Ever see those white, oval stickers that say “DCL” and wonder what or where the heck that is? DCL, or Deep Creek Lake, is the largest lake in the DC area, boasting 64 miles of shoreline with depths of up to 75 feet (but an average depth of 25 feet). Built as a hydroelectric plant in the late 1920s, this dammed river became a popular resort destination soon afterwards and remains (no thanks to me) one of the best-kept vacationing secrets in the mid-Atlantic.
DCL is a year-round outdoor escape and resort area with many family-friendly adventures to partake in, as well as great places to just chill in the mountains, on the water, or in the woods. Popular summer activities at the Lake include boating, swimming, golfing, white-water paddling, water-skiing, mountain boarding, mountain biking, wakeboarding, tubing, sailing, boating (jetskis, kayaks, power & sailboats abound) and fishing. If you visit the Lake during the winter, you can ski, snowboard, snow tube, take a mountain coaster ride (gravitationally-pulled roller coaster down the front of Wisp), snow mobile or even ice fish.
We are fortunate enough to have a second home at this year-round wonderland. The following review is a compilation of five years worth of exploration both with and without children.
Deep Creek Lake is approximately 175 miles from Washington, taking just shy of three hours to get there. From the DC area, take Route 270 North towards Frederick (HOV-2 access Monday -Friday from 3:30-6:30pm) to Route 70 West towards Hagerstown, to Route 68 West towards Cumberland. Take Exit 14A for Rt. 219 North towards Oakland for 18 miles and after getting through the town of Accident.
If you are looking for places to stop for clean bathrooms and/or food on the way, there are the Prime Outlets of Hagerstown on Rt. 70, a Chik-fil-A (1680 Wesel Blvd Hagerstown, MD) that my husband craves at the exit beyond the outlets, and then my personal favorite: Hepburn Orchards right where 68 and 70 come together in Hancock. Hepburn’s is open 8:30am to 7pm daily, you can take your pick of delicious fruits and veggies as you walk in, just prior to intoxicating your olfactory sense with 20 types of freshly made pies. Try the apple pie; it’s as good as it smells! You can get syrups, jams, candies, and novelties as well.
While there are a number of rental agencies at Deep Creek Lake, I recommend Long & Foster. They have great hours, services, a great website where you can search by location, house size, or amenities and they keep their inventory of homes more updated than other companies. Visit: www.deepcreekresort.com or call 1-800-336-7300.
If you are looking for a hotel, people love the Suites at Silver Tree because of their lakefront property (with onsite boat rentals and delicious restaurant) and beautiful rooms. You can rent a studio, or a 1 or 2 bedroom suite for $260-$375/night. If you are looking for a less expensive hotel, the Comfort Inn Deep Creek Lake is off lake and has basic rooms a very short drive from the Wisp Resort for $90-150/night. Alternatively, you could stay at the Wisp Resort, but it’s pricey and somewhat dated for $150-250/night.
If you are looking for a B&B experience, check out the romantic Lake Pointe Inn (complete with bikes and non-motorized boats to borrow) for $230-290/night. It is more of a couples escape. Another great and family-friendly B&B is the North Glade Inn, which has lake access, a giant fishing pond, TONS of land and has one of the best vistas for Fall leaf peeping.
Things To Do
Deep Creek State Park is located on the shore of the lake and offers fishing piers, a swim area and beach, boat ramp, picnicking, covered pavilions, and camping opportunities. Most of the parks visitor services are located on State Park Road along the waterfront of Deep Creek Lake. The park includes approximately 1 mile of shoreline and a man-made beach. Access is available for fishing, swimming, and boat launching. Several picnic areas offer excellent views of the lake with easy access to the beach, grills, restrooms and a giant playground. You may bring dogs (on leash) from Labor Day to Memorial Day.
- Deep Creek State Park: Boasting hundreds of acres, the State Park is a great place to find marked trails for the casual to hard-core hiker.
- Wisp: If you find yourself at the Lake in the summer, hike up to the top of the mountain along one of the ski trails. You’ll pass mountain bikers, mountain boarders (skateboards) and disc golfers. The view of the lake area is amazing from the Main Street slope.
