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Hit the Slopes this Winter

Blair Garrett

Winter is here, the snow is falling, and the ski slopes have never looked better.
Snow may not currently be falling on your driveway, but you don’t have to travel too far to find your nearest winter oasis. With four ski resorts nearby and dozens of trails to hit, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. 

Skiing and snowboarding are two of the most popular winter sports around, and ski resorts provide different and challenging trails, perfect for first-timers and the most seasoned skiers.
Let’s check out a few excellent local options for you and your friends to take a day off and hit the slopes.

Ski Liberty

Just across the Pennsylvania line in Fairfield is Ski Liberty, a mountaintop known for its elaborate trails and challenging parks. The resort offers skiers and snowboarders 22 different trails for hours of rides and exploration. If skiing and snowboarding are not your cups of tea, tubing is also available. A mountainside plunge on an inflatable tube might be more your speed.
For locals, access to the slopes is nothing more than a short drive away. For the out-of-town crowd, the Liberty Hotel’s Alpine Lodge provides the perfect getaway for a cozy stay, just at the foot of the mountain. 

Liberty offers packages for the casual rider and for patrons who can’t get enough of the mountain. With various learning programs, there is availability for everyone to pick up a new sport at their own pace.

Keep your eyes open for sweet deals, too, particularly if you’re just picking up skiing and snowboarding. January is “Learn to Ski/Snowboard Month,” so every Thursday in January offers a discounted package for beginners, fully equipped with rental gear and programs to improve your abilities almost overnight. 

Personalized learning is vital for kids to develop the skills necessary to carve down the mountain safely. With full-size classes and one-on-one instruction, there are many learning opportunities for everyone.

With dozens of musical guests, taproom takeovers, and multiple mountaintop events, Liberty has everything you could want in a weekend trip and more.

Ski Liberty is located at 78 Country Club Trail in Fairfield, Pennsylvania.


Whitetail Resort

Whitetail is a great spot to find a mix of balanced trails and more difficult ones, with 23 different routes to ride and numerous trails that lead into others. The shift from trail to trail can add a bit of a challenge, as some of the popular, easier trails may peel off into higher-skilled black diamond runs.

Like Liberty, Whitetail provides instruction for learning the basics, along with rails, boxes, and ramps for riders who like to add a dash of excitement to the slopes.

If you get hungry after a few hours tearing up the snow, don’t fret, there are plenty of options for even the pickiest of eaters. The resort has a pizzeria, café, and a marketplace with a multitude of culinary options.

Whitetail has plenty of great slopes to check out, but you can’t forget their “Ski in the New Year Celebration” event just on the horizon. On New Year’s Eve, riders can ski and snowboard from 2019 into 2020, with lifts staying open until 1:00 a.m. New Year’s Day. The marketplace will also have a DJ and dancing, so there is no shortage of ways to celebrate a brand-new decade.

Whitetail Resort is located at 13805 Blairs Valley Road in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania.



Ski Roundtop

Ski Roundtop is the oldest of the three local mountains, celebrating its 55th year in business. Roundtop rounds out the trio, with 20 slopes and parks and multiple excellent amenities available—the makings for a great night are on your horizon.

If you’re new to the mountain life, Roundtop’s sports shop has a variety of services available, including ski and snowboard tuning and expert advice on equipment and brand-name apparel.           

Having programs designed to teach young kids valuable skills to stay safe while riding is a valuable option for any parent leery of their child’s well-being on the mountain.

Roundtop’s Mountain Explorer’s Program is a multi-week course, offered several times throughout the season, designed to get your child from just strapping on the skis to being well on their way to autonomously exploring the mountain. Children get to learn from the same instructor each week and make a few friends along the way, so it’s a great way to get kids into a learning environment that provides them with constructive technique proficiency and a whole lot of fun.

Roundtop Mountain Resort is located at 925 Roundtop Road in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania.

wisp resort

The farthest of the four slopes, Wisp Resort lies just inside the Maryland/West Virginia border, but it still draws quite the crowd.

With events offered almost daily, there is always something new and exciting to experience at the resort. Wisp offers a nice balance of trails, with about 33 percent of the runs falling into the beginner category, and a near equivalent number in intermediate and advanced.

Even if skiing and snowboarding is not your style, Wisp also has tubing, ice skating, and a mountain coaster to get your blood pumping on a cool winter day.

