Camping Fun a Short Commute Away
By Karen-Lee Ryan
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, August 22, 2003; Page WE56
AS SUMMER starts to wane, thoughts begin bubbling about outdoorsy autumn getaways filled with playful days and moonlit nights around a campfire. Fortunately, a weekend in the woods doesn't mean a long trek into the wilderness. A surprising number of parks not far from the Beltway have ample leafy campsites that rarely get crowded, even on weekends.
Greenbelt Park is flanked by the Beltway and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, Little Bennett Regional Park sits just a couple of miles from I-270 and Lake Fairfax Park lies mere minutes from the Dulles Toll Road. A bit farther afield but still within an hour of the Beltway are Cunningham Falls State Park north of Frederick and Prince William Forest Park near Quantico. Before the kids can say "Are we there yet?" you'll be unfurling the tent and putting a plastic checkered cloth on the picnic table.
Camping close to home means escaping from the hurry-up electronic world without having to battle hours of traffic to get there. Within the confines of a sizable park, you quickly forget about its suburban surroundings with the comfort of knowing they're just a short drive away.
Car camping results in a rustic, back-to-nature feeling without the sacrifices (or late-night fears) of the deep woods. You sleep under the stars, wake up with the sunrise and commune with nature just a few feet from your car. Plus, you can cook over an open fire, try your luck with a Coleman stove or crack open a box of doughnuts that just happens to be in the back seat.
When you're tired of hanging out at the campsite, the area's parks offer plenty of activities, from swimming, fishing and hiking to several styles of golf. At Pohick Bay Regional Park in Lorton, you can swing through 18 holes, try your luck at mini golf or toss a Frisbee around the disc golf course. Breezy Point Park and Campground in Calvert County has few trees but plenty of fishing and swimming on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. Burke Lake Park operates a miniature train and carousel when kids get bored at the playground.
At the end of a relaxing day free from television and e-mail, the whole family can sing camp songs or tell ghost stories around a crackling fire while indulging in the best part of any camping trip: making s'mores.
The following publicly owned campgrounds are located less than an hour from the Capital Beltway. All have flush toilets and hot showers.
BREEZY POINT BEACH AND CAMPGROUND -- 5300 Breezy Point Beach Rd., Chesapeake Beach. 410-535-0259. www.co.cal.md.us/ccpr/breezy_point.html. This beachfront campground, with views across the Chesapeake Bay, is open May 1 to Oct. 31. Cost is $25 a night (water and electric provided) for up to four people; $5 additional a night per camper, maximum of eight campers per site. A small but popular camping spot (reservations strongly recommended), Breezy Point has a half-mile sandy beach on the bay, a 300-foot fishing pier, beach volleyball and a playground.
BULL RUN REGIONAL PARK -- 7700 Bull Run Dr., Centreville. 703-631-0550. www.nvrpa.org/bullrunpark.html. The campground, with 150 spacious and shaded sites (50 tent sites and 100 sites with electric 30-amp hookups) is open mid-March to mid-October. Sites cost $14.75 to $18.25 a night for Northern Virginia residents, $16 to $18.25 for nonresidents, for up to four people. The park charges an extra $2.50 a person per night and allows seven campers per site. Reservations are accepted. All sites include a grill, fire ring and picnic table. Miniature golf, disc golf, a playground, trails and outdoor pool (open through Labor Day) are within walking distance of the campground.
BURKE LAKE PARK -- 7315 Ox Rd., Fairfax Station. 703-323-6601. www.co.fairfax.va.us/parks/lakefront.htm. The park's 100 leafy campsites (no hookups) are open mid-April through October and cost $14 per site per night for up to four people. The park charges an additional $2 per person per night, with up to seven people and two tents allowed. Camping is first come, first serve. Each site includes a picnic table, grill and fire ring. The park offers largemouth bass fishing on its 218-acre lake. Rowboats are available for rental, and a new fishing pier is accessible to persons with disabilities. Other activities include a miniature train, a carousel, outdoor volleyball courts, an 18-hole golf course and playgrounds.
