A visit to Downtown Frederick, Maryland in the winter months cannot be complete without a visit to one of the most unique winter light displays anywhere in the world. On the waters of Carroll Creek Park, you'll find 28 lighted, decorated sailboats inviting you to explore this urban park at the heart of a 50 block historic district. This is Sailing Through the Winter Solstice - a months-long event you won't find anywhere else. Don't forget to cast your votes for your favorite boats!
Use this guide to make the most of your visit!
Let’s start with the origin story of Sailing Through the Winter Solstice. How did sailboats end up in the narrow stretch water winding through Carroll Creek Park?
It all began with Peter Kremers and Kyle Thomas in 2016. The two Fredericktonians began work on their first boat, the USS Hamster, in a garage. They floated their small vessel in Carroll Creek that winter and Sailing Through the Winter Solstice began.
In 2023-24, there will be more than two dozen boats moored in the shallow waters of Carroll Creek. The boats are connected to a volunteer-led effort to beautify this urban park. Color on the Creek fills Carroll Creek with beautiful water plants and flowers during the summer. Now, the winter has become the time of the boats.
The boats themselves are as varied as the organizations who have sponsored their construction. You’ll find mechanical row boats, a pirate ship, an aircraft carrier, boats inspired by Frederick’s famous steeples, and a trio of boats inspired by a cartoon of Frederick County’s own mythical creature – the Snallygaster (think dragon meets dinosaur with feathers and wings).
Each boat includes its own lighting display as well – a brightly colored array of lighted rigging, masts, and spars beacons visitors to explore this attraction.
Not only is this a mesmerizing display of light in the darkness of winter – it’s also a fundraiser. Each boat is tied to a non-profit organization in Frederick County. Visitors are encouraged to vote for their favorite boats, with each vote costing $1. The money raised on the voting goes directly to support the non-profit affiliated with that boat. In 2022-23, the fleet raised more than $130,000 for these non-profit organizations and charities. Giving back to the community has never been this fun and creative.
Still have questions? Sailing Through the Winter Solstice has created a helpful FAQ with even more details.
Explore the heart of Downtown Frederick
So you’ve decided to visit Frederick and see the boats – what’s next?
You’ll be right at the center of Downtown Frederick – a thriving 50-block historic district with more than 200 unique shops, locally-owned businesses, and restaurants. This is an ideal place to come for some incredible shopping. From independent bookstores, to battery-free toy shops, to clothing boutiques, spice and tea shops, and much, much more, you’ll find opportunities to purchase one-of-a-kind items that support local store owners and the Downtown Frederick community.
Take a stroll down city streets and you’ll experience the charm of this historic city. Grab a cup of coffee and stroll to the art galleries and museums that make up Downtown Frederick. Don’t forget to make a stop at the Frederick Visitor Center to pick up on tips from local experts.
Grab a Bite to Eat
A journey to see Sailing Through the Winter Solstice is also an opportunity to sample the delicious food options available right along the park. The Wine Kitchen offers a fine-dining experience overlooking the winter light display on the Creek. Savor a taste of Mexico at Plaza Mexico or La Paz. Have a unique experience at Frederick Social, where you can grab a vending card and pour yourself a pint or a glass of wine. They also offer a variety of vegetarian and vegan dining options.
This is just the start – explore our Downtown Frederick Dining Guide to learn about more restaurant options in the historic district.
Shake off the cold with a warming drink
Grab a hand-crafted cocktail at McClintock Distilling Company’s Back Bar, just steps away from the Sailing Through the Winter Solstice. Or take a few steps farther over to East Patrick Street and visit Tenth Ward Distilling Company’s Cocktail Lab for a warming beverage.
Beer-lovers can rejoice that the city’s emerging brewing district is only a five-minute walk from the boats. Head east through Carroll Creek Park and you’ll find five breweries open and serving a variety of brews. Check out Idiom, Steinhardt, Attaboy, and Attaboy Barrel House for a wide array of beer and cider. You’ll also find a rotating group of food trucks serving hungry brewery visitors.