Wisp is the only resort in Maryland opened year-round, and typically keeps the slopes running for 120 days per year. 

Wisp Resort is located at 296 Marsh Hill Road in McHenry, Maryland.

For new skiers and snowboarders, one of the biggest deterrents to getting out and enjoying the mountain is the struggle to learn the mechanics of how to ride effectively. All four resort options offer instructional courses with experienced riders to give newbies—young and old—a chance to dive into a fun, new winter sport.

Regardless of which mountain you choose, there are challenging courses tailored to your skill level, ranging from bunny slopes for kids to double black diamonds reserved for pros and the overly ambitious. And don’t forget, tubing is available at all three resorts, with options for a solo ride or a linked tube with you and a handful of friends.

So, if you’re in the market for some winter adventures, zip up the jackets, strap into your ski boots, and hit the slopes for a day packed with snow-filled fun.  

The Season of Christmas

Blair Garrett

There may not be a more beautiful time of year than that first December snow.

With snowflakes lightly trickling down, breaths of warm air greeting the cold, and layers of fresh powder coating the pavement to create the illusion of uncharted territory, there’s nothing quite like the first glimpse of true winter.

With winter comes holiday shopping, quality family time, and the usual hustle and bustle of Christmas-time traffic. The December rush often finds us scrambling to get everything in order—from holiday meals to travel plans—but we can’t forget to take a minute to stop and enjoy the beauty of wintertime amidst the swirling chaos around us.     

Picture this: Driving down the road with close friends or family, safely bundled up and ready to brave the cold, stepping out of your vehicle to see the soft glow of candlelight dancing across the needles of trees, splashing light in the world around you. To your left, Christmas lights illuminate every fine detail in the stained glass of your local church. To your right, groups of people are laughing and taking pictures, soaking in the season with the people they care about most.

Holiday tours to view the splendor of Christmas have been an important pillar of winter in communities across the world for hundreds of years, and Frederick County is no different. Big cities like New York, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia all offer tons to see each day leading up to Christmas. Fortunately for us, we have a few great options to explore right at home.

Rocky Ridge Holiday House Tour

Walk through true home-town Christmas splendor in seven homes, ranging from historical to new, during the Rocky Ridge Volunteer Fire Department’s (RRVFD) Holiday House Tour. A fundraiser for the RRVFD, people are really enthusiastic about being a part of the event. A craft and food fair in the Rocky Ridge VFD activities building will take place at the same time the house tour is taking place.

Candlelight Tours Christmas Past

The Seton Shrine in Emmitsburg puts together 1,000 luminaries, sure to light up the night in a way you may not have seen before. This guided tour allows visitors to see where Elizabeth Ann Seton lived and worked, along with stories of her efforts, kindness, and her life, all through the glow of candlelight under the night sky.

Mother Seton’s work in Emmitsburg and in the Catholic church was instrumental in providing avenues for sisters of the church to practice religion in the United States, and the candlelight tour is sure to shed more light on her legacy.

Emmitsburg Christmas Church Tour

Visit eight churches in Emmitsburg to see them decked out for the holidays. This guided tour will start at St. Anthony’s Church and move to another church every half hour, where a presentation is planned. Visit all or visit one or two, but don’t miss the last church visited, Trinity United Methodist Church, where a supper will be held for everyone. 

Frederick Candlelight House Tour

The city of Frederick has run candlelight tours through private homes over 30 years, and there is a tremendous amount of rich history to gather on just about every block. These self-guided tours give locals a chance to see and appreciate the lights, decorations, and a holiday spirit that makes this time of year so special.

A candlelight tour is a perfect weekend activity, sure to put a smile on the face of every person participating. You can get your holiday fill the first weekend in December, with tours kicking off December 7.

Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination—Sharpsburg

Over 157 years ago, the Battle of Antietam claimed the lives of nearly 23,000 men in one of the deadliest battles in the Civil War, and the bloodiest one-day battle in U.S. history. Since, we have recognized and honored those who gave their lives in various ways, including Sharpsburg’s lighting of 23,000 luminaries across the battlefield to symbolize the casualties.

This driving tour is a five-mile trek through monuments and rolling hills, with each light guiding the way, offering a sobering look at what is a near-inconceivable amount of lives lost. This once-a-year event is set for December 7 and is sure to be not only a gorgeous journey, but also a true dose of historic perspective.

