The Benavides family of Edgewater, Md., who pitched their tent last month at Maryland's Assateague State Park, are among those who've turned beach camping into a summer tradition.
The Benavides family of Edgewater, Md., who pitched their tent last month at Maryland's Assateague State Park, are among those who've turned beach camping into a summer tradition.
The Washington Post

Beach? Blanket? Bingo.

When the sun drops, campers build a fire in a ring near their tent and relax near the water's edge.
When the sun drops, campers build a fire in a ring near their tent and relax near the water's edge. (Michael Williamson - The Washington Post)

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By Cindy Loose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 2, 2006

The so-called two-person tent I'd borrowed from a backpacking friend was so small, I felt as if my daughter and I had been stuffed into a sausage casing for the night.

When the rain came in the wee hours, I awoke to a wet pillow, water pattering my face.

The thin slab of plastic filled with a quarter-inch of air was no heavenly bed, and I had to share the communal bathhouse with about 50 other campers.

But I was within steps of the ocean.

As a die-hard hotel person, I seek creature comforts. I have no urge to rough it in the woods. But as a die-hard ocean person, I was open to suffering the indignities of camping for the chance to commune with the ocean up close and personal.

After my trip last month to Maryland's Assateague State Park, I will even go so far as to say that the hardships of beach camping pale in comparison with the pluses: lying in view of the stars at night while listening to the waves roll in. Awaking at dawn with the smell of sea salt in the fresh air. Perking coffee over an open fire as the sun of a new day lights the sand with hues of pink and gold. Planting the first footprint on a beach washed smooth by the night tide.

Oceanfront camping is something of an endangered species, but federal, state and county governments up and down the Atlantic seaboard have held onto a handful of oceanfront preserves that they share with campers. More than two dozen campgrounds dot U.S. Atlantic Coast beaches, including several within a few hours' drive of metropolitan Washington (see box, Page P7).

If, like me, you're an inexperienced camper, be aware that most ocean camping is not much like backpacking, so don't make the mistake I did and borrow supplies from a backpacker. Those people hike deep into the woods, carrying everything they'll use. They have to bring tents the size of towels.

In the United States, oceanfront property is too valuable to be remote, and in most cases you can drive your vehicle right next to the spot where you intend to pitch your tent or drag your trailer. So bring a big tent, and all the creature comforts you can stuff around it.

Some of the other campers near my campsite on Assateague, eight miles from Ocean City, even brought lawn ornaments.

Kevin and Kendie Reich of Laurel brought along a slide and swimming pool for their 19-month-old daughter, plus bikes for themselves and their three boys and a bike trailer for the baby, and Rollerblades and a powerboat and baseball equipment and a big plastic tub for bathing the kids, and a hatchet and shovel, and alternate all-terrain vehicles for riding the beach, and lounge chairs and beach toys and a really big tent, even though the family was sleeping in the trailer pulled by one of the two vehicles they drove. They said they were sorry they hadn't brought the kayaks, as usual, and were planning to call an uncle to bring them.

The ocean will provide solace, but you won't need as much solace as I did if, like a good Scout, you come prepared.


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