Drive-In Nature

Campgrounds, like this one at Virginia's First Landing State Park, can offer a natural setting without the long trek.
Campgrounds, like this one at Virginia's First Landing State Park, can offer a natural setting without the long trek. (Virginia Department Of Conservation And Recreation)

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Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Backpacking is great for the hiker who seeks serious solitude -- and doesn't mind going to the bathroom behind a tree. But not all campers like it rough. A few trees and a breeze are nature enough, even if you pitch your tent within a S'more's toss of your parked car. Fortunately, the region is well-stocked with worthy drive-in campgrounds, on parkland and private property alike. Some of those listed below are plush by tent-pitching standards -- general stores, swimming pools, regular park ranger patrols and, yes, even running water and latrines. Others are more rustic.

Camping costs listed below are per campsite or group per night, unless specified. Additional per-person fees -- including park entrance admission ranging from $2 to $10 -- plus taxes and reservation surcharges may apply. Call ahead to see if reservations, including minimum stays, are required; policies and rates vary by campground and often by season.

-- Elissa Leibowitz Poma

VIRGINIA

· Shenandoah National Park

Best for: Novice campers and families with young'uns.

Skyline Drive's four major campgrounds -- with sweeping Blue Ridge Views and close to trails of varying degrees of difficulty -- are between mile markers 22 and 80; all are $14 except for the mega-popular, family-friendly Big Meadows (from $16). A fifth campsite, at Mile Marker 83.7, is for groups ($32). Info: 540-999-3500, http://www.nps.gov/shen .

· Prince William Forest Park

Best for: Weekenders seeking a starry overnighter without much driving.

This uncrowded park 32 miles south of Washington is the largest protected "green space" in the D.C. area. Oak Ridge Campground is for individual tents ($15) and Turkey Run Ridge hosts groups ($40). Info: 703-221-7181, http://www.nps.gov/prwi.

· Blue Ridge Parkway

Best for: Birdwatchers observing fall migrations.

Running from the foot of Shenandoah through North Carolina, the 469-mile parkway drive has big-sky views and 100 trails. Four campsites in Virginia are between mileposts 60 and 167. From $16. Info: 828-298-0398, www.nps.gov/blri .


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