Candlelight Tour of Historic Houses of Worship

Frederick hosts its 33rd annual church tour the day after Christmas, giving guests 11 stops to witness the beautifully historic architecture, and to hear the bells, choirs, and holiday music to close out 2019 with a bang. Several stops serve refreshments, so if you enjoy a cup of cider to go with your Christmas songs, this candlelight tour might just be for you.

Museums by Candlelight

Arts, entertainment, and a whole lot of candlelight highlight the itinerary for Frederick’s Museums by Candlelight. Many of these tours provide refreshments and activities for kids, while still providing the opportunity to focus on the history embedded in Frederick County.

Of course, with any proper holiday gathering, music is a big part of what makes these tours so great. Make plans soon, though, as this event is held just once a year. This December’s Museums by Candlelight is held December 14.   

There are countless ways to liven up your holiday season, and no right or wrong way to go about it. A cup of cider by the fire is a good start, but a trip through time learning about what history your local community has to offer by candlelight is an even better way to kick off the Christmas countdown.

These tours and gatherings bring people together, and in the spirit of the holidays, joining your neighbors and friends for a night out can help to build lifelong relationships. So, if you are struggling to find something fun and unique to do this December, consider spending a night by the candlelight, and take in all that your local area has to offer.

One of the beautiful homes featured in the Rocky Ridge Holiday House Tour.

The Battle that Changed the Tide of the Civil War

James Rada, Jr.

While the first week in July is the busiest time on the Gettysburg Civil War battlefield because of the anniversary of the battle, the second busiest time is in November when Dedication Day is celebrated.

Dedication Day

Dedication Day is held in honor of President Abraham Lincoln’s reading of the Gettysburg Address during the dedication of Soldiers’ National Cemetery, where nearly 6,000 soldiers from the Civil War, Spanish-American War, and World War I are buried. It was dedicated on November 19, 1863, four and a half months after the historic Civil War battle. This year’s Dedication Day activities will be on November 18, 19, and 23.

Some of the events happening are an open house at the David Wills House and Gettysburg railroad station on November 18, from 6:00-8:00 p.m. Lincoln arrived and left Gettysburg at the railroad station and stayed at the David Wills house while in town. Both locations will hold special programs that evening.

The actual Dedication Day ceremony will be held at Soldiers’ National Cemetery at 10:15 a.m. on November 19. It will feature a wreath-laying ceremony at the Soldiers’ National Monument, and Presidential Scholar Michael Beschloss will be the keynote speaker.

The following weekend, the annual parade of Civil War living history groups will march through Gettysburg at 1:00 p.m. on November 23. That evening, from 5:30-9:00 p.m., a luminary candle will be lit on the grave of each of the 3,512 Civil War soldiers buried at Soldiers’ National Cemetery, and the names of the dead will be read throughout the evening.

Visitor Center

Even if you can’t make it to Gettysburg for one of the special events, you can always find something happening around the battlefield. Start at the Visitor Center at 1195 Baltimore Pike. From this point, you can watch an orientation film, tour the museum, see the cyclorama, book a tour, ride to the Eisenhower Farm, eat lunch, and more. The building is free to enter, but there are fees for different activities.

The 20-minute orientation film, A New Birth of Freedom, narrated by Morgan Freeman, will give you a good overview of the Battle of Gettysburg and its historical significance.

The cyclorama is the largest painting in America. It is 42 feet tall and 377 feet around. “Longer than a football field and as tall as a four-story structure, the Gettysburg Cyclorama oil painting, along with light and sound effects, immerses visitors in the fury of Pickett’s Charge during the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg,” according to the National Park Service website. It is painted so that it encircles you as it depicts Pickett’s Charge. French artist Paul Philippoteaux researched the battlefield for months before beginning the oil painting that took him and his assistants more than a year to complete.

The Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War features artifacts from one of the largest collections of Civil War relics in the world. It also has interactive exhibits and multi-media presentations throughout.

If you want to tour the battlefield itself, you can purchase tickets for a bus tour or make arrangements for a licensed battlefield guide to take you around the park. You can also take your own tour. Pick up a driving map at the ticketing desk to help you get around the park.

While in the Visitor Center, you can make arrangements to visit the farm of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The cattle farm was used as Eisenhower’s home after WWII. He hosted world leaders at the farm during his presidency and ran the country from his den while he was recovering from a heart attack.

You can tour the house, which still appears as it did during the 1960s. Also, on site are the Secret Service office, farm building, and grounds.

