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In the mountains of western Maryland, Deep Creek Lake is the kind of retreat that calls for repeat visits. From June through August, the area is a picture of summer done right, with swimmers diving off of docks into the vast lake, and kayakers gliding across it in search of quiet coves. In fall, the action moves from the lake to mountains, as visitors wind through scenic backroads taking in the fall foliage. Winter usually brings upward of 100 inches of snow, drawing both downhill and cross-country skiers. And when the snow melts in spring, it reveals miles of hiking and biking trails along the river and through the woods.
Though it’s fairly remote, Deep Creek Lake does have several major cities within a few hundred miles. Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) is about a two-hour drive away. In the D.C. area, Baltimore Washington International (BWI), Ronald Reagan Washington National (DCA), and Washington Dulles International (IAD) are each a little over a three-hour drive away, depending on traffic. Rent a car at the airport. If you’re coming during winter, you may need snow tires.
In summer, the climate stays in the ideal pocket of upper 70s to low 80s Fahrenheit with little humidity (there are occasional showers, but they pass through quickly). Fall weather is markedly crisp and can be unpredictable, with temperatures from the 30s to the 60s. In the winter, bring your warmest coats and layers: Temperatures average in the 30s and 40s, but often dip below zero too. Spring warms up to the 50s and 60s, with the most rain of the year (tapering off in May); pack a rain jacket and shoes that you don’t mind getting muddy.
Many people visit this 3,900-acre man-made lake seeking serenity, be it by kayak, paddleboard, or boat. But the lake is also a natural amusement park, one where you can shoot across the water on jet skis or in an inner tube towed by a motor boat. Swimmers can get lake access via the public beach at Deep Creek Lake State Park. For gear rentals or tours, most outfitters are based in the towns of McHenry or Oakland.
Of all the wilderness to explore in the area—Garrett County has seven state parks—Swallow Falls should be on the top of your list. Many of its trails follow the river, so wear a swimsuit under your hiking clothes so you can take breaks in the calmer sections of water. An easy 1¼-mile hike takes you to the park’s main attraction, the 53-foot Muddy Creek Falls waterfall.
Serious whitewater rafting enthusiasts from all over the country come to southern Pennsylvania to conquer the Youghiogheny River’s IV and V rapids, including the notorious Meat Cleaver, a gnarly stretch of falls that bends through a maze of jagged boulders. Unless you really know what you’re doing, stick to the Middle Yough and section and enjoy a more leisurely experience.