Sunday, May 28, 2006
THE TRIP: Raystown Lake in Entriken, Pa., where 118 miles of shoreline is surrounded by towering green mountains and red cliffs. The federally owned lake and park in Central Pennsylvania's Huntingdon County covers 29,300 acres -- about 15 times the size of Rock Creek Park.
MILES FROM BELTWAY: About 300 miles round trip. Take I-70 to Route 30 west to state Route 26.
BEST FOR: Those who love outdoor activities -- including fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, biking, birding, camping, diving and horseback riding -- and the sedentary who love gazing at nature with a book or a glass of wine.
THE RIDE: The first 110 miles take you to Breezewood, Pa., along I-270 and I-70, which during rush hour can be slow until you get past Gaithersburg, and again around Frederick. The remainder of the trip is on small highways past houses, farms and fields. If you want a break in Breezewood, check out LaMalot Farm (430 Crestview Rd. off Route 30, 814-735-4736, http://www.lamalot.com/ ). Less than a mile from the ugly highway interchange sits a gorgeous farm with more than 100 llamas, including babies born spring through fall. When I-70 dead-ends, turn left onto Route 30 West, travel a few yards and look for the sign on the right reading "Llamas For Sale, Visitors Welcome." Owners Joan and Nyle Mellott really mean it, even if you're not in the market for a llama. Walk around any time, but if you want to get into the fields and pet the llamas, call to see if the Mellots are home.
THE DESTINATION: As the 125-passenger Princess Cruise boat (see Seven Points Marina below) slides past one of the eight small islands on Lake Raystown, an eagle soars over the bow, then disappears into the thick green forest punctuated white by flowering dogwood trees.
The islands are actually mountaintops. This once was a small, 575-acre lake created in 1906 by a dam on a branch of the Juniata River. When the Army Corps of Engineers completed a giant dam in 1974, they created one of the largest lakes in the East, making islands of the lowest-lying mountains in the Allegheny range. Our $10 cruise passes by 50-foot-high cliffs of red shale -- cliffs that used to tower about 150 feet above water.
We pull close to shore at Sheep Rock Shelter , where archaeologists between 1957 and 1972 discovered the remains of camps of the Susquehannock Indians -- a native tribe that Capt. John Smith, who encountered them in 1608, described as "well proportioned" and seeming "like giants." Among the finds: spearheads, knives, pottery and the 6,000-year-old skull and bones of a 30-year-old woman.
Later, on a hike along part of the 27-mile long Terrace Mountain Trail , we watch from shore as an angler reels in a fish of a size we'd thought came only from the ocean.
Back at the Seven Points Marina (R.D. 1, Hesston, 814-658-3074, http://www.7pointsmarina.com/ ), a bluegrass band is playing and volunteers are posting the results from a striped bass tournament. A proud contender shows up with his best haul: a 32-pounder.
Stu Tinney, a renowned fisherman from Columbia, Tenn., is the tournament's celebrity host. He says he has traveled the most famous fishing spots of the world, but Raystown Lake remains a favorite. "I've been coming here for 27 years, yet every time I come over that mountain and catch the view, I have to take a deep breath," he says. "This is a beautiful place full of people determined to maintain its pristine condition. It's a sportsman's paradise. And the landscape: As the light changes on the mountains, I get a different view every 15 minutes."
WE'D GO BACK BECAUSE . . . the deep green waters that reach depths of more than 130 feet have a calming effect similar to that of the ocean. (Witness the sea gulls who've taken up residence.) You can easily find solitude within the rolling mountains and forests -- a preserve of nature big enough to make you forget how much of the world within driving distance of D.C. has been turned into housing tracts and malls.
WE'D STAY HOME BECAUSE . . . there are no waves, the swimming beaches are small patches of construction-grade sand, and the lake can get busy with boats on summer weekends.
EATS AND SLEEPS: Lake Raystown Resort and Lodge (100 Chipmunk Crossing, Entriken, http://www.raystownresort.com/ , 814-658-3500) offers the only rooms within the park. Its 50-room hotel ($74 to $119 per night double) is steps from the lake. New this year: 25 lakeside villas that sleep six ($750 for a minimum three-night stay, $1,400 for a week). Cabins ($99 to $159) either nestle in the woods or sit along the lake, as do both RV and tent campsites ($30 to $47 a night). Houseboats are rented at both the resort and at Seven Points Marina (see above); prices start at $1,000 for Monday to Friday or Friday to Monday. To reserve other campsites in the park, go to the National Recreation Reservation Service Web site, http://www.reserveusa.com/ , or call 877-444-6777. Numerous lodgings are available near the park on private property, a few with lake views, and are listed at the visitors bureau (see below).
At Lake Raystown Resort, fish, chicken and beef dominate the menu. Dinner entrees range from $10.95 for fried chicken to $21.95 for a 10-ounce steak. For a great pub experience, Boxers Cafe (410 Penn St., Huntingdon, 814-643-5013), a 15-minute drive from the lake, has a wide range of domestic and imported beers on tap. A traditional diner, Millers (Mill Creek Road, Huntingdon, 814-643-3418) serves up sandwiches and country fare; the most expensive item on the menu, a roast beef dinner, is $8.95. Also in Huntingdon, Mimi's (312 Penn St., 814-643-7200) is an upscale choice, with dinner entrees ranging from $13.95 to $21.95.
COOL DETOURS: For action and a break from the quiet, hit the Hesston Speedway ( http://www.hesstonspeedway.com/ , 814-658-2823, $11), where sprint and stock cars careen around a clay track lined with grandstands, about a five-minute drive from the lake's visitors center. Or, to continue the serenity, tour the stalactite- and crystal-filled Lincoln Caverns ( http://www.lincolncaverns.com/ , 814-643-0268, $10), a 10-minute drive from the lake.
BOTTOM LINE: Park planners have managed to create myriad recreational venues while preserving the area's natural beauty on a major scale. You'll be surprised something so remote could be so close.
-- Cindy Loose
For more information: Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau, 888-729- 7869),http://www.raystown.org.