A beginner’s guide to camping
Cunningham Falls State Park
This pet-friendly park in Frederick County, Md., a 90-minute drive from DC, is good for parents with younger campers. The best spot for families is the quieter Manor Area, which offers bathrooms with showers and access to drinking water, but you’ll want to spend your active time at the William Houck Area. Located a 10-minute drive to the north, this upper section of the park is home to a variety of trails and Hunting Creek Lake, where you can swim and try your luck for trout, bass, bluegills and more (a fishing license is required for anglers 16 years and older). For a special treat, go to nearby Gateway Candyland (14802 N. Franklinville Rd., Thurmont; gatewaycandy.com), a sweet shop of Wonka-esque proportions selling 500 types of candy, ice cream and epic sundaes.
14039 Catoctin Hollow Rd., Thurmont, Md. dnr.maryland.gov. The Manor Area of the park has 21 basic campsites, including 10 with electrical hookups, and is open through Dec. 11. $21.50 and up per night. Book online at parkreservations.maryland.gov.
Snuggled into the Appalachian Mountains, a 90-minute drive from the District, Greenbrier is a good starter site for camping newbies because there are plenty of easygoing activities. Nearly 11 miles of trails zigzag through the park; mountain bikes are welcome on many of them. Boats equipped with electric motors are allowed on the 42-acre lake, or visitors can rent rowboats and paddleboats. A white sand beach offers a nice opportunity to take to the water or simply savor a few rays. Campsites are well spaced and well maintained and have easy access to bathhouses; two camping areas allow pets in case you don’t want to leave Rover at home.
21843 National Pike, Boonsboro, Md. dnr.maryland.gov. The park has 164 campsites and is open April through October. $27.75 and up per night. Book online at parkreservations.maryland.gov.
Easing back into group travel with a multifamily camping trip
Little Bennett Campground
This Montgomery County campground is just a 45-minute car ride from downtown DC Spread across 3,700 acres, Little Bennett Regional Park is crisscrossed with over 25 miles of trails primed for hiking and biking adventures. The Kingsley Trail is a favorite option for families. Just 1.8 miles long, it passes a restored late-19th-century schoolhouse. Campsites have access to bathrooms with showers, as well as drinking fountains and water spigots. A small playground offers tykes a chance to burn off any remaining energy before you slip them into their sleeping bags.
23705 Frederick Rd., Clarksburg, Md. montgomeryparks.org. The park has 63 tent campsites and is open March through November, though bath houses are closed in March and November. $35 and up per night; two-night minimum required. Book online at web1.myvscloud.com/wbwsc/mdmontgomeryctywt.wsc.
For the family that can’t sit still, set your GPS for this pet-friendly park located a two-hour drive away in Delaware. Seventeen miles of trails are ready to be biked and hiked. Visitors can bring their own watercraft or rent a rowboat, canoe, kayak or pedal boat to pilot across the placid waters of the largest freshwater pond in the state. Toss a line in for striped bass, bluegills and pickerels (fishing permits required). For more adrenalized action, hit up the Go Ape treetop course offering aerial adventures for all ages, including zip-lines over the pond, rope ladders and a Tarzan swing (costs additional fees). Wildlife abounds — from live reptiles and fish at the nature center to a plethora of bird life throughout the park, including ospreys, blue herons and egrets.
1068 Howell School Rd., Bear, Del. destateparks.com. The park has 10 campsites and 70 RV sites that accommodate tents and is open year-round. $15 and up per night. Book online at delawarestateparks.reserveamerica.com.
Paw Paw Tunnel Campground
Have you been bingeing “Ghost Hunters,” “Kindred Spirits” or “Paranormal State”? This campground, a two-hour car ride from the city, is for you. Nearby, the C&O Canal flows through the Paw Paw Tunnel, a half-mile-long feat of engineering construction out of nearly 6 million bricks. Legend has it that the tunnel is haunted by the spirit of a lock keeper who died in a violent fire in the late 19th century, so keep your eyes peeled and your EMF gauge on. If you want to skip the ghost hunting, there are plenty of opportunities for biking and hiking the towpath alongside the canal. Facilities are limited at the camps. It is equipped with portable toilets, but no showers; drinking water is available from hand pumps, but only between April 15 and Nov. 1.
Mile 156 Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath, Oldtown, Md. recreation.gov. The campground has 10 campsites and is open year-round. $10 and up per night. Book online at recreation.gov.
Shenandoah River State Park
Right on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, a 90-minute trip from the city wherever, this campsite offers grand views you look — including over five miles of shoreline, the majestic Massanutten Mountain in the west and the epic spread of Shenandoah National Park off to the east. Stretching over 1,600 acres, the park features more than 24 miles of ready trails for biking, hiking and horse-riding adventures. A dozen camps are perched on the waterfront. Many campsites at the park include water and electricity, as well as fire rings, picnic tables and lantern holders, and there are shower and bathroom facilities available.
350 Daughter of Stars Dr., Bentonville, Va. dcr.virginia.gov. The park has 31 campsites and is open year-round. $25 and up per night. Book online at reservevaparks.com.