Dear PoP – Camping recommendations

“Dear PoP,

I was hoping you could ask a question of your readers. As PoPville tends to include somewhat outdoorsy people, what are their favorite camping areas in the 2 hour away range? My friends and I are planning a trip and are looking for a real campground and not some KOA setup but something pretty rustic. I’ve been to Elizabeths furnace in the GW forest but was hoping to try somewhere new out.”

With the leaves getting ready to change this should be a particular nice time of year for camping. Anyone have specific Shenandoah recs? Other good spots within 2 hours of DC?

32 Comment

  • Green Ridge in MD….might be a little ways but nice. Pretty rustic, i.e. no water (you pack it in) and no toilets (dig ya a latrine). Nice though and secluded.

  • Definitely not within 2 hrs, but Dolly Sods is perfect. There’s even a more established first-come/first-serve campground but also backcountry campsites. It’s a wilderness area, gorgeous flora and fauna and spectacular views. Probably the first place that will get snow in the mid-atlantic though, so don’t go too late in the season.

  • There are a bunch of places over in Shenandoah Valley area of VA. Something a little more unique of an experience is Assateague Island, known for their wild horses, over on the MD shore…it’s more like 2.5-3hrs away though.

  • Well, if you want to up that to 3 and a half hours away from DC- I would recommend Monongahela National Forest just inside West VA. You should go just for the name. Plenty of camping- luxury and primitive. For motorcyclists- VA 55 and West VA 55 are absolutely incredible to ride out there.

    A tad closer- C & O Canal. They have tons of camping and most of it is accessible by car if you don’t want to march up the trail. Most of it is free.

    • Second the C&O campgrounds – Swain’s Lock feels surprisingly away from everything for being only a 40 min. drive. Easy canoeing on the river there too, and safe to swim in usual conditions. Also love Assateague – would be especially good now to see Jupiter.

      • i would third the C&O recommendation. if you have a bike and can pack your stuff on it then you can bicycle to your camping spot. (or make it to a couple of spots)…. each site has a pump well, a fire ring, a picnic table and a porta-potty. and the river.

  • Bear

    Related question – is there anywhere with cheap cabin rentals? I don’t need super swank–they can be very basic. The bf just isn’t so much into tents.

  • Green Ridge is fantastic. Primitivie sites, most around .5 miles apart.

    Antietam Battlefield campground is excellent too. Borders the Potomac and C&O. Modern sites, not far from the small towns either.

    All the campgrounds in Shenandoah are decent, but get there early as they fill up. The sites can be kinda piled on top of each other too, especially at Big Meadow.

    Catcoctin near Frederick is a great place. It has a mountain vibe and excellent trails. Lots of relics from the whiskey bootlegging days. They have a small ampitheater where a ranger told stories and played old folk songs!

    Every campground on the Blue Ridge Parkway in VA is amazing.

    Prince William Forest out near Quantico is good. It has many sites, and is less than 40 miles out of DC. Check the traffic on I95 before heading out though. Once took me 2 hours to get there from SE.

  • If you have a 4wd vehicle, you could head to GW or Jefferson National forest. You could just park and hike in if you wanted, but basically you can camp anywhere you want. If you do drive in, please make sure you are on the legal 4wd trails. The fire roads are maybe doable in a non-lifted SUV if the river is low, but I wouldnt try any other trails in anything other than a properly equiped trail vehicle. Also watch out for hunting season, when deer season starts, NEVER leave your dog offleash.

  • White Oak Canyon Trail at Shenandoah. You have to hike in 2 miles and camp off the fire road but there is a beautiful waterfall.

  • I recommend the area around Old Rag in Shenandoah National Forest for hiking/camping.

    Also, I stayed at Lydia Mountain Lodge, between Charlottesville and Harrisonburg, VA, just after this year’s epic snowstorm and loved it (it’s not camping by any stretch). Note that the three bedroom cabins would be tight for more than four people, since the living room is a bit small.

  • Cunningham Falls State Park – Thurmont MD

    Only about 1-1/2 hours north, just pull in (The Manor Area) and pay later or at the gate. Pick your site and set up – comes with picnic table, fire pit, and not so bad shower house.

    Lots of activities for families: nice lake, boat rentals, hiking, very cool waterfall… gigantic boulders everywhere.

    Always very nice for a quick, cheap and easy get away.

    Beautiful in the Fall!

  • Did you know you can camp right here in DC? Well, almost…Greenbelt Park is a National Parks Service park just up by College park.

  • White Oak Canyon is indeed beautiful but it is steep, might be hard to find a flat spot along the trail big enough for a group?
    Assateague National Seashore or the state park in Maryland (which has hot showers) are good and if it rains you can bail and drive down to Chincoteague and get a motel room. You can hike OR canoe into the primitive campsites at Assateague about 5 miles in, if you want to get away from the crowd. Bring bug spray or wait for colder weather.
    Easy solution might be to reserve a cabin up in SNP, or tent site(s) at Big Meadows.
    Blackwater Falls, Lake Anna or Deep Creek Lake might be good options.

  • I second Cunningham State Park and Assateague. Both are extremely beautiful and you just lose yourself.

  • Little Bennett Campground is only about 40 minutes outside of the District and has lovely, fairly private wooded sites (site 20 in Loop A is particularly nice). There are really nice hiking trails in the park as well (Little Bennett Regional Park). Each site has a gravel, level tent pad, fire pit, and table. Overall, a really nice campsite for easy camping from the city! Highly recommended!

  • I second the vote for Catoctin — It’s much faster than getting to Shenandoah during Friday evening rushhour traffic. It’s tents-only except for the giant RV used by the campsite hosts.

    For Shenandoah, Matthew’s Arm is the furthest campground north, so we always go there. If you can get a site in the tents-only area it’s much better than the main site because you won’t run the risk of being sandwiched between two RVs. But you have to get there relatively early in the fall to get a site — no reservations taken.

  • Not tellin my secret spot!

  • To all the awesome places already listed – I’d like to add the Michaux State Forest in PA. It’s closer than you’d think, soooper cheap, and the sites are right along parts of the Appalachian Trail. And you can take a day-trip to Hershey Park and ride some roller coasters.

  • My girlfriend and I spent a week in a cabin at Douthat State park:

    I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a nice, relatively inexpensive cabin with great facilities all around. The camping sites looked pretty nice as well.

  • For people looking for rustic cabins, Maryland and Virginia state parks usually have a few “camper cabins” available at their campgrounds. I stayed in one at Lake Anna last fall. (I was camping with 6 weeks old.) Camper cabins have built-in beds/cots & table & sometimes electricity. Lake Anna camp ground was shiny, new & very clean. But my favorite camp ground is still Skylands in Shenandoah National Park, but it is over 3 hours away.

  • The only recommendation I have is to not visit any of the MD State Parks, unless you’re camping trip is alcohol-free.

    Maryland changed their policy last year and does not allow alcohol in the camping areas anymore.

    • What!? That is BOGUS (by which I mean LAME.) How else are you gonna fall asleep on a thin foam mattress with bears crashing around outside your tent? Jeez.
      Anyway I guess it’s probably not TOO hard to bring coozies or disguise your Jack Daniels in a sport bottle…

  • Well, this is a very nice camp place. Where’s this place?

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