Camping in a cool green forest or waterside retreat is easy in Northern Virginia, where pretty parks are plentiful.
Within a one- to two-hour drive, campers can find refuge from crowds and traffic jams in the mountains or along the Potomac River.
Sky Meadows, a beautiful and relatively unknown state park west of Middleburg, is one of many nearby scenic spots that offer overnight camping facilities. Campers may have to share hiking trails across the 1,132-acre former farm of Paul Mellon with the resident herd of cattle, but about a dozen rustic campsites come complete with tent pads, fire pits, outhouses and a pump well.
Other area getaways include the spectacular, mountainous Shenandoah National Park with its varied camping facilities, ranging from primitive woods to cabins and fully equipped trailer sites with electrical hook-ups. Or pitch a tent along the Appalachian Trail, which weaves through the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, based in Washington, has information on trail camping and also rents rustic cabins in the vicinity of the trail and Shenandoah National Park.
Pohick Bay and Westmoreland parks are examples of coastal camping areas that have swimming pools as well as access to the Potomac River.
Below is a list of public campgrounds in nearby Virginia:
*Burke Lake Park -- (Fairfax County) 163 wooded sites available for tents, tent trailers, truck campers and travel trailers; site fee of $7.28 nightly includes fresh water, hot showers, restrooms, dump station; 218-acre lake for fishing and boating, with marina; 18-hole golf course; nature trails; bicycle rentals; camp store; no electrical hook-ups; (Open all year. Reserve campsites by writing: Park Manager, Burke Lake Park, 7315 Ox Rd., Fairfax Station, Va., 22039. For information: phone 703-323-6601).
*Lake Fairfax Park -- (Fairfax County) 200 campsites, 92 with electrical hookups; site fee of $7.28 nightly plus $1.50 for hookup, includes showers, restrooms, dump stations, picnic tables, grills, camp store; 30-acre lake with canoe rentals, excursion boat ride and fishing; Olympic-sized pool; hiking and cross-country ski trails (Open all year. Reservations and information: Lake Fairfax Park, 1400 Lake Fairfax Dr., Reston, Va., 22090, phone 703-471-5415).
*Pohick Bay -- (Fairfax County on the Potomac River) 300 campsites on shaded hilly terrain, 100 with electrical hookups; $7 nightly site fee plus $1.50 for hookup includes grills, picnic tables, restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, dump station; camp store; swimming pool; 18-hole golf course; nature trails; pedal boat and sailboat rentals; boat launching ramp (Open all year. No reservations accepted, first-come, first-served for camping. For information: phone 703-339-6104).
*Bull Run -- (Fairfax County, near Manassas battlefields), 150 campsites on shaded flat terrain, 40 with electrical hookups; $7 nightly site fee plus $1.50 for hookup includes grills, picnic tables, restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, dump station; swimming pool; nature trails and fields for hiking (Closed December to mid-March. Reservations and information: 703-631-0550).
*Prince William Forest Park -- (Prince William County in the marsh and woodland west of the Potomac River) Six primitive campsites at Chopawamsic Backcountry Area open March through October, no fee but permit required from ranger; 113 campsites for tents or small recreational vehicles at Oak Ridge open year-round, includes water, restrooms, tables and campfire grills for site fee of $4 nightly; 79 campsites at Travel Trailer Village for trailers open year-round, with electrical and sewage hookups, restrooms, showers, laundry and swimming pool for site fee of $11.50 nightly for two, additional charge for extra people; campsites for large groups also available; extensive hiking and bicycle trails; nature center; stream and lake fishing. (Reservations available for Travel Trailer Village only, call 703-221-2474. Other information: call 703-221-7181).
*Sky Meadows State Park -- (Fauquier County in the foothills of the Blue Ridge) 12 primitive campsites half-mile hike from main park; $5 nightly camping fee includes tent pad, pit toilet, hand-pump well; picnic tables and hiking trails; access to the Appalachian Trail for walking and camping (No reservations. For information: Sky Meadows State Park, Route 1, Box 540, Delaplane, Va., 22025, phone 703-592-3556).
*Westmoreland State Park -- (Westmoreland County, facing the Potomac River) 118 campsites for tents and trailers, 16 with electric hookups; $7 site fee plus $2 for hookup; includes showers, restrooms, picnic tables, grills and piped water; swimming pool; cabin rentals also available. (Reservations through Ticketron: 804-490-3939, must be made 10 working days in advance. General park information: 804-493-8821).
*Shenandoah National Park -- (100 miles west of D.C., crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains from Staunton to Fort Royal). Four campgrounds are available in the park and camping is allowed throughout most other areas with a permit from a ranger; Big Meadows is the largest campground and is open year-round, with reservations available mid-May through October; campgrounds at Mathews Arm, Lewis Mountain and Loft Mountain are open only May through October; fees are $7 per night and all sites include tables and fireplaces, with piped water and restrooms nearby; shower and laundry facilities are available at all but Mathews Arm; no electrical hook-ups; limited sewer disposal; group camping facilities also available; more than 500 miles of trails for hiking; access to Appalachian Trail for hiking and camping; stream fishing; nature center. (Reservations available for Big Meadows through Ticketron outlets nationwide. For campground information: call 703-999-2282. For general information: call 703-999-2266).
*Potomac Appalachian Trail Club Cabins -- Six rustic cabins are available for rental within the Shenandoah National Park; they have no heat, no running water, no electricity; heat and cooking is by wood stove; wooden bunks to sleep eight to 12 per cabin have mattresses but no linen; fees are $2 nightly per PATC member or $3 for nonmember. (Reservations are available for three weeks in advance by calling PATC at 202-638-5306 between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. weeknights).