Need a Vacation? Try These Summer Lake Getaways Close to DC.

Escape the summer heat at these serene mountain lakes.

Beach at Deep Creek Lake State Park. Photograph courtesy of Courtesy of Garrett County Chamber of Commerce.

Deep Creek Lake

location_on Maryland

language Website

Photograph courtesy of Garrett County Chamber of Commerce.

Deep Creek has more than 65 miles of shoreline on the Maryland side of the Appalachian Mountains. Temperatures are typically ten degrees cooler than DC in summer thanks to the area’s 2,400-foot-plus elevation. In addition to paddling, rafting, and boating on Deep Creek Lake, you can mountain-bike along its edges and zipline through the surrounding forests.

Distance from DC: Three hours

Get oriented: Pull off Garrett Highway (Route 219) at the Deep Creek Lake Information Center (15 Visitors Center Dr., McHenry)—in the shadow of the mountains and steps from the lake—for tips on what to do while visiting.

Beyond the lake: Hike the rocky Hoye-Crest Trail along Backbone Mountain in the Alleghenies to Maryland’s highest summit—3,300-plus feet. (The trailhead is right across the border in West Virginia, at 2428 Seneca Trail in Elgon.) An easier hike involves weaving among boulders along the mostly flat Rock Maze Trail in Garrett State Forest (3739 Snaggy Mountain Rd., Oakland). Even easier: In August, snap a selfie amid a vibrant field of sunflowers at Triple R Farms (Mason School Rd., Oakland).

Deep Creek Lake’s charms aren’t all outdoors. You can also shop for one-of-a-kind pieces at the glassblowing studio Simon Pearce (265 Glass Dr., Oakland) or listen to live music at Honi-Honi Bar (19745 Garrett Hwy., Oakland), which is family-friendly by day and rocks a party vibe at night.

Don’t miss: Pick your own bouquets at Deep Creek Lavender Farm (625 Doerr Rd., Accident), then cool down with homemade lavender-spiked lemonade at the farm shop.

Dine: Dutch’s at Silver Tree (567 Glendale Rd., Oakland) is a favorite for steaks, Maryland crabcakes, and picture-perfect lake views from the terrace.

Stay: Couples can swing on a hammock or sip wine by the water at the Arts and Crafts–inspired Lake Pointe Inn (174 Lake Pointe Dr., McHenry). Families gravitate toward Wisp Resort (296 Marsh Hill Rd., McHenry), which has lots of activities, such as a Mountain Coaster that in summer tracks 3,500 feet down the ski slopes.


Raystown Lake

location_on Central Pennsylvania


Photograph courtesy of Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau.

Raystown Lake is Pennsylvania’s largest. The clean, clear lake is prized for excellent fishing—so good, in fact, that it’s known as the freshwater striped-bass fishing capital of the Northeast US. Explore it by canoe, kayak, or pontoon, and plan to do some hiking in the surrounding woodlands.

Distance from DC: Three hours and 15 minutes

Get oriented: The Raystown Lake Visitor Center (6993 Seven Points Rd., Hesston) has a small exhibit on the area’s flora and fauna and isn’t far from the main marina.

Beyond the lake: Swigart Museum (12031 William Penn Hwy., Huntingdon), one of the country’s oldest automobile museums, has a rotating exhibit that includes racecars along with the Volkswagen star of Herbie the Love Bug. Walk among stalactite-filled caverns at Lincoln Caverns and Whisper Rocks (7703 William Penn Hwy., Huntingdon) or take a boat through a water-filled cavern at Penn’s Cave & Wildlife Park (222 Penn’s Cave Rd., Centre Hall). Wooden ceiling trusses, communal tables, and live music make Juniata Brewing Company (1102 Susquehanna Ave., Huntingdon) the place to go for brews, including a hard kombucha, all crafted with local ingredients.

Don’t miss: At Trough Creek State Park (16362 Little Valley Rd., James Creek), cross a suspension bridge along a trail to Rainbow Falls, a tranquil waterfall that gets more dramatic after a proper rain, and marvel at Balanced Rock, a geological wonder precariously perched on a cliff. The park is within a scenic gorge that slices Terrace Mountain and empties into Raystown Lake.