The Visitor Center will also have a listing of the various ranger programs going on throughout the day.

The November programs are: Gettysburg History Hike – Three Days in 90 Minutes (90 min.); Four Score and Seven Years Ago – Lincoln and the Soldiers’ National Cemetery (45 min.); Hold to the Last! – The Battle for Little Round Top (60 min.); The 3rd Day and Beyond – Stay and Fight it Out! (45 min.).

The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center winter hours (November 1 through March 31) are 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. It is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. It also closes at 1:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

For more information about the events and park sites in Gettysburg, visit: Gettysburg National Military Park www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm; Eisenhower Farm: www.nps.gov/eise/index.htm; David Wills House: www.nps.gov/gett/planyourvisit/david-wills-house.htm.

Two re-enactors talk during the annual WWII weekend, held at the Eisenhower Farm.

Farm of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The house still appears as it did during the 1960s.

Winterbrook Farms Fall Festival

Blair Garrett

The days are getting colder, the nights are getting longer, and the sweet scent of pumpkin spice is filling the air.

Fall is upon us, and there is no better way to kick off the new season than by having a blast with friends and family exploring local fall activities.

In Thurmont, a seven-week fall festival filled with good times and good fun beckons the local adventurer. Winterbrook Farms Fall Festival kicked off on September 21 and runs through November 3, giving the community ample time to get into the fall spirit and experience country adventure at its finest.

No matter what you like, there is surely something available for everyone to enjoy. Taylor Huffman has been managing the activities that go on for the Winterbrook Farms Fall Festival for the past eight years. She was happy to shed some insight on what makes this festival so great.

“We have over 20 activities,” Huffman said. “We have the pumpkin jumping pillow, apple cannons, mountain slides, a huge farm animal area, and ziplines. The big hit is actually the round bale rollers; you get in them and roll around like a hamster, and the kids seem to like that.”

The farm does not have any actual hamsters, but it does have a variety of playful and personable animals that aren’t afraid to come right up and say “Hi.” There are long-haired highland cattle, horses, and pigs and baby goats available to feed and spend time with.

One of the most coveted attractions for festival-goers is the tractor rides through the pumpkin patches. Nothing rings in the fall season quite like changing leaves, cooler weather, and pumpkins galore.  

The farm features a wide-open space to accommodate guests, with fun things to do scattered throughout the lot. One of the farm’s classic activities is the corn maze, which has become a staple of fall fun for kids and adults alike, and the Winterbrook Farms maze is unique in its own way.

“We have Maryland’s largest corn maze,” Huffman said. “This year, it’s 5.2 miles of trails.” It isn’t the beginning of fall until the corn mazes are up and running, and what better way to spend time with the family than journeying through a maze together to achieve a common goal. 

Since the event’s inception in 2000, the expansion has been steady and constant each season. “Year after year, we see growth as we add more activities and grow and change with the times,” Huffman said. “We did a big renovation in 2017, and we added about five acres of grass. On a busy October day, we’ll have about 2,000 people here, so it’s good to have the extra space.”

The farm does bring in people from around the Catoctin area, but the majority of patrons come from well outside Thurmont. “Most of our customers come from Baltimore and northern Virginia, but we’d love to have more locals.”

Bringing in the community to take part in fall festivities is what allows the corn maze, farm animals, and pumpkin patches to flourish year after year. And with continued community support, the events and activities can keep growing and developing as they have over the past two decades.

Though the festival season for Huffman and the crew only lasts a few short months, much more work goes into making Winterbrook Farms Fall Festival operate smoothly than meets the eye.

“This takes us months to prepare for,” Huffman said. “For a solid two months before we open, we’re out here every day, preparing and prepping new things.”

Months of prep work, paired with weeks of maintenance, brings together a product of which Huffman and the crew can be proud. With thousands of people visiting the farms each fall, it seems like all the effort and dedication is well worth putting smiles on the faces of families passing through. It’s not uncommon to hear the laughter of kids rolling around in the bale rollers, or the joy of families bouncing around on the pumpkin pillow. Everywhere you look is something completely different in its own fun way. 

In addition to the work put into running the festival each year, big plans are in the works for the end of the season. “This year is the first year we’re hosting the Great Pumpkin Run,” Huffman said. “It’s something they’ve held in Maryland before, but it was at another local farm. It’s November 2, and it’s a 5K that runs all over our farms.”

