f you're looking forward to summer, but not the season's 90-degree muggy days, the mountains of Western Maryland are just a cool breeze away.
A half-hour west of Cumberland on Interstate 68, as you crest Big Savage Mountain, the temperature usually drops 10 to 15 degrees, summer mugginess gives way to crisp, cool air, and stretching out before you are beautiful vistas of rolling hills and wide alpine valleys.
Welcome to Garrett County, a vacation mecca for folks who hate heat and humidity and love mountain views and unspoiled forests.
"I just like the environment," says Burt Meyer of Timonium, who has vacationed with his family at Deep Creek Lake, the vacation hub of Maryland's westernmost county, for "15 or 20 years."
"I also like the laid-back atmosphere. You're not always under pressure to entertain or be entertained," adds Mr. Meyer, owner of a vacation home overlooking the lake. "I have a sailboat, canoe and fishing boat. We feel it's a great year-round ski and recreation area."
The county's topography is responsible for the pleasant summer climate. Atop the Appalachian Plateau, Garrett County's average elevation is 2,300 feet above sea level. Leave your bug repellent at home: The altitude foils ticks and mosquitoes.
The county's main attraction, Deep Creek Lake, is the largest freshwater lake in Maryland. The artificial lake, built in 1925 by the Youghiogheny (YOCK-a-gainey) Electric Co., is 12 miles long, covers 3,900 acres and features 65 miles of shoreline.
The lake is still used by its current owner, Pennsylvania Electric -- Co., to drive electric generators. More important to vacationers, it is the focus of a variety of year-round outdoor recreations.
Popular summer activities at the lake include fishing, motorboating, sailing, water skiing and swimming. Nearby state parks and forests offer hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and camping.
There are also several annual events that draw vacationers. The sixth annual McHenry Highland Festival June 5 at the Garrett County Fairgrounds in McHenry offers a bit of Scotland, for example. Bagpipe bands, Scottish country and highland dancers, sheep dog demonstrations, athletic and piping competitions, and other family activities will be featured.
"Everyone who comes enjoys the festival," says Diane Wolfe, the event's chairwoman. "And you don't have to be Scottish. But if you are of Scottish descent, you can get genealogical information for researching your ancestry at the festival."
After the festivities, visitors can attend a "ceilidh" (KAY-lee). The Celtic shindig, featuring live entertainment, will be held at 8 p.m. at the McHenry House at Wisp Four Season Resort, near Deep Creek Lake.
For a taste of traditional Western Maryland mountain culture, the Western Maryland Loggers and Forestry Field Day re-creates Garrett County's early lumberjack days June 11 and 12 with old-fashioned horse-logging demonstrations, displays of logging equipment, birds of prey demonstrations and fisheries exhibits.
"We've gone to a lot of effort to include exhibits that will interest the general public, including music, food, a cross-cut saw competition and a 5K race," says John Forman, president of the Maryland Forest Association, the sponsor of the two-day event at the Garrett County Fairgrounds. "Plus, $5 gets the whole family in. . . . It's a nice outing for the family."
American-Indian culture is the focus of the 11th annual American Indian Inter-Tribal Cultural Organization Pow Wow July 3 and 4. Drawing nearly 6,000 visitors in past years, the traditional Indian gathering features tribal dances and singing, crafts, Indian food and demonstrations by Indian artisans.
"The public is welcome," says Kathy Frick, president of the Washington-based organization that sponsors the powwow. "Spectators will see Indians dressed in regalia and hear singing from different tribes. For Indian people, it's a way of celebrating their culture. Plus, the powwow is a heck of a good time."
The event will be held at the Garrett County Fairgrounds in McHenry, near the lake. After the powwow, visitors can head for McHenry Cove at the lake for a traditional fireworks display.
The emphasis changes from American-Indian to Early American at the Spruce Forest Artisan Village Summerfest and Quilt Show July 8 to 10. The three-day crafts fair showcases the talents of 70 artisans, musicians and story-tellers in a rustic setting near Penn Alps, a non-profit handicrafts organization outside Grantsville. The town is near I-68, about 15 miles from Deep Creek Lake.
Traditional mountain crafts in fiber, glass, clay, as well as artwork, mountain and hammer dulcimers, quilts, rockers and antiques, will be sold at the fair. Entertainment includes a concert by African-American singers, two a capella groups and a folklorist telling stories.