Dine: Backwoods Smoke Shack (5963 Seven Points Rd., Hesston) is a family-owned joint that serves smoked brisket, wings, and pulled chicken. Try the smoked loaded-potato salad, with bacon, cheddar, and scallions, for a twist on a classic. Bonus: You can bring your dog.

Stay: Lake Raystown Resort (3101 Chipmunk Crossing, Entriken) is on 400 wooded acres that thread the waterfront. Thanks to a wide variety of accommodations—from rustic-chic two-story cabins to yurts with skylights for stargazing—families, couples, and solo travelers will feel welcome.


Lake Anna

location_on Virginia


Photograph by Virginia State Parks/Flickr.

Lake Anna is a tranquil reservoir with 200 miles of shoreline. With the main road far from the lake, there’s little street noise or light pollution, ensuring that you’ll hear birdsong when you wake up and spy fireflies twinkling before you head to bed. You can also arrange to pan for gold (flecks).

Distance from DC: One hour and 45 minutes

Get oriented: Lake Anna State Park (6800 Lawyers Rd., Spotsylvania) has several little beaches, more than 15 miles of trails, and plenty of campsites. You can hit the sand and picnic within minutes of parking. ($7; $10 weekends April through October.)

Beyond the lake: A half hour away, saddle up for a shady trail ride with Colchester Equines (30687 Hidden Creek Ln., Locust Grove), which has a friendly hands-on owner and happy horses. Civil War buffs can take an informative National Park Service driving tour focusing on the oft-overlooked 1864 Battle of Spotsylvania (Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield, 9550 Grant Dr. W., Spotsylvania). Shop more than 40 vendors for local vegetables, honey, meat, and baked goods at the robust Spotsylvania Farmers Market , open Wednesday (4600 Spotsylvania Pkwy., Fredericksburg) and Saturday (12150 Gordon Rd., Fredericksburg).

Don’t miss: The Goochland Drive-In Theater (4344 Old Fredericksburg Rd., Hadensville) is an old-school spot that screens current movies and serves throwback treats like sno-cones, corn dogs, and ice-cream floats all summer long.

Dine: The Cove at Lake Anna (6320 Belmont Rd., Mineral) is where you can feast on feel-good food such as fried pickles and mac and cheese studded with lump crabmeat and sip fruity cocktails while relaxing in Adirondack chairs on the beach.

Stay: Though families can book any number of convenient vacation rentals close to the lakefront, couples will appreciate the Dunnlora Inn (903 Mineral Ave., Mineral). This early-20th-century boardinghouse has been converted into a romantic inn with rooms that feature soaking tubs and owners who will deliver breakfast in bed.


Is It Safe to Swim?

Just like swimming in an ocean, swimming in a lake can carry risks. Case in point: At least 34 people who swam in Lake Anna or were exposed to the water over Memorial Day weekend re­ported becoming ill with gastrointestinal problems–most diagnosed as E. coli–and at least nine were hospitalized, according to the Virginia Department of Health. At least five children had serious kidney issues.

The state Department of Environmental Quality took water samples from various spots in the lake on June 11 and determined that the E. coli concentrations were “well below a public-health level of concern.” As of press time, officials hadn’t determined a single cause of the outbreak but planned to test the water again on June 17 and 25.

In mid-June, Katherine Mc-Combs, a public-health epidemiologist at VDH’s Division of Surveillance and Investigation, said the department hadn’t issued a warning against swimming in the lake but did suggest swimmers take the same precautions always recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Shower and wash hands after water exposure, and avoid swallowing water while swimming.

“A lot of people go to the lake, they swim, and they grab their sandwich with their hand that’s been in the water,” said McCombs. “So [we’re] just reminding people to wash their hands and their body when they get out of the water, and certainly before they touch food they’re going to consume.”

Lake Anna isn’t the only lake that has had reports of E. coli contamination over the years. Before swimming in any lake, it’s a good idea to check for alerts about water quality. The Lake Anna Civic Association updates its web page with the status of harmful algae blooms and any swim advisories. The Virginia Department of Health also posts swim advisories on its X account, @VDHBeach. Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources has a list of swimming information and advisories by county. For updates on Raystown Lake, check the Raystown Lake Project Facebook page.


This article appears in the July 2024 issue of Washingtonian.

Helen Huiskes
Editorial Fellow