Deep Creek Lake State Park, Maryland
“Where the heck is Deep Creek Lake?” is a common response I get after I tell friends about my recent visit to a camp-and-boat destination high atop the Allegheny Plateau in Maryland’s western panhandle.
I have to admit, that was my initial reaction as well. A lifelong resident of the Midwest, I was confident I knew of every major family-friendly camping destination east of the
Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon Line, and Deep Creek Lake was nowhere on that list, let alone on the tip of my tongue when talk turned to camping.
But now, after having spent a three-day weekend camping on its shores, boating its waters and exploring the Maryland countryside, you can’t shut me up about the place.
I actually saved some face when I learned that Deep Creek Lake is just south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and, therefore, somewhat below my Midwestern radar. However, having visited the centrally located, easily accessed western Maryland reservoir, I am still amazed that more people don’t know about the place.
At 3900 acres, Deep Creek is Maryland’s largest lake, and offers wooded campsites in a secluded state park along the lake’s shore. The lake is a dozen miles south of Interstate 68 along U.S. Route 219, tucked between the 3000-foot-plus Meadow and Marsh mountains. Sitting at nearly 2500 feet above sea level, the lake stretches 12 miles southeast from the area’s hub — the village of McHenry on the extreme north end of the reservoir. Built 76 years ago to supply water and electricity to the region, Deep Creek Lake is fed by several tributaries (known as “runs” in this part of Maryland), and feeds the national wild and scenic-designated Youghiogheny River.
Due to the mountainous terrain and the multiple valleys and watersheds that feed it, Deep Creek’s shoreline is as erratic as it is lengthy, with 65 miles of coves and quiet places. On the other hand, there are stretches of shoreline that are highly developed, offering their own appeal to campers who want a touch of civilization.
Deep Creek Lake State Park, with 1118 acres centered on the lake’s northern side, is the major camping area of the lake. Each of the 112 campsites is approximately 24×24 feet; 26 of the sites offer electrical hookups, but no water is available on-site. Basic campsites cost $22 per night; those with electricity are $27. You may reserve the campsites up to a year in advance — a major bonus for long-term planning.
The park offers an improved, multilane boat-launch ramp, and there are boat slips set aside for campers’ use. Deep Creek Lake State Park offers a wonderful, sandy swimming beach, several picnic areas and 10 miles of hiking and biking trails. Interpretive programs are offered at the Discovery Center throughout the year.
In fact, the park’s list of organized activities for children and adults is astounding, with programs on everything from identifying local insects to fly-casting for fish. Park personnel organize bug hunts, hayrides, butterfly hikes and special “Kid’s Night Out” programs. Plus, the park offers horseback riding, hiking and mountain bike tours, just to name a few of the more “active” pursuits that happen at Deep Creek Lake State Park. Winter brings snowmobile enthusiasts to the park, who get to enjoy a trail specifically designed for snowmobiling.
We found the park to be a welcome basecamp with roomy sites, plenty of cool woodlands for leg-stretching treks, and a great place to let the kids run around. The teens in our party used the beach as a daytime hangout, and the toddlers loved the playground equipment.
The most highly developed area is the 3-mile length of shoreline by the lake’s center, located between the two bridges that span the reservoir along U.S. Route 219 (also known as Garrett Highway). Between Deep Creek Bridge and the Glendale Bridge you’ll find stores, restaurants and even an eight-screen movie theater just a short walk from the 48 public boat docks at Thayerville Cove. The docks are owned by the proprietors of the Uno’s restaurant and the unique Honi-Honi Bar, which overlooks a broad lawn that gently slopes down to the waterfront. On the lawn is a full-sized fiberglass elephant, a giant fiberglass whale and a landlocked pirate ship that was put there to the delight of children who can climb and play while still remaining under the watchful eyes of parents on the restaurant’s decks.
Watersports of every kind — including canoeing, sailing, skiing and power boating — are very popular at Deep Creek during the summer camping season, and a half a dozen waterfront marinas cater to boaters and their craft.
The countryside around Deep Creek Lake offers activities galore. While I enjoyed the great native brook trout angling in nearby Bear Creek, several members of our party went horseback riding at one of the four nearby stables.
Although we didn’t take advantage of either opportunity, you can take to the greens adjacent to Deep Creek Lake at The Golf Club at Wisp (which is rated among the top 500 places to play in America by Golf Digest), or you can go for a short drive and shoot the rapids with outfitters on the Youghiogheny River, which offers 23 Class IV-plus rapids.
The fishing at Deep Creek Lake can be good, too, and we got into some yellow perch and pickerel during several evenings while drifting minnows in the shallows at the lake’s southern end. The lake is famous for its trout and walleye fishing and holds Maryland state records for yellow perch, northern pike and bluegill.
There was so much to do so close at hand that by day’s end, we were perfectly content to sit down and cool our heels at the campsite shaded by a canopy of hardwoods, while watching the last rays of light reflect across the serene surface of Deep Creek Lake.