- Swallow Falls & Herrington Manor State Parks: This short 15-minute drive is worth it. You pass farms, Mennonite homes and churches and a campsite complete with cabins and ice cream vendors. The park has an entry fee of $4, which allows you to hike, BBQ and play on the playground. The Youghiogheny River (“the Yock”) flows along the park’s borders, passing through shaded rocky gorges and creating rippling rapids. You can hike down a well-groomed trail to a small waterfall where you will find sunbathers in the summer, and people tempting their fates on the ice in the winter. Continue on the path past tall hemlocks to Muddy Creek Falls, which is a crashing 53-foot waterfall. If you drive four miles south of Swallow Falls, you will find a 50-acre lake with swimming area and boat rentals. You can take dogs (on leash) from Labor Day to Memorial Day.
There are hundreds of mountain roads for the road bikers out there (though they are not for the faint of heart). For family fun, I would stick to Rt. 219, which has a bike lane that stretches roughly 5 miles. For mountain biking, try the trails at Wisp or Adventure Sports Center International.
Rent a Boat
Take a pontoon out for a party experience, where your kids are corralled in a yard-like platform atmosphere, or take a powerboat out for fast times and exploring. Make sure to go all the way out to where the river is dammed. Most places only take multi-day reservations, but if you’d like a half or full day rental, most places rent on a first come first served basis. Silver Tree also rents jet skis, wakeboards & tubes.
- Bill’s Marine: 1867 Deep Creek Road, McHenry, 301-387-5536
- Silver Tree Marine: 567 Glendale Road, Oakland, 301-387-5855
- If you’d like a bit less power, try High Mountain Sports for kayaks and canoes, skis and any outdoor item you may have forgotten. Open Daily 9am to 7pm, 21327 Garrett Hwy, Oakland, 301-387-4199.
Skiing/Snowboarding/Snow Tubing/Mountain Boarding/Mountain Biking/Mountain Coasting
Visit the Wisp Resort. Whether you are looking for fun in the sun or snow, you will definitely find something to do here. Wisp is a solid choice for east coast skiing. It’s still privately owned, so less crowded than the Whitetail family of resorts and boasts 7 lifts, 2 carpets, 32 trails (roughly equally divided among levels), a half pipe, terrain park and a 112 inches of snow fall last year. Lift Tickets are $25-45 for youth and $35-65 for adults depending on time of season. All day rentals are $38. The Willy Wisp ski school is a favorite all-day drop off for us. Kids must be 3 and potty trained, and somehow they manage to keep them busy, fed, smiling and teach them to ski while adults blissfully do their own thing.
Other features at Wisp:
- The Mountain Coaster is a gravitationally pulled single car roller coaster. It operates straight down The Wisp mountain year-round; it’s pretty exhilarating. $10 per ride.
- The Bear Claw Snow Tubing hill allows children & adults 42” and taller to come up a conveyer belt on a snow tube (provided), then shoot down one of 10 x 75-foot chutes. Tickets go on sale 30 minutes before the park opens every day. One two-hour session is $15 on weekdays and $22 on weekends. Reservations strongly suggested: 301.387.4911
- Nordic Skiing & Hiking: Offered on 50 KM trail consisting of both flat and rolling terrain with wooded and open areas, all of varying difficulty. There is a yurt behind the Hotel where you can check in, rent snowshoes and Nordic skis or take a guided tour. $20 for two hours or $40 for a full day.
- Golf: According to Golfstyles magazine, Wisp is “One Of The Top 100 Must-Play Course in The Mid Atlantic.” Wisp says their “contours, winding tree-lined fairways, manicured greens and breathtaking views make the Wisp Course truly one of the gems of the region. At 6,700 yards, playing to a par 71 and multiple tee, this championship course has something for golfers of all abilities.” A round is $45-65 depending on time of week and year.
