Deep Creek Lake: Maryland’s Lake Tahoe

“The boat is SINKING,” shouted one friend.

I wavered. I froze. How do I protect my CAMERA, I worried, as the water from Deep Creek Lake was rushing into the boat. Kids were scurrying, wives were shouting, another barked “GRAB MY PHONE!” to her husband.

I was paralyzed and once again realized that I totally suck in crisis, only to look to the back of the pontoon boat and notice my husband calmly sitting there holding our 2 girls with the water still gushing into the front of the boat.

As it turns out, on a sunny, extremely humid day in Maryland’s lovely Deep Creek Lake, a pontoon boat CAN almost sink….with 8 adults and 8 young girls aboard.

And many of us gravitated towards saving our electronics and scaring the young kids instead of remaining calm in crisis…

In the end, we didn’t sink. And most of the kids were indifferent to our near-sinking experience but so began our amazing 3-day weekend in Deep Creek, our second annual trip over labor day with some of our best friends, all of whom we met at preschool.

If your kid is just starting preschool, be forewarned that those people standing there awkwardly with you on back-to-school night just might soon become the friends you couldn’t imagine not having, the people you will vacation with, the parents of the friends you hope your kids keep for the rest of their lives.

My husband was born and raised in Montgomery County and he long claimed that Deep Creek Lake is Maryland’s Lake Tahoe. I was highly suspicious until we went for the first time two years ago in the fall. After that trip, I knew I had to go back in the summer and so last year over Labor Day 3 couples and 9 young kids packed up into a hoard of minivans and SUVs and headed to our piece of paradise around the lake, a beautiful rented home that met our criteria of: Lake access, a hot tub and a fire pit for s’mores. That trip was the highlight of my summer and we all agreed to head back again this year. Only this time our tastes were more discerning and we were more experienced with how to spend our precious few days. We also added another preschool family to the brood, therefore we needed a bigger house for our group of 16.

This time we knew we wanted to be on the lake, we wanted to rent a boat (one that preferably wouldn’t sink), we still wanted the hot tub and s’mores fire pit and plenty of room for the kids.

Our rental house in Deep Creek

We ended up with a 7 bedroom, 6 bathroom house with a private dock and a nice view of the lake though it was, unfortunately, largely blocked by trees.  The price tag was about $700 per family for 3 nights. Last year it was about 20 degrees cooler up at the lake than it was in DC. It felt as though a three-hour drive transported us forward to mid-October and we loved it. The chilly nights in the hot tub surrounded by large pine trees, s’mores toasting over a crisp crackling fire and clear star-filled skies were the highlight.

This year, it was like we were transported from cool and not-humid spring to the dog days of July. It was suffocating humidity and too hot for the hot tub or fire pit – we resorted to toasting s’mores in the oven..and one husband packed just one pair of shorts because we were packed for October, not July. The lesson: make no assumptions about the weather in Deep Creek. The warmer weather, however, justified the expense of renting a boat and spending the day cruising the lake.

So for about $300 for a full-day rental, we packed lunches, a cooler filled with beverages and loaded up into the pontoon boat to soak in the views of the lake. The boat rentals are on a first-come, first-serve basis, so I’d recommend getting  motivated and out the door first thing to maximize the day-rate price. Rentals are also available for half-day, or 4 hour, options. After some time boating (and almost sinking), the kids loved the lunch break at the state park, including playing in the sand and in the lake. Later in the afternoon,  a real highlight for the adults involved boating over to the popular Honi-Honi bar, one of two watering holes by the lake.

The Honi-Honi is a must-stop for anyone traveling to Deep Creek for the weekend. 

Babes at the Honi Honi

None of us were sure why someone in our area hasn’t figured out this key to success but this bar offered patrons a (barely adequate) live band, extensive outdoor seating, tiki hut canopies for shade coverage, a cash-only make-shift bar by the expansive grassy area that borders the docks and lake, and large  concrete animals meant for kids to climb all over to keep them busy while mommy and daddy drink chat with their friends. It’s brilliant. But you don’t just go to the Honi-Honi for a drink or for its kid-friendly outdoor space. You go to the Honi-Honi to soak in the  smorgasbord of people and clothing styles. The place is a veritable time machine to the 80s and the people watching shouldn’t be missed. 

After a cool drink at the Honi-Honi, with two husbands back at the house bathing the kids (note: bring your manny’s for a trip to Deep Creek), the rest of us opted to jump off the boat for a cool dip in the lake.  I, for one, was deeply resistant to jumping into a lake where I couldn’t see what was waiting for me under the gray waters, but after caving to peer pressure and donning a super cool life vest, the crisp refreshing water  felt amazing on the hot day – and again – how often do you jump off boats with some great friends after a jaunt to the Honi-Honi? There was no better way to celebrate the end of summer than our day Saturday on the lake.

