Weekend Adventure At Wisp Mountain Resort, Maryland
We’re always looking for getaways that are both fun and affordable. Looking for a mountain getaway to escape the Mid Atlantic seaboard and its summer heat, we came across a deal at Wisp Resort; two nights for two, five mountain activities each, for $354 inclusive. Mr. Five Family Adventurer decided to take the youngest adventurer for the weekend.
Wisp is located at the western tip of Maryland, about a three hour drive from both Baltimore and Washington DC. It’s a small resort on a small mountain (about 700 feet of vertical). Both are a stone’s throw from Deep Creek Lake, a popular destination for watersports. Over the past few years, Wisp has built up their offerings to make it a year-round destination.
Arriving late on Friday, we checked in quickly before grabbing a pretty unremarkable dinner in McHenry, a five-minute drive from the resort. The lodge was renovated in 2015; our room was perfunctory but immaculate. The layout of our Queen Deluxe was a two-room suite, with a pull-down Murphy bed in one room, the bed in the other. Upon checking in, we were given two vouchers for the “High-5” passes.
We woke up to a remarkably beautiful summer morning, with cool air (at 2500 ft. elevation) and blue skies. Breakfast was cereal, yogurt, pastries, fruit, juice, and coffee. The youngest adventurer and I ate on the outdoor deck and then walked a few hundred yards down the mountain from the lodge to the Mountain Park. The park opens at 10:00 am. There, we filled out waiver forms and exchanged our vouchers for the High 5 passes.
The High 5 pass is essentially a punch card for the activities of your choosing. You can select one of the following: Mountain coaster ride, chairlift ride, orienteering, disc golf, and the Chipmunk Challenge ropes course. We headed over to the Chipmunk Challenge first. We were strapped into harnesses and helmets, and then attached to a guide wire. The course is about 15-20 feet above ground. It’s a bit physically challenging but you can do the course with your kids. In our case, rather than me helping our son, it gave him a chance to laugh at me as I negotiated the course.
Wisp Mountain Coaster
The mountain coaster was the big surprise for me. I’d been on so many tepid versions, that I didn’t hold out much hope. We first took separate carts for our first ride. The view up the mountain is great, as the coaster pulls the carts at an impressively steep angle up the mountain. On each side of the cars are levers that allow you to adjust speed, as well as brake. In short: the coaster is fast. The curves are tight. It’s a real-deal thrill. We loved it so much, we immediately did it a second time, this time riding together. That made the cart heavier, and the ride even faster.
Chairlift to the Top
We passed on the orienteering, as the grass was high on most of the course, and the staff warned us that this was a particularly active Timber Rattlesnake season. Instead, we hopped on the chairlift. It’s a nice ride. We saw mountain bikers take their bikes up the mountain. An extensive network of trails crisscrosses the mountain, and the chairlift allows more time on them and no work climbing.
At the top of the mountain, we explored and came across the Adventure Sports Center International (ASCI). I had read about the installation: using the water reservoir for their snowmaking equipment, Wisp built an Olympic-spec whitewater course. I’d mentioned it previously to my young adventurer, and neither of us were enthused about an artificial course after doing the real thing in Canaan Valley, West Virginia. But after seeing it, we changed our mind. It’s got both decent size and rapids. We walked in and booked for an afternoon excursion on a 6-person raft. This is not part of the High 5 package.
After booking, we decided to run down the mountain (literally). We then grabbed lunch at Canoe on the Run in McHenry. This sandwich shop is ideal for a family lunch. Pick your lunch at the counter and then take a seat. The restaurant has salads, high quality sandwiches, and quesadillas. As/more importantly, it also has a coffee bar and baked goods. The banana, oatmeal, and chocolate chip cookie was especially good.
White Water Rafting
We drove up the other side of the mountain to ASCI’s parking lot. Bring closed-toe water shoes or an extra pair of sneakers. We didn’t pack either and didn’t want to waterlog our only shoes, so we rented neoprene booties instead. The guides fitted us for vests and helmets, and then we were assigned to our rafts. Our guide was Jay, and he gave everyone an overview of basic rafting safety and how to paddle. We took some practice paddling in the downhill basin before maneuvering the raft onto the conveyer that took us to the course.
The course has a several rapids. After a few short sections of white water, we paddled to the side of the course. Jay encouraged us all to take turns jumping into the rapids (which we did). On the next loop, we jumped into a longer and faster section of rapids. In total, we paddled four loops. This included “surfing,” one section. This is when the raft is paddled into a section where the hydraulics keep it against the current. Overall, this is a superb introduction to white water rafting, especially for families with younger rafters. For the more experienced, it’s a fun afternoon of water and paddling.
After heading back to the room and washing up, we hit the mountain coaster again (this was a huge hit for the young adventurer). Then we went out for some dinner. You’ll do well heading over to Mountain State Brewing Company and sitting on the back patio. The view of the hills (and a spectacular sunset) make it a beautiful setting. If you brought your dog, the patio is Fido-friendly. An acoustic band played while we looked at the menu and scenery. The beer selection is strong, and nearly all local, craft beers (Mountain State brews in West Virginia). The kitchen specializes in pizzas, which were solid. We went with the Mushroom Medley and the Meat Lover pizzas.
In the morning, we headed back to the Mountain Center for the Flying Squirrel Canopy Tour. If you want the first tour of the day (10 am), my suggestion is to book it the day before and then come early. We arrived exactly at 10 am and had to beg to be added to it. The Canopy Tour itself is a series of zip lines, with a few short rope bridges interspersed. Our guides were truly terrific, and the course runs smoothly. One notable feature that’s kid friendly is the use of braking devices, so that the course can be ridden hands-free. This attraction is also not included in the High 5 package, and the cost can become steep for a family.
We headed back, midday, after zip lining. Putting together the High 5 items, zip lining, and white water rafting, we ended up with a terrific weekend of activities and bonding. Think about how you can configure the weekend according to your needs. The High 5 pass is available without staying at the lodge. The many ski condos nearby mean that you may score a better deal with AirBnB or VRBO. Deep Creek Lake offers canoeing, boating, and water skiing; none of which we had a chance to experience. At Wisp, keep in mind also the mountain biking. Remember, little trips are important too for a family to spend time together.
One more diversion (or stop) for the grownups and some kids: In nearby town of Accident (yes, that’s really the name) is the tasting room for Firefly Farms, an artisanal cheese maker. Firefly Farms specializes in goat cheese, and makes some award-winning examples. You can pick up a selection of cheese, condiments, bread, and adult and kid beverages for a picnic, stock up on your way home, or make a special trip for a tasting of wine and cheese pairings. Nonalcoholic pairings are available as well. If that’s of interest, call ahead since the tastings are scheduled and need to be reserved in advance.
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