Adventure Sports Center International (ASCI)
Man-made white water – How cool is that?! Fifteen years ago, Garrett College began offering an “adventure sports” major, which is an incredibly popular course of study among the locals. To meet the growing demand for and to increase exposure to adventure sports–which the local leaders envisioned would be part of Garrett County’s economic and cultural future—the ASCI was born. ASCI is the only manmade white water course with patented “wave-shaper” technology that allows them to set rapids from Class I to Class V. You can take guided tours or pay by the hour to kayak/canoe on your own. (It is a non-profit facility). We can easily kill an hour or two as spectators, then eat a picnic lunch or grab food at The Pump House Café, which has great chicken & tuna salad, Boar’s Head meats and Starbucks coffee. ASCI also offers kayaking, canoeing lessons, rock climbing lessons.
To get to ASCI, you can hike or take the lift to the top of the mountain. If you are driving, take Marsh Hill Road past Wisp, turn right on Overlook Pass, and follow the signs to Adventure Sports Center International. Note: They are open mid-May until mid-October. They must have at least 18 people with reservations to turn on the water and break even, so call in advance – 301.387.3250.
Beyond fishing off of our dock with a Spiderman rod, our family has not done much of this. However, if the number of boats we see on our cove is any indication, fishing is VERY popular here since rainbows, browns, brookies and cutthroat trout make DC (along with several other small streams and waters throughout Garrett County) their home. Other popular waterways include the Savage River, Casselman’s River, the Yough, and the North Branch of the Potomac. And then there’s ice fishing… The Department of Natural Resources also stocks the lake and some rivers for your enjoyment. Licenses and Bait Available at Bill’s Outdoor Center: 20768 Route 219 (Garrett Highway) 301-387-3474. You can also fly fish through Wisp, which is an Orvis endorsed outfitter. Open 8:30 to 6pm Daily. They require a 24-hour advance reservation; call 301.387.4911.
Take the Kids
- Smiley’s Fun Zone: Whether you want to hit some balls at the batting cages, cruise on the bumper boats, play a round of mini-golf or grab a delicious Buffalo Chicken Pizza, Smiley’s is a great stop for family fun.
- Adventure Sports Center International: This is our favorite way to kill an hour or two, just spectating! Drive to the top of the mountain and watch the white water kayakers and rafters learn to navigate the man-made course with rapids that drop from Class I up to Class V. Whether you rent a boat, bring your own, or just watch, you will likely work up an appetite and can get Boar’s Head meat sandwiches and drinks at the Pump House Café.
- Deep Creek Discovery Center: Their site says it all about this 6000 square foot facility: “Through colorful artwork, photographs and artifacts, the facility’s numerous natural resources exhibits provide a behind the scenes look into Deep Creek Lake and its watershed, industrial development in the area, and conservation issues facing the region today. Their aquarium has native fish and other aquatic species from the lake and river. Programs range from leisurely hikes that focus on birdwatching, tree identification and wildflowers, to more extensive educational programming that touches on such subjects as black bear management, endangered species of the Youghiogheny area, submerged aquatic vegetation, boating safety, and trail stewardship.” Open Daily 10am to 5pm.
- Garrett 8 Cinemas: If you’re looking to catch a flick, there is one theater in town (which also serves as overflow parking for Uno’s). For movie listings and times, call: 301-387-2500.
- Oakland: A 15-minute drive from Deep Creek gets you to Oakland, whose slogan is “Oakland is opportunity.” Perhaps best known in our family for the Wal-Mart, we don’t make it to Oakland much, but there are some cool antique shops, a great farmers market and Naylor’s Hardware when you need a bit more than Wal-Mart can offer. Oakland really shines in October for Autumn Glory. Steyer Brothers Maple Syrup Farm: Steyer Brothers Maple Syrup farm offers tours during sugaring times. The season runs from February to early April. Please call 301-334-2900 for more information. 2735 Gorman Rd, Rt 560, Oakland, Maryland 21550.
- Mountain Lake Park: Just beyond Oakland, you will be transported to a Victorian resort that “is a fine example of a Victorian resort that grew out of two American activities of the 19th century: the Methodist Camp Meeting which was aimed at spiritual renewal and a Chautauqua, an educational and recreational assembly with programs that included lectures and concerts modeled after the original summer schools inaugurated at Chautauqua, New York in 1874.” Take a walking tour through the Historic Office to find out more! 1007 Allegany Drive, Mountain Lake Park, MD 21550.