With Sunday brought questions from the group, should we rent the boat again? Could we resist docking at the Honi-Honi (which is, notably, accessible by vehicle).  Ultimately we concluded that because our group of kids are young (average age 5), we thought they didn’t have another boat day in the them and we opted to head to Wisp Mountain. Since last year, they built a fabulous playground on Wisp Mountain for the kids, along with a rope climbing area (that cost about $30 per kid). Adults can zipline or mountain bike. The Mountain (roller)Coaster was a must-hit for the group based on last year’s experience and we enjoyed the chairlift to the top of the mountain, so for $49, my husband purchased the family pack, which enabled all 4 of us to ride to the top of the mountain and all 4 of us to ride the Mountain Coaster. Initially, the line for the Mountain Coaster was about 30 minutes long, and with our 2.5 year-old growing weary, we opted to break from the pack and head to the chairlift.

Last year, the wind whipped and the temperature continued to drop as we inched our way to the top of the mountain.

Boaters on the white water course on Wisp Mt

 This year, the humidity didn’t budge and there was no wind to be found. Because we weren’t freezing, we actually had a great time walking around to check out the ski trails and then headed over to the Adventure Sports side of the mountain where they built a white-water rafting course. The course looked amazing but unfortunately you have to be 50lbs or more, so it’ll be a few years for us. I would  highly recommend it for parents seeking adventure with older kids. The course is open from May-October and you can also kayak and go river boarding.

Tstorms rolled in later on Sunday afternoon and hanging around the house ended up being a great way to pass the time and enjoy our last full day on the lake. We concluded that, again, because of the young ages of our kids, we didn’t need a 7 bedroom house for next year – what we need is a house with 4 master bedrooms and then we can keep the kids in our rooms. This particular house was set-up for the kids to be in the basement, complete with bunk bed rooms and a tv room and plenty of space to play. Turns out most of the kids had no interest in sleeping 1-2 floors away from their parents in a strange house. We also learned to inquire about the depth of the lake from the dock of the rented house. In our case, the water was really shallow and rocky, therefore we would never have allowed any of the kids to jump off the dock into the lake. Just docking the boat was tricky.  Every year we learn more about what to ask before renting a house.

With Monday came rain and the cool air we remembered from the previous year. If it weren’t raining, we would have likely headed over to Swallow Falls State Park, about 15 minutes from the lake, to hike and soak in the sweeping views of Maryland’s largest waterfall, at 53 feet. We hiked Swallow Falls in the fall two years ago and my eldest was in awe of the waterfall and trees sprouting from rocks on our paths.

Overall, if you haven’t ventured to Deep Creek Lake, I urge you to add it to the top of your list. The range of homes available for rent make it an affordable get-away and though it’s only 3 hours from DC, it feels like you’ve traveled to the Pacific Northwest with the pine trees and mountain views. The leaves will start turning much earlier than here and this weekend, the lake temperature was as warm as the ocean in Bethany two weeks ago.  Also, unlike heading to our beautiful beaches on the Eastern Shore, a trip to Deep Creek doesn’t require strategic planning to avoid traffic.

 You better believe our brood of 16 will be heading up for the third annual trip Labor Day 2012…look for us at the Honi-Honi.  In the  meantime, I am anxious to test out Deep Creek as a winter destination, which we plan to do this year. Look for my post later this week reviewing the fabulous parenting tips I picked up from the other moms this weekend, along with some of the delicious recipes (think black bean dip, curry couscous, tomato soup with basil and crushed bacon), book recommendations and other awesome insights after a few rounds of Flip Cup on the deck.

Don't leave home without your manny's...

If you’re interested in more information about Deep Creek, this site is a pretty good resource. Here’s a link to upcoming events in Deep Creek. And if searching for a house, I’d use Railey Realty or Long and Foster.  Don’t forget to subscribe to the WM blog by entering your email address or “Like” the Wired Momma FB page…I will be posting more great reviews for fall events…among other fun topics.

2 Responses to Deep Creek Lake: Maryland’s Lake Tahoe
  1. […] I saw my friends later that evening (note: these are the sister wives from the annual Deep Creek trip who have failed to deliver on their promises of delicious recipes for me to share with my beloved […]

  2. […] though we literally almost sank our boat last year, it is absolutely a must-do when heading to Deep Creek in the summer. (Rent a pontoon boat, that […]

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