There’s no shade while you wait so dress accordingly and wear sunscreen. Onsite bathrooms are available and feel clean and well-ventilated.
Though we didn’t try out the other activities offered onsite, Wisp Mountain in the summer also features several ropes courses including the Chipmunk Challenge Course for kids four and up weighing at least 40 pounds, and the Spider Monkey Adventure for kids six and up. From the looks on the faces of the kids we passed during our visit, these courses are a heck of a lot of fun too.
Swallow Falls State Park
A perfect hiking spot for most ability levels. While Swallow Falls offers ramps that look out over the falls for wheelchairs and strollers, the hike alongside the river is not accessible for wheels and features a good amount of stairs to climb. However, we passed many small children and several parents carrying babies and toddlers along the mile and a quarter Swallow Falls Canyon Trail.
The trail, starting at the top of the spectacular 53-foot waterfall Muddy Creek Falls, runs along the Youghiogheny River, which was flowing fast and furious during our visit. (Though the speed and rapids didn’t stop some from swimming and tubing areas of the river, we opted to stay on dry land). Upon entering the 300-year-old forest, which is populated with Virgin Hemlock and White Pine, signs advise visitors to exercise caution of the water (which contains strong rapids, swift currents, deep pools, and underwater hydraulics) and to be respectful of nature. This forest, complete with several awe-inspiring waterfalls, is said to be the last of its kind in the state. Footwear with strong traction and good grip is advised as the terrain in certain areas of the trail are both rocky and wet.
For folks looking for a longer, more serious hike, the Swallow Falls trail connects with Herrington Manor State Park through the Garrett State Forest via a five and a half-mile trail that’s also open to mountain bikers. The $3 per person entrance fee (for Maryland residents, $5 otherwise) will also get you into Herrington Manor Park too if you prefer to drive instead of to walk there. Nearby the parking lot sits a large, covered picnic pavilion, bathrooms, and the Lakeside Creamery truck – perfect for a post-hike recovery!
Additional Deep Creek Lake activities include golfing – there are several golf courses in the area, including one in the Swanton area near dozens of lakefront beach rentals (where we stayed and members of our group played). There’s also Monkey Business Adventure Park in McHenry, which features zip lines, free falling, and obstacle courses for visitors of all ages. Monkey Business is operated by DCL Adventures, which also runs an ax-throwing center, Deep Creek Fun Zone & Restaurant (laser tag, arcade games, etc.), and Splash Island Inflatable Water Park. The water park, however, is closed for the 2020 season
Where to Stay?
There is no shortage of rental houses along Deep Creek Lake, whether you’re looking for something closer to town (Oakland or McHenry) or something a bit removed from the hustle and bustle. We booked our on-the-lake house through Taylor-Made Deep Creek Vacations and Sales, the company has properties throughout the area and was very easy to work with – they were very responsive to our bear fiasco and a screen door repair request. Dogs are allowed in at least some of their rentals too.
As one might expect, Wisp Mountain also offers lodging with an indoor pool and fitness center. The Inn at Deep Creek offers prime views of the lake, offers some sweet cabin vibes, and is more centrally-located near town. For low fuss rentals, the Garrett Inn offers clean, well-stocked rooms in Oakland.
Camping is also an option. Deep Creek Lake State Park has over 100 campsites, including two mini cabins (sleeps six, with heat and electricity) and a yurt (sleeps six, with heat and electricity). There is also a “Bear Den,” which is a three-sided, Adirondack-style shelter with an open side facing into the forest with a raised sleeping platform.
Pets are welcome at most sites and reservations are required from Memorial Day Weekend through mid-September. Camping is also available at Swallow Falls, which has 65 sites near bathhouses with hot and cold water and three camper cabins equipped with electric heat, microwave, a mini-fridge, a double bed, and a bunk bed. Reservations are required for the cabins and strongly recommended for other sites from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, but they’re first come first served.
If you’re staying overnight at any of the campsites or rentals, be sure to pack up your trash because when they say Deep Creek is bear country, they’re not joking! (A bear may have gotten into our trash in search of corn cobs one night during our stay!)
Where to Eat?
Thanks to coronavirus and a house full of cooks, we ate only home-cooked meals during our stay, but an array of restaurants – lots of pizza – can be found driving along the lake loop. We did stop, however, for homemade ice cream courtesy of Lakeside Creamery. The local shop has a storefront in Oakland (along Garrett Highway) as well as a truck located in the parking lot of Swallow Falls State Park. Like the lake itself, this ice cream recalls a simpler time and will put a smile on everyone’s face. The cake batter flavor was the surprising favorite.
When all is said and done, we can’t recommend Deep Creek Lake enough.
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Explore more ideas for safe local travel in Make Nature Your Focus in Harper’s Ferry, Dreaming of Travel: St Michael's and Tilghman Island, or check out our State By State Road Trip Travel Features including Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. Additionally, for hiking inspiration, take a look at the Best Destination Hikes Near Baltimore.
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