CUNNINGHAM FALLS STATE PARK -- 14039 Catoctin Hollow Rd., Thurmont, Md. 301-271-7574. www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/western/cunninghamfalls.html. This park, home to the state's tallest waterfall, has two camping areas: the Houck Area (a half-mile from the waterfall) with 140 sites, and the Manor Area with 31 sites. Camping is generally open April through October and costs $20 per night, $25 with electric hookup; two-night minimum from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Reservations for either camping area can be made up to a year in advance by calling 888-432-2267. This park offers extensive hiking (with connections into adjacent Catoctin Mountain Park), fishing and a swimming lake.
GREENBELT PARK -- 6565 Greenbelt Rd., Greenbelt. 301-344-3948. www.nps.gov/gree. Yards from the Beltway and the B-W Parkway, this national park is a forested oasis amid suburban sprawl. The surprisingly quiet, year-round campground boasts 174 sites that cost $14 a night and can be reserved through the National Park Service at 800-365-2267. The sites sport picnic tables and grills but no electric hookups. The park has a handful of hiking trails, including the six-mile perimeter trail, also open to equestrians.
LAKE FAIRFAX PARK -- 1400 Lake Fairfax Dr., Reston. 703-471-5415. www.co.fairfax.va.us/parks/lakefront.htm. This 476-acre suburban park has 136 campsites (70 with electrical hookups, 15 and 30 amp) open year-round. Cost is $17 per night for up to four people Memorial Day through Labor Day, and $15 per night other times of the year. Additional campers, up to seven per site, pay $2 each. For reservations between Memorial Day and Labor Day, contact the camp store at 703-757-9242; other times, call 703-471-5415. Campers can walk to the park's 18-acre lake and the Water Mine, an outdoor swimming pool encircled by a lazy river (open through Labor Day). Paddleboat rentals and a carousel are also nearby, and the park has an expansive field ideal for kite flying.
LITTLE BENNETT REGIONAL PARK -- 23701 Frederick Rd., Clarksburg. 301-972-9222. www.mc-mncppc.org/parks/enterprise/park_facilities/little_bennett/index.shtm. Just a couple of miles from I-270, this park offers more than 90 wooded and well-spaced campsites (25 with electrical hookups) open from early April to late October, plus weekends in November and March. Reservations recommended for weekends. Sites cost $15 to $21 for Montgomery and Prince George's county residents, $17 to $23 for nonresidents for up to six people per site. Most sites have a picnic table, fire ring and lantern post. This sprawling park, with nearly 15 miles of trails, preserves several Montgomery County historic sites, including the Hyattstown Mill and the one-room Kingsley School House. Recreational activities near the campground include hiking, horseshoes, volleyball and playgrounds.
POHICK BAY REGIONAL PARK -- 6501 Pohick Bay Dr., Lorton. 703-339-6104. www.nvrpa.org/pohickbay.html. The park's scenic 1,000-acre family campground is open March through October and features 150 shaded sites -- 50 tent sites and 100 with electric 30-amp hookups. Sites cost $14.75 to $18.25 per night for Northern Virginia residents, $16 to 19.50. for nonresidents for up to four people per site. The park charges an extra $2.50 per person a night and allows seven campers per site; reservations recommended for weekends. All sites include a grill, fire ring and picnic table. The park has several trails, as well as a mini-golf course, an 18-hole par-72 golf course, various boat rentals and an outdoor pool (open through Labor Day).
PRINCE WILLIAM FOREST PARK -- 18100 Park Headquarters Rd., Triangle. 703-221-7181. www.nps.gov/prwi. Open year-round, the park's Oak Ridge Campground provides tent and RV (32-foot limit) camping for up to six people per site for $10 per night. Campers select sites on a first-come, first-serve basis, and each wooded site has a picnic table, fire grill and lantern post. An extensive trail system weaves through the park, including more than 30 miles of hiking trails, 20 miles of paved roads and fire roads for bicyclists and mountain bikers.
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