If you have been at the lake this winter, you probably noticed that we have not had much of a winter.  It’s been cold but there has been a serious lack of snowfall. Now that the calendar is turning to March, if Mother Nature is not going to send us any snow, then I am ready for spring! So, when the weather turned warm the last week of February, I decided to venture outside and take a hike.

I wanted to walk a trail I had not been on before and one I hoped would not be too difficult. I chose part of the Meadow Mountain trail – the one with a trailhead on Route 495 just north of New Germany Road.  It did not disappoint. The sign said it was about 1.5 miles to the overlook. The trail was flat and in great condition the first half mile. After that the trail was not groomed but well-marked and easy to follow. Only the last half mile or so was a bit of a climb but not difficult and when I reached the overlook, the view was fantastic. It was a clear, beautiful day and the mountains to the east spread out before me in all their majesty. Not very colorful, but I promised myself to go back often during the year to observe how the landscape changes. There is actually a shorter, much easier trail to the overlook from the trailhead on Frank Brenneman Road (off New Germany Road).

Garrett County is known for the many trails she offers. Seems like everyone goes to Swallow Falls and hikes that trail- and for good reason. Muddy Creek Falls is an iconic destination in the county.  But there are so many more trails to hike with options ranging from difficult (think Backbone Mountain High Point – https://www.eastcoasthiker.com/trails/backbonemd/) to easy/handicap accessible, like the Loch Lynn Wetland walking trail. http://www.garretttrails.org/loch-lynn-trail.html

For the ‘vacation hikers’, I offer some suggestions for trails that are a bit easier to navigate so everyone in your group can participate if they want to.

Deep Creek Lake Lions Park on Bumble Bee Road (next to HART) offers easy trails (officially the Meshach Browning Trail) with little to some elevation change and stream crossings, depending on the trail you take (there are five in all). The entire loop of trails is about 3.3 miles. There is a fenced dog park located here and the trails are dog-friendly. There are trail maps available at the Visitor Center in McHenry or visit here http://www.deepcreeklions.org/MB-Trailhead.html for more information.

Not all trails are confined to the State Parks or around the lake. Head up to Friendsville right off I-68 (exit 4 or take Route 42 north from McHenry) and try their easy trail before or after exploring this cute little town. http://www.garretttrails.org/friendsville-town-trail.html Part of this trail is paved so the walking is easy for strollers or wheelchairs or folks who prefer a smooth surface.

Kitzmiller offers a similar walking path along the North Branch of the Potomac River. http://www.garretttrails.org/kitzmiller-town-trail.html The drive out to Kitzmiller will take about 45 minutes from McHenry but it’s a beautiful country drive and a visit to the Coal Bucket Café is worth a stop for refreshment and learning a bit of coal mining history. You also get a great close up view of the wind turbines as you make your way along route 135.

Cranesville Swamp is another interesting, easy trail not too far from the lake. Located off Cranesville Road, it is a bit tricky to find. The trail is quite flat – parts have a boardwalk. The trail goes through a pine forest and wetland peat bog. About 100 species of birds can be found here, including eight that are state-rare. The Visitor Center has a good map as well as a brochure explaining the details about the swamp. Definitely worth a visit. https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/places-we-protect/cranesville-swamp-preserve/

The best way to get information on all the trails in Garrett County is to stop in at the Visitors Center in the heart of McHenry – it’s right next to the Greene Turtle. Just tell my friend Lillian or one of the other staffers that you need some trail maps. Garrett Trails http://www.garretttrails.org/ is a good online source of information. The visitors center should have one of their paper maps.

Remember to hike safely – carry water, dress in layers and make sure your phone is charged. Although you may not have phone service, there will be some great photo opportunities along the way. It’s always a good idea to hike with at least one other person. Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. You will notice there are no trash receptacles in the parks or at the trailheads so please take your trash with you and ‘leave no trace’. Respect the animals you may encounter. We are visiting their world when we venture into the forest so keep your distance. Wearing a bell or something that jingles when you walk will alert animals that you are nearby and they will most likely keep their distance as well.

Happy Hiking!