- Simon Pearce Gallery: If you are curious how glass is hand blown, check out the Simon Pearce Gallery in Oakland. The boiling hot catwalk makes you appreciate an air conditioned office and the beauty of hand-blown glass in one visit. They also sell first and second pieces in their shop. 265 Glass Drive, Mtn. Lake Park, MD 21550. Phone: 1-800-774-5277. Hours: Monday to Friday: 9am to 3:30pm; Weekends: 9am to 5pm.
- Stained Glass Gallery: One of Mountain Lake Park’s beautiful old Victorians has been converted into a gallery full of handmade stained glass windows, lamps and chotskies. Check it out! 214 I Street, Mountain Lake Park, MD 21550-3621; 301-334-8222.
- Just beyond Mountain Lake Park is…Thomas, West Virginia: Since Garrett County is “dry” on Sundays, many locals and tourists head to West Virginia on Sundays. You’ll pass some super cool wind turbines on your way to Thomas, which is the easiest village to get to. With only 500 residents, it’s a small town, but there is a lot going on! There is a main street full of artist shops with wood working, art and antiques, then stop into The Purple Fiddle for live music, freshly brewed beer, a family-friendly atmosphere and a diverse crowd of Marshall University students, hippies, locals and tourists. The venue itself is a converted General Store, complete with all of what you would imagine for ambiance. I love this place.
- Canaan Valley is 30 minutes beyond Thomas, WV and is home to great skiing at Snowshoe Mountain, white water rafting and hiking and camping at the Blackwater Falls State Park.
You can always get a fabulous breakfast, lunch and drink in Deep Creek, but a gourmet dinner is tougher to find. While the dinner options are improving, there are a few bright spots (our fave is the Cornish Manor for gourmet and Uno’s for reliably good food), but hopefully the restaurant scene will catch up with the real estate development there. Note: Since this is a vacation town, hours shift based on the seasons. As such I did not include them in this review.
- Canoe on the Run: This is our favorite place for breakfast and lunch, though their customer service leaves a lot to be desired. We have been there at least 1-2x per month for four years, and they never show a hint of recognition. The cinnamon buns are to die for, their salads are great, and their sandwiches and chili are awesome. 2622 Deep Creek Dr, McHenry, MD 21541; 301-387-5933.
- Trader’s Coffee House: The coffee is good, the atmosphere is great (lots of gifts, big leather chairs, you can boat to it and dock), free Wi-Fi, and the breakfast pastries are good enough. They have some good gelato choices too. Open daily at 7am. 21311 Garrett Highway, Oakland, MD 21550; 301-387-9246.
- Fireside Wine Shop & Deli: Walking into Fireside on a Saturday is both an escape and old home week (for the locals) at once. Great gourmet treats, excellent sandwiches (check out the British Cowboy, Meatball Sub or Turkey Swiss) and racks of great wine and beer from around the world. Stop in for their free wine tastings on Saturdays at 1pm. The owner, Mary Ellen, built it herself and knows her wine. Let her know that Caroline Holt sent you! 2205 Glendale Road, Swanton, MD 21561; 301-387-0083.
- Smiley’s Fun Zone: Great kid-friendly atmosphere and my favorite thick crust pizza in DCL. Try the Buffalo Chicken pizza. Plus there are arcades, batting cages, and mini-golf to incent your children to behave. 72 Fort Drive, McHenry, MD 21541; 301-387-0059.
- The Cornish Manor: While the name conjures up Cornish game hens for me, the food is the best in the area and the staff are remarkably kid-friendly. Great Italian and American fare in a restored home from the 1860s. Enjoy lunch or dinner on the covered porch for a particularly enjoyable evening. 830 Memorial Dr., Oakland, MD 21550; 301-334-6499.
- Mountain State Brewery: A recent addition to the DCL scene, MSB has games for kids (Connect Four, Checkers, Battleship) and great pizza, plus their own brews. It can take a while to get their wood-fired pizzas, so grab a seat on the patio or in the back room if they are open. 6690 Sang Run Rd., McHenry, MD 21541; 301-387-3360.