Pumpkin Runs are held all over the United States, but your local fall festival farm gets to add yet another open-to-the-public activity in which anyone can participate. There is also an added bonus to completing the 5K. “You even get a cup of apple cider and a small pumpkin at the end of the race,” Huffman said.

If distance running isn’t your style, and if pumpkin isn’t your cup of tea, perhaps picking strawberries or visiting markets is. Next summer, plans are in the works to let the public come and pick strawberries to take home.

“We’re going to be doing you-pick strawberries, so we’re hoping to expand our business and hopefully have a farm market here, too,” Huffman said. “So, we’re pretty excited.”

The 327-acre farm is only open for business a few more weeks, so if you, or a friend, are in the market to kick-off the fall season in a fun way, take a day trip on down to check out what Winterbrook Farms Fall Festival is all about. You can head down Saturdays from 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m., and Sundays from 11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.

There’s no better way to spend a Saturday this fall, so don’t be afraid to get out of the house and do something a little different.

Colton (front) and Daniel (back) Smith launch a few apples with the farm’s apple cannons.

Two boys test out Winterbrook Farms brand new bouncy pumpkin pillow.

Thelma (right) and Louise (left) poke their heads through the fence with a big smile to greet guests.

Rock Climbing

Blair Garrett

Living among the mountains certainly has its perks.

Just a short drive in any direction, there are beautiful sights to see, trails to pioneer, and peaks to reach. Of the various summer excursions available to the public, one not-so-often thought of may be the most riveting and challenging for adventure seekers.

Rock climbing in Thurmont is a thriving adventure, offering locals and visitors a chance to test their limits in a fun, new way they may not have done before. Most of the rock climbing in Thurmont and Frederick County stems from beautiful and natural rock formations scattered throughout the region’s national parks.

A few places of interest for climbers and those interested in getting out of their comfort zone include Wolf Rock, a 1.5 mile hike from the Catoctin Mountain Park Visitor Center. It is a place of boulders, crevices, and rock walls. Climbers can free-climb their way up the rock, or explore another climbing method on one of the many different rock faces. Nearby is Chimney Rock, a popular hiking destination and natural rock formation, overlooking a stunning scene of mountains and rolling hills. This semi-strenuous trail begins and ends at the east corner of the paved parking area by the Catoctin Mountain Park Visitor Center. The hike is 3.9 miles round trip and provides stunning views of the mountains from the top of Chimney Rock. Also worth checking out is Sugarloaf Mountain, a small mountain and park about 10 miles south of Frederick.

A rock range in Carderock, Maryland, northwest of Washington D.C. provides rock formations that are vast and offer varying degrees of difficulty, giving beginners an opportunity to learn and veterans a chance to push themselves. There are dozens of challenges to undertake, so a one-day trip may not be enough for avid climbers.

There are two main crags in Carderock: Jungle Cliff and Hades Heights. A crag is just a steep or rugged rock face, and these two have become extremely popular over the years for their accessibility year-round. Top roping these rock formations is the preferred method of climbing, but rappelling is also a commonly used technique in Carderock. There are a few styles of rock climbing that are different and challenging in their own ways, but let’s explore some of the options most beginners to advanced climbers find themselves doing.

Top Roping

As one of the safest methods of climbing, most beginners find their way into the sport through top roping, which includes a rope and anchor system to protect and prevent climbers from taking a nasty fall. Top roping includes a climber hooked into an anchored rope at the top of the climbing destination, and a belayer at the bottom, which is a person who takes the slack out of the rope secured with carabiners and a belay device to catch the climber should they fall. The person belaying uses a simple-to-follow method to pin and lock the rope while the climber finds hand and foot holds to advance on the route.

Top roping is a fun and popular climbing method, but it’s often limited to indoor rock climbing because placing new anchors can be damaging for rock faces. Utilizing pre-existing and permanent anchors are preferred for this method.

Bouldering

One of the widest performed climbing techniques used is bouldering, which involves free climbing without the use of ropes or harnesses on typically smaller natural or artificial rocks. Bouldering is considered a more dangerous style because of the lack of safety equipment, even if the fall is usually around just 10-15 feet.

Climbers bouldering often use horizontal movements to traverse tough terrain, which can be particularly difficult and strenuous even on the most experienced climbers. Bouldering competitions are also extremely popular in the sport, and most indoor facilities offer training or classes for bouldering.

