Deep Creek Lake and the Wisp ski and golf resort are the most popular destinations for visitors to Garrett County, Maryland’s mountain county in the far western reach of the state, a three-plus-hour drive from Baltimore. But, away from the lake and its restaurants and amusements are other places, preserved in state parks and forests, worth getting on the itinerary next time you head for the hills.
Here are just a few, to the south and west of the lake, in the last stretch of Maryland before West Virginia.
Herrington Manor State Park: This is where you go if you want a lake experience without going to Deep Creek Lake. Gasoline-powered boats are prohibited, and most people who get on the water do so with kayak, canoe or paddle board. Rentals are available at the lodge, spring to fall, and the 53-acre lake is relatively shallow and usually placid. There’s a beach with a lifeguard in summer, and plenty of picnic tables with grills for cookouts. Herrington Manor has 20 furnished log cabins that the state rents all year. The park is a destination for cross-country skiers in winter.
Swallow Falls State Park: One of the most popular parks in Maryland, it has a hiking trail through an old-growth hemlock grove, down to the mighty Youghiogheny River, or Yough, pronounced “the Yoc,” for short. The park features the unfortunately-named Muddy Creek and the 53-foot Muddy Creek waterfall, the highest in the state. A wooden staircase takes you down to the confluence of Muddy Creek and the Yough, and from there the trail runs above the big river, with a couple of scenic overlooks, then loops back toward the upper ridge and the parking lot. If the water’s up in the Yough, you’re likely to see white-water kayakers plow through the rapids on their way downstream — and, odd as it might seem, downstream means north toward Pennsylvania. A second trail runs along the eastern side of the Yough. It does not attract as many hikers as the main trail, but offers some delicious views of the big river and some cool rock formations. The parking lot for the eastern trail access is outside the main entrance, on Swallow Falls Road, near the steel bridge over the Yough.
The Rock Maze: It was a local secret for a long time, with only what John Denning, manager of the state forests, called “user-generated trails” leading to it. But, in recent years, more visitors to Western Maryland have discovered this large and strange outcropping of boulders in the woods between Herrington Manor and Swallow Falls. Look for the small parking lot and trail sign off Snaggy Mountain Road, and look for Snaggy Mountain Road off Cranesville Road. Take the trail to the maze and have a walk through its cool corridors. Denning encourages leave-no-trace visits and discourages climbing because of the fragile root systems of trees that have grown in the big rocks.
Subarctic Swamp: It might seem strange to see this listed on a map of Maryland, but the Cranesville Swamp is just that — a peat bog left over from the last Ice Age. It’s a bit of a journey to get there, but it’s worth the trip to experience a landscape completely different from the Western Maryland mountains and forests. It gives you a glimpse of what a lot of North America looked like about 15,000 years ago. And, if you’re a fan of the Baltimore Ravens, a trek on the boardwalk through the bog gives you a chance of seeing the team’s namesake bird in the wild. To get there, take Cranesville Road to Lake Ford Road. The swamp is at the Maryland-West Virginia border.
Oakland: Maryland has 157 incorporated municipalities, most of them far outside the Baltimore area. So, if you yearn for small-town experiences — church services and events, chicken barbecues, a diner-style breakfast or lunch, shopping in a good hardware store or collectibles shop, annual parades — pay a visit to the Garrett County seat. Oakland, a few miles south of Deep Creek on Route 219, would be a contender for Maryland’s Most Small Town-like Small Town. The Saturday farmers’ market runs from June through October; be prepared to wait in line a bit when the summer peaches arrive. The town’s annual Autumn Glory festival (Oct. 9- 13) is in its 52nd year, and includes parades and concerts in celebration of the fall foliage that lights up the vast landscapes east and west of Route 219. Oakland has an almost never-miss Goodwill thrift store and, on its downtown streets — Second and Alder, in particular — you’ll find an intimate bookshop, a clothing store, restaurants, a couple of museums and a new-and-vintage vinyl shop that opened last summer.
Sang Run State Park: This 81-acre park opened in 2017, and it’s built around an old country store a short walk from the Yoc. It sits in a shady grove of trees at the intersection of Oakland-Sang Run Road and Sang Run Road. It’s a good place to have a few simple, old-timey experiences — to take a hayride through a meadow, to see apple butter and cider being made (in the fall), to do some bird watching and identifying, to catch the action in a pollinator garden, and to get some penny candy or ice cream. If you walk across the road, past a community pavilion and toward the Yough, you’ll come upon a wooden bench. Sit there and watch the river flow. Great place to be at sunset.