“Any day I get to be on a bike is a good day,” said Clark Lanthier, my mountain bike instructor, as we zipped along a smooth paved road bordering Wisp Resort in Maryland’s Garrett County. With a fresh breeze in our faces and warm sun on our backs, Clark and I were all smiles as we rode through the verdant countryside.
Moments earlier, I hadn’t exactly been grinning from ear to ear as I navigated my bike down a steep slope strewn with softball-sized rocks. Besides attempting to steer around the rocks, I was also trying to keep from flying over my handlebars. As a first-time mountain biker, I was just learning the tricky balance between applying front and rear brakes to your wheels. Too much on the front, and you’ll flip headfirst into the nearest tree.
Every few minutes, daredevil kids would come crashing down the trail, and Clark and I would pull over and watch them zing by. Then I’d climb back on my bike, grit my teeth, and ever-so-slowly begin making my way to the bottom of the mountain. After a couple slips and slides—but thankfully no falls—I decided to stop pressing my luck and dismounted, wondering what I was doing on a mountain bike at my age.
The answer was because I wanted to. Last June I jumped at the chance to visit Wisp Resort and try off-road mountain biking, white water rafting, jet skiing, mountain buggying, and more. I’d visited Wisp Resort in McHenry, Maryland, last winter and enjoyed their fabulous snow sports. Now I was returning to see what the Deep Creek Lake region and Wisp Resort have to offer visitors the other three seasons. I discovered this destination is truly a four-season paradise.
PUFFY WHITE CLOUDS
Garrett County, Maryland’s westernmost county, is about a six-hour drive from Virginia Beach. Snuggled up against West Virginia, this is a side of Maryland most folks don’t realize exists. In winter, visitors stream to the region for snow sports, like skiing, ice fishing, even dog sledding. But during the summer, Deep Creek Lake is the big draw, offering sportsmen and women alike countless opportunities for recreation—from boating to fishing to swimming in the lake.
The best way to get an overview of the region is to climb aboard Wisp Resort’s scenic chairlift for a peaceful journey up and down the mountain. Riding by myself one day, I relished the chance to sit and enjoy the warm sun and the sweet smell of mountain air as a panorama of extraordinary beauty slowly glided by. A deep blue sky with puffy white clouds provided the perfect backdrop for Deep Creek Lake, which stretched westward for miles bordered by the Allegheny Mountains.
Another way, albeit less peaceful, to conquer the mountain is the mountain coaster ride. A 1300-ft. uphill track brings you slowly up the slope in your coaster cart. Then you head down along 3500 feet of twisting, turning track, regulating your speed with a hand brake. After my first try, I decided to fly on down sans brakes. What a thrill. I could have ridden the coaster a dozen times. I loved feeling like a kid again. In fact, that’s what this trip was becoming for me: the chance to let loose, have fun, try new things, and let my grown-up cares blow away.
So I headed for Deep Creek Marina to try jet skiing. I know it’s hard to believe that as a Virginia Beach resident, I’d never jet skied before. I guess it always seemed noisy and maybe a little frightening. But on this trip, I decided to give it a try—and guess what? I loved it! Scudding across Deep Creek Lake, slowly increasing my speed as my comfort level grew, I experienced exhilaration truly different from anything else I’d done. There’s a sense of freedom to be found when you’re on a small watercraft, totally in charge of where, when, and how far you go. On my jet ski, I explored little hidden coves, slowing down to admire lakefront homes and wave at other boaters. Then I blasted across large expanses of the lake, going as fast as I dared to go.
Another Wisp Resort activity that appealed to me was mountain buggying. A cross between a go-kart and an ATV, mountain buggies are your ticket to extreme off-road fun. At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to drive one by myself, but decided to try it—and I was hooked. Rocking and rolling over bumpy trails, sloshing through mud, and seeing nature from a new perspective made this tour worth dealing with a few back-crunching jolts and splattered mud on my clothes. It’s down-and-dirty fun anyone will enjoy.
If you’re more into peaceful, sedate activities, not to worry. You can opt to join a trail ride at nearby Western Trails Riding Stable. Or go for a hike in one of the lush state parks in the region. Fishermen and women can try their luck at fly fishing. And boaters who prefer to use their own muscle power can take a kayak tour on Deep Creek Lake.
For another kind of adrenaline-pumping water sport, head to Adventure Sports Center International on top of Wisp Mountain, where you’ll find an artificial whitewater rafting course. Giant boulders line the circular course, and up to 250,000 gallons of water crash through per minute. Six wave-shapers can adjust the rapids from Class II to Class IV, and adventurers can traverse the course on a raft or kayak.
I opted to join a group of rafters for my first-ever experience whitewater rafting. It was always something I longed to try, but being somewhat cautious by nature, I could never quite bring myself to do it. This closed course and controlled environment looked like the perfect place to give whitewater rafting a chance. So I donned my splash top and river boots and climbed aboard the raft, butterflies bumping around in my stomach as I watched the rapids’ fury unfurl before me.
Just like with all the other extreme—well, at least for me—experiences I’d been enjoying, whitewater rafting proved to be unforgettable fun. Equipped with paddles, the other rafters and I followed our guide’s instructions and succeeded in maintaining a forward trajectory for most the course. But swirling around and going backwards at times was part of the fun. Rafting is like a roller coaster or a bucking bronco on water, and trust me, after one journey around the course, you’ll be raring for more.
After these exhilarating activities, I was ready for some R & R. Sewickley Spa at Wisp Resort is the ideal haven for unwinding after outdoor fun. Allow time for the steam room before your appointment, where you can melt into the white fog and let the steam nourish and purify your skin. Afterwards try the Swedish massage and emerge refreshed and ready for new adventures.
You’ll find culinary adventures both on and off the resort. D.C.’s is Wisp’s signature restaurant, where crab cakes are king, and their succulent tenderloin is a close second. Make sure you try the Chesapeake Benedict for breakfast at D.C.’s. Also on the resort is the Pumphouse Cafe, which overlooks the whitewater rafting course. Here you can enjoy a casual sandwich and delicious hot soup.
In nearby Oakland, try the Silver Tree Inn for exquisite cuisine and beautiful views of the lake. I ordered the rack of lamb, prepared with a dusting of cocoa and chipotle, a combination that complemented the tasty well-prepared lamb, Other entrees included a variety of seafood and pasta dishes. After dinner enjoy a drink and, if you’re lucky, views of the sunset from your perch in the cozy Harbor Bar.
Back in McHenry, you can satisfy your craving for Southwestern fare at Santa Fe Grille & Cantina. Or head up the road a piece to Archies for the best BBQ this side of the Mason-Dixon line. Succulent smoked sandwiches and homemade sides are the specialty at Archies, and the smoked chicken wings are a unique taste treat.
Accommodations at Wisp Resort range from the Wisp Resort Hotel and Conference Center to luxury mountaintop villas available to rent for a weekend or longer. Wisp Resort is currently developing Mountain Village, an upscale neighborhood on top of the mountain, which promises a pedestrian-friendly ambience and state-of-the-art luxury homes.
After coming down off the steep downhill biking trails, my instructor and I enjoyed some sedate biking around the resort. I admitted that mountain biking was probably not my sport, but Clark, ever the optimist, encouraged me to keep practicing and come back one day for another go. I think I will. Enjoying the outdoor (and indoor) activities last summer at Wisp Resort convinced me that it’s never too late to try new things. We should all get in touch with our inner children every once a while, and Wisp Resort—no matter what season of the year—is the perfect place to do it.