Soloing

Soloing, or free-climbing, is something that should only be reserved for the most experienced climbers. Free-climbing involves the use of many of the skills sharpened by other rock climbing techniques, but without the safety of a rope to prevent falls.

Soloing is a completely individual effort, too, so relying on a partner or friend for guidance or safety is off the table. It’s not recommended to free solo high off the ground, but seeking the biggest and best thrill is often what drives solo rock climbers to do what they do.

There are several other variants of climbing like sport and alpine climbing, and those who are serious about getting into the sport often find groups of like-minded individuals to take trips for the select disciplines in rock climbing.

An option for locals is to explore the different methods of rock climbing with a guided professional. Daybreak Excursions in Thurmont offers professional instruction in the rock climbing techniques previously mentioned, along with a few other exploration avenues like caving and kayaking. Interested participants can schedule a time and day to hit the trail and seek the adventures that draw them the most.

For all climbers, whether it’s your first time or your hundredth time, it’s always advised to know your routes, and climb with a trusted partner to keep you safe in all situations. Using a helmet is always advised, and taking the proper safety precautions for each climb ensures you have done everything possible to protect yourself.

Checking something as simple as properly tied knots for top roping or securely fastened shoes can make all the difference in the world for a climber. After all, the safety of you and your crew is the most important thing for a climber.

Whether it’s Wolf Rock in Catoctin Mountain Park, a peak at Sugarloaf Mountain, or a small rock formation in another local park, like Cunningham Falls State Park, there’s more to see than we could ever imagine. Rock climbing is yet another way to explore the great outdoors, so don’t be afraid to get out there and do it.

Sugarloaf Mountain

Pictured climbing is Alex Case.

Wolf Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park

Pictured climbing is Mckenna

Photos Courtesy of Daybreak Excursions

What’s Afloat on The Monocacy

Blair Garrett

The perfect relaxing day for an August Day Trip lies in the heart of the Catoctin area.

With the sun beating down, not much feels better than sitting on the water surrounded by good people. Fortunately, the Monocacy River is a natural lazy river, which flows from the Mason-Dixon Line around Frederick and all the way to the much larger Potomac River at Dickerson, Maryland. The river bridges Frederick and Carroll Counties, allowing all local kayakers and floaters a short drive for some fun in the sun.

The pace of the river is leisurely to say the least, so for kayakers or those fearful of rapids, the Monocacy is a great place to start learning or adapting to all of your water adventures.

There are entry points scattered throughout nearly every twist and turn, but the farther north in the river that you hop on, the longer the potential float. Popular drop spots include the MD 77 access point, the Creagerstown Boat Launch, Devilbiss Bridge, Biggs Ford Road, and Riverside Park Boat Ramp. Each of these locations grant riders easy access to smooth waters on a sunny day.

The process is easy and a blast with a great group of people. One person parks at an entry point, and one parks at the finish line, so the whole group can hitch a ride at the start on their tubes or kayaks and make it to the end point with a ride back to their cars or back home.

The trip itself can take several hours, or much less depending on where you want to end your ride. Floating is simple, though, and a great way to spend some time with family and friends. Grabbing a few tubes, stringing them together and playing some music while taking an easy stroll down the Monocacy can provide hours of entertainment, and the atmosphere is unbeatable on a nice day.

It’s not uncommon to see families with a big tube in the middle, packed with coolers filled with drinks and snacks, but don’t forget to bring sunscreen and plenty of water to combat those hot August days.

The river flows at an average speed of 2-3 mph, and despite the trees surrounding the river providing shade toward the edges, there is plenty of room in the middle with direct sunlight. So, whether or not you plan on catching some rays, make sure to protect yourself from getting a nasty sunburn.

Depending on recent rainfall, the river may run much faster and may have deeper waters, so it’s important to be prepared and cautious for your day trip on the water. There are few if any rapids at all over the course of the Monocacy, but significant rainfall can and does affect the speed and intensity of the river.

The Monocacy passes plenty of beautiful landscapes and farmlands, but it also runs past a few points of interest that can be seen and heard during a typical floating trip on the northern half of the waterway. The river runs right by the Thurmont Sportsman Club, where they often have competitions and events at their gun range. 

The river also flows under Old Links Bridge, where you may just be able to take a pit stop and grab a bottle of wine from Links Bridge Winery.

Of course, the best part about the Monocacy River float is shutting out the rest of the world and enjoying quality time with loved ones and some of the freshest air Maryland has to offer.

