Exploring winter’s majesty in Maryland’s Garrett County

Reed Hellman

Snowmaking at Wisp Resort is serious business. (Wisp Resort)

Two centuries ago, a hardy band of explorers—the hivernans, or “winterers”— helped to open America’s newly purchased western wilderness. Accustomed to living in the mountains during the cold months, the hivernans experienced winter’s majesty and earned their standing as mountaineers. 

Today, Mid-Atlantic hivernans can explore winter in their own “western wilderness” in Maryland’s Garrett County.

Maryland’s westernmost county rises to 3,360 feet above sea level and averages 10 feet of snow each winter. Taking advantage of the Allegheny Mountains’ general north-south orientation, Wisp Resort is Maryland’s ski and snowboarding venue, with a vertical drop of 700 feet and 34 slopes and trails totaling 11 miles. More than 90 percent of the terrain is open for night skiing and riding. Wisp has one of the world’s most energy-efficient snowmaking systems, which keeps 90 percent of the resort’s skiable terrain snow covered throughout the winter.

Also at Wisp

Not everyone skis or rides, and even ardent downhill people occasionally seek out other adventures. 

Take a snowmobile tour in Garrett County’s snowy winter scenery. (Wisp Resort)

At Wisp, its Adventure Park offers snow tubing, a mountain coaster, and ice skating. The Nordic Center’s cross-country skiing and snowshoeing add more winter attractions. Snow tubing is an exhilarating alternative to skiing or snowboarding down the mountain; Wisp supplies the tube, no lessons or equipment are needed, and there is no long hike back up the mountain. 

Wisp also has inaugurated its new Escape Game. Players gathered in a room must work as a problem-solving team, using clues and hints to escape the room in a set amount of time. 

The Lodge at Wisp offers slope-side living in 102 suites and 67 guest rooms. Special packages include various outdoor activities and accommodations.

State park fun

While Wisp’s Nordic Center focuses on cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, Garrett County’s state parks also maintain groomed cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails. 

Herrington Manor State Park has 10 miles of beginning- to intermediate-level trails running into the adjoining Garrett State Forest. Also, a 5.5-mile trail connects through to Swallow Falls State Park. The park trails are track-set when conditions allow. 

New Germany State Park has 10 miles of multi-purpose trails that can challenge cross-country skiers of all abilities. Beginners can enjoy the flat, open “turnpikes” while winding hillside trails can give a workout to experienced skiers. 

Savage River State Forest also offers groomed cross-country skiing trails. Snowshoe tours are available at Deep Creek Lake State Park, Swallow Falls State Park, Herrington Manor State Park, and Potomac-Garrett State Forest.

Take a sleigh ride

Garrett County’s snowbound winter landscape also lends itself to horse-drawn sleigh rides. 

Circle R Ranch has offered horseback riding for years, and added carriage and sleigh rides. Enjoy a classic “one-horse open sleigh” drawn by Circle R’s majestic Percherons and Clydesdales, as you snuggle down under the warmth of the sleigh blankets. Private sleigh rides are available, as well as horseback riding if weather conditions permit.

At Pleasant Valley Dream Rides, you can take a step back in time by enjoying a carriage or winter sleigh ride through the countryside of Pleasant Valley. Enjoy a tractor-drawn hayride or tour the dairy farm.

Even the mountain men of the 1820s enjoyed an occasional “rendezvous” and trip to town. Oakland, the county seat and designated Main Street community, has a downtown known for its pedestrian-friendly shopping, restaurants, and historical sites. 

The Garrett County Arts Council operates The Gallery Shop, highlighting the fine arts and crafts from regional artists, such as paintings, photographs, pottery, knit goods, blown glass, and more. 

The Garrett County Museum of Transportation displays a large collection of historic vehicles and transportation items. Directly across the street, the B&O History Museum in a Queen Anne-style station still faces onto active railroad tracks.

Contemporary hivernans can discover cold weather beauty in Garrett County, be it while racing downhill or tucked under sleigh blankets behind a team of horses. Along with the outdoor splendor, interesting and welcoming communities add another dimension to this winter adventure. 

For more information

Garrett Co. Tourism: visitdeepcreek.com 

Maryland State Parks: dnr.state.md.us/publiclands

Wisp Resort: wispresort.com


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