Drive-In Nature
Park Campgrounds Provide the Woods Without the Walk

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


· 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 .

· First Landing State Park

Best for: Those who want to rough it historically.

Jamestown might be celebrating the 400th anniversary of its founding, but First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach is where the settlers really slept first. Beachfront campsites are $23. Info: 757-412-2300, http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/parks/1stland.htm.

· Douthat State Park

Best for: Conservationists who appreciate a pioneer when they see one.

This Allegheny Mountain park is on the National Register of Historic Places for its role in the development of parks across the country. It has group camping with mountain views. $23. Info: 540-862-8100, http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/parks/douthat.htm.

More Info: Virginia Tourism Corp., 800-847-4882, http://www.virginia.org; Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, 804-786-1712, http://www.dcr.virginia.gov.


· Catoctin Mountain National Park

Best for: Campers who seek deep background but will settle for deep woods.

Camp David is within the confines of this lush park, though completely hidden among the thick forests and positively not open to the public. But there are plenty of verdant vistas for civilians, including adjacent Cunningham Falls State Park and its 78-foot waterfall. $20. Info: 301-663-9388, http://www.nps.gov/cato .

· Assateague Island National Seashore

Best for: Lovers of long-haired beauties running free (on four feet).

Assateague Island (which also includes a state park) has the only oceanfront camping in Maryland, with a stunning and undeveloped 20-mile stretch where campers can see the descendants of 16th-century horses roaming the beaches. From $16. Info: 410-641-3030, http://www.nps.gov/asis .

· New Germany State Park

Best for: Families seeking a mountain retreat.

Within the boundaries of the Savage River State Forest in Grantsville, this park has its own kid-friendly lake for swimming and paddle boating. $20. Info: 301-895-5453, http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/western/newgermany.html .

· Cedarville State Forest

Best for: History hounds hunting infamous ghosts.

After he shot President Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth hid in the forest's Zekiah Swamp -- as did local moonshiners. Today, well-designed trails meander under pines planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps. $20 Info: 301-888-1410, http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/southern/cedarville.html .

· Susquehanna State Park

Best for: Rough riders who don't go anywhere without mountain bikes in tow.

Rugged rocks and thick forests cover this park, which is popular with mountain bikers. Explore the Rock Run Grist Mill, Archer Mansion and Jersey Toll House along the way. $20. Info: 410-557-7994. http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/central/susquehanna.html .

· Tuckahoe State Park

Best for: Camper parents seeking a lazy weekend with the kids.

The turtle-filled stream moves at, well, a turtle's pace. The lake is small enough to canoe across without too much effort. The land is flat, making a bicycling outing none too exhaustive. All this makes the Queen Anne park a truly leisurely weekend. Separate family and youth group campsites available. $20. Info: 410-820-1668, http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/eastern/tuckahoe.html.

More info: Maryland Department of Tourism, 866-639-3526, http://www.mdisfun.org; Maryland Department of Natural Resources, 410-260-8367,http://www.dnr.state.md.us.


· Monongahela National Forest

Best for: Car campers in search of maximum backcountry feeling without the schlep.

Tote the mountain bikes along for an outing to the Elkins area, which includes 23 campsites. Tea Creek Campground is close to the Williams River, which is stocked monthly with trout. $8. Info: 304-636-1800, http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/mnf.

· Holly River State Park

Best for: Fly fishermen wanting only to hear the whip of their lines and the wind in the trees.

This remote, densely wooded mountainous park in the center of the state in Webster County has drive-up spots and fishing in pristine waters. $20. Info: 304-493-6353,http://www.hollyriver.com.

· Camp Creek State Park

Best for: Horses.

Through Nov. 1, horses are allowed at this campground, called Double C, in southern West Virginia, with access to 35 miles of riding trails. $21. The park's two other campgrounds are $13 and $20. Info: 304-425-9481, http://www.campcreekstatepark.com/ .

More info: West Virginia Division of Tourism , 800-225-5982, http://www.wvtourism.com; West Virginia Division of Natural Resources , http://www.wvdnr.gov.


· Gifford Pinchot State Park

Best for: Church groups, other mass gatherings.

Grassy fields alternate with rolling wooded hills alongside the 340-acre Pinchot Lake at this park close to Harrisburg. From $12. Group sites can hold up to 250 people (from $26). Individuals also can reserve a yurt, or Mongolian-style tent (from $27). Info: 717-292-4112, http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/STATEPARKS/parks/giffordpinchot.aspx.

· Caldonia State Park

Best for: Hunters who think indoor sleeping during cold weather is for the lily-livered.

About 740 acres of this park near Gettysburg are open for tent camping into December, along with hunting, trapping and dog training during various times of the year. It boasts a sizable swimming pool and is across the road from the Totempole Playhouse (seasonal). From $12. Info: 717-352-2161, http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/parks/caledonia.aspx .

More info: Pennsylvania Tourism Office, 800-847-4872, http://www.visitpa.com; Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us.

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