Over the course of the Monocacy’s 58 mile stretch from PA/MD border to the Potomac River, there are plenty of places to fish or swim, so even if a long tube ride isn’t your cup of tea, there’s surely something to do for everyone. The river is also home to several species of bass, trout and sunfish, with each fish posing a different challenge to catch.

With the mountainous and forested landscape covering much of southern Pennsylvania and Northern Maryland, there are plenty of rivers, streams and tributaries that offer the public a great way to cool off over the summer. The Monocacy is just one of a few popular floating destinations in the area. For those of us north of the PA/MD border, the Conococheague Creek is another similar experience for adventurers to have a fun day on the water.

The Conococheague is a tributary in the Potomac River system, running 80 miles from start to finish. The majority of the creek lies in Pennsylvania, with prime floating locations near Greencastle, PA. Just 12 percent of the creek resides in Maryland before connecting to the Potomac River.

While both the Monocacy and the Conococheague eventually connect to the Potomac River, many of the sights to see and points of interest on the Monocacy tour are in and around the greater Frederick Area.

Historic locations like the Buckeystown Dam and the Monocacy National Battlefield run with the river, so a quick detour to do some exploring and to take in the history is an option worth checking out.

Whatever it is that draws you to the water, the Monocacy River float is a day trip the whole family can enjoy. Check out a location near you and grab a tube before the summer is over!

Wade and Alison McGahen kick back for a day of fun in the sun on the Monocacy River.

A group of friends hits the Monocacy waters with their favorite tubes on a hot summer day.

Accesses & Points Along the Monocacy

Old-time accomodations

along the c&O Canal

James Rada, Jr.

When the brass horn would sound at all hours, day and night, the lockkeepers of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal would leave what they were doing and head for their lock. No matter the weather outside, their job was to set the lock for the approaching canal boats.

Each lock would lift or lower a canal boat around 10 feet as the canallers hauled coal and other cargo down the Appalachian Mountains from Cumberland, Maryland, to Georgetown and back.

Nowadays, most of the canal is just an empty ditch, but many of the canal houses remain. Carol Patch of Arlington, Virginia, hosts an evening dinner party at Lockhouse 10 once a year for her friends. It is one of six lockhouses available for rent along the C&O Canal.

Lockhouse 10 is decorated as it would have been in the 1930s, so it has electricity and indoor plumbing. However, the kitchen equipment certainly doesn’t include a microwave and dishwasher.

“It reminds us of how hard our mothers had it,” Patch said.

A Lockkeeper’s Life

A C&O Canal lockkeeper had to be on the job whenever the canal was open, an average of 10 months a year. For this, they were paid a small salary based on the number of locks they tended, given a plot of ground on which they could plant a garden, and a lockhouse in which to live.

The C&O Canal has 74 locks that raise and lower boats. As a canal boat approached a lock, the canaller would call out “Heeeeeey, lock!” or blow a horn. The lockkeeper would come out and make sure that the lock gates were open for the incoming boat.

For instance, if the boat was moving downriver, the mules would pull the boat as the captain steered it into the lock. Ropes were tossed ashore and wrapped around snubbing posts (thick logs set in the ground). The slack was taken up on the ropes to act as a brake on the canal boat to keep it from crashing into the opposite set of lock gates, which were closed. The locks were built barely large enough to contain the 92-foot-long and 14-foot-wide canal boats. Once the boat was stopped inside the lock, the lock gates behind the canal boat were closed.

Lock gates were designed so that they formed a point upriver when closed. In this way, water flowing against the gates helped keep them closed and sealed. Sluice valves at the bottom of the downriver lock gates were then opened with large rod-like keys. Water from inside the lock flowed out of the lock through the sluice valves. Since the upriver gates were closed, the water level inside the lock slowly fell.

As the boat was lowered, the ropes around the snubbing posts were gradually let out. By maintaining tension on the ropes, the boat could be stabilized somewhat so that it wouldn’t bounce around inside the lock and either damage the lock or the boat.

When the level inside the lock matched that outside of the downriver lock gates, the sluice gates were closed and the downriver lock gates opened. The mules pulled the boat out of the lock to continue its journey downriver.

The entire process of locking through took about 15 minutes.

Canal Quarters Program

Of the 76 lockhouses built to help run the canal, only 20 remain. Of those 20 lockhouses, 6 can be rented for a night as part of the C&O Canal Trust’s Canal Quarters Program.