- Pizzeria Uno’s: Locals agree that Uno’s is the place to see/be seen and get a consistently good meal. It’s a chain, but seems like it’s got slightly better food and service than the other Uno’s I have visited. In addition to great sautéed veggies, and a rotating menu of great pizzas and entrees, you can get ALCOHOL on SUNDAYS (effective winter 2008). 19745 Garrett Highway, Oakland, MD 21541; 301-387-4866.
- Honi-Honi Bar: “The Honi” (pronounced “ho-knee”) is the place to see and be seen at the Lake. Situated right next to Uno’s, there is always a crowd and some fantastic people watching; particularly on holiday weekends. Live music, food you can depend on to be good and relatively prompt and your kids can go crazy on the giant pirate ship play structure, or run around on a 1-acre lawn. Happy hour specials most evenings from 4-6, self-serve fresh popcorn, live music & karaoke and a handful of frozen drink flavors rotating behind the bar. A little slice of summer all year long. 19745 Garrett Highway, Oakland, MD 21550 301-387-9100.
- Archie’s BBQ: New yet rustic. Delicious BBQ, awesome cornbread and divine Mac n cheese. And nice bathrooms, too. 25259 Garrett Highway McHenry, Maryland, 21541.
- Lakeside Creamery: Homemade ice cream and lines out the door that move quickly (which gives you just enough time to get some kettle corn or homemade fudge just across the parking lot). It’s lakeside dreamery! 20282 Garrett Hwy, Oakland, MD 21550.
- Arrowhead: While I can’t help but feel like everything is more expensive at Arrowhead, it is the nicest grocery stop in DCL. It has a remarkably good selection for a convenience store, you can boat or drive there (and get gasoline) and they have great wine, beer and prepared food. Note: You cannot buy alcohol in Garrett County on Sundays. 19746 Garrett Hwy, Oakland, MD 21550.
- Foodland: Your basic grocery store. VERY limited supply of organic food, but good for staples, and a nice bakery and deli. Make sure you check out the gourmet section off to the right just beyond the meat counter. 24586 Garrett Highway, McHenry, MD 21541; 301-387-4075.
- Wal-Mart: Sadly, Wal-Mart really is the place to get “e’rything”. For locals, it’s also the place to see and be seen. If you forget anything from diapers to your hunting rifle to your favorite perishable food items, you can find them here. 13164 Garrett Hwy, Oakland MD; 301-334-8400.
- Mountain Fresh Farmer’s Market: Get fresh produce, herbs, plants, baked goods, jams & jellies, personal care items, and crafts from local producers. Hours: 10-1 on Wednesdays & Saturdays July until November Town Park Lane & E. Oak Street (Off Rt. 39 & S. 2nd Sts) Oakland, MD 21550.
So whether you are looking for a romantic weekend getaway, a “staycation” for the family or a family reunion within a 3 hour drive, Deep Creek should have something fun for you!
Some Updates for 2012!
It has been a big year+ for Wisp. In addition to their great year-round activities, they have aded a host of new Segway tours, canopy tour for adults (“Flying Squirrel”) and kids (“Chipmunk Challenge”), Mountain Buggy Tours, Paint Ball, Skate Park and Scenic Chairlift Rides, Paddleboard tours, pontoon boat tours and a small (Pentagon Row-sized) ice skating rink. Specifically for kids, they have added “Squirrels Den” a large climbing structure at the base of the Mountain Coaster, Chipmunk Challenge and Gem Mining. According to their site, the Chipmunk Challenge is “built for children ages 4 and up weighing at least 40 pounds, it is a continuous belay system covering over 500 feet of cable featuring 2 zips and 6 obstacles along the way. “The Squirrels Den is a free roaming mini-course for the little ones to climb, slide, romp and play on. Beside the Squirrels Den is the Marsh Mountain Mining Company complete with a sluice and assay station. Miners will receive a bag of ‘Gem Mix’ to sift in the sluice. After their treasures are uncovered, they will evaluate them at the assay station to learn about what they have found.” Go online for more information.