“It’s a partnership between the C&O Canal Trust and the National Historic Park,” said Heidi Schlag, director of communications for the C&O Canal Trust. “The park was looking for a way to preserve the lockhouses, and we were looking for a way to help the park.”

The program began in 2009 when the Canal Trust and National Park Service restored three different lockhouses to different periods of time along the canal. Some had amenities. Some were considered rustic.

“Lockhouses 6 and 10 are the ones with amenities, and they are very popular,” said Schlag. “You usually have to book them six months in advance.”

The lockhouses with amenities have heat, air conditioning, electricity, and running water. People who stay in the rustic lockhouses have to use a porta-john for a bathroom and an outdoor hand pump for water. It may seem odd that someone would want to stay in such a place, but it gives the guests an idea of what life was like for a lockkeeper and his family during the particular time period to which that lockhouse has been restored.

“I kind of liked washing using a pitcher and basin,” said Elaine Stonebraker. She has stayed in five of the six lockhouses that are available to rent, including staying in her favorite one three times. She lives in Southern Maryland and has to drive two hours to reach the canal.

Two lockhouses are currently handicapped accessible.

Visitors can also find interpretive information, such as panels and scrapbooks, in the lockhouse that explain what was happening on the canal during the particular time to which the house has been restored. Stonebraker likes to read the stories collected in the scrapbooks, many of which feature people who used to live in that particular lockhouse.

The first lockhouse that Stonebraker stayed in was Lockhouse 6 because it was the closest one to where she lived. She loved her night there so much that she started looking for chances to stay in other lockhouses.

“They’re great,” Stonebraker said. “You are actually experiencing history. You are staying where someone lived, where children were brought up. You can imagine working the lock.”

Patch, on the other hand, lives near the canal and found that it’s a convenient place for her to hold her dinner parties. She discovered that she could rent Lockhouse 10 when she was walking along the towpath one time. When she learned that a friend of hers was on a Sierra Club hike and would be passing along on the towpath early in the morning, she decided to rent the lockhouse. That way, she could hold her dinner party, stay the night in the lockhouse, and be up early in the morning to greet her friend as she came hiking along the towpath.

What the Future Holds

The Canal Trust opened its seventh lockhouse for overnight stays in 2017. This is Lockhouse 21 at Swain’s Lock. The lockhouse gets its name from the Swain family that occupied the house for generations, first as lockkeepers and then as a NPS concessionaire. The stone lockhouse is 32 feet by 18 feet and will have amenities.

One of the lockkeepers who used to live there was Jesse Swain. Someone once gave Swain a two-day-old gosling. Swain named it Jimmy and he raised it as a pet. It lived to be 27 years old. Jesse and Jimmy were fixtures on the canal for years.

“My father would get in the buggy to go to the Potomac store, and Jimmy would get right up beside him and ride out there and back,” Otho Swain said in an oral history in Home on the Canal. “If my father would go fishing in the boat, Jimmy would get in the water and swim right out to him and stay out there as long as he stayed. Anybody’d go around my father, Jimmy would bite the devil out of him.”

The Canal Trust also wants to restore other houses on the canal.

“The plan going forward is to eventually have enough canal houses that a visitor can have a hut-to-hut experience traveling along the entire canal,” explained Schlag.

The Restored Lockhouses

Lockhouse 6 is at mile marker 5.4 near Brookmont, Maryland, and has full amenities. This lockhouse is furnished to appear as a lockhouse in the 1950s would have appeared.

Lockhouse 10 is at mile marker 8.8 near Cabin John, Maryland, and has full amenities. This lockhouse is furnished to appear as a lockhouse in the 1930s would have appeared.

Lockhouse 22 is at mile marker 19.6 near Potomac, Maryland, and is a rustic house. This lockhouse is furnished to appear as a lockhouse in the 1830s to 1840s would have appeared.

Lockhouse 25 is at mile marker 30.9 near Poolesville, Maryland, and is a rustic house. This lockhouse is furnished to appear as a lockhouse would have appeared during the Civil War.

Lockhouse 28 is at mile marker 48.9 near Point of Rocks, Maryland, and is a rustic house. This lockhouse is furnished to appear as a lockhouse in the 1830s would have appeared.

Lockhouse 49 is at mile marker 108.7 near Clear Spring, Maryland, and has electricity only. This lockhouse is furnished to appear as a lockhouse in the 1920s would have appeared.