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Camping in the Washington DC Area

One of the most common questions I get is "I want to visit Washington, DC, where do I camp?" Well, living in the area causes me to avoid camping this close to home. But, there are several campgrounds in the area that get good reviews from most people i hear from. Selecting one may depend on how long you intend to stay and how you intend to travel to do the "touristy" kind of things. 

I recommend using the DC Metro subway system if possible while touring as parking can be difficult and expensive downtown. Known as the Metro it runs within a few blocks of most attractions in DC (except maybe the Jefferson/Roosevelt memorials).   The Metro terminates in the suburbs around DC at commuter parking lots.  If you are planning on being out late, the metro runs until around midnight most week nights and later on the weekends.  Just ask the stationmaster as you are exiting at your destination what time the last train leaves.  For those not familiar with the area DC is situated between Virginia to the south - west and Maryland to the north - east.  I-495, also know as the capitol beltway is the expressway which makes a complete circle around DC.  I-95 runs north-south on the east side (it is actually part of I-495 in that area).  Peak commuting times for Washington workers is from about 6:30AM to 9:30AM and 3:30PM to around 7:00PM.  You want to avoid driving anywhere in the DC area at these times.  Trust me on this, it's not fun.

Consider taking a "trolley" tour of DC. For one fee they bus you around town and you can get off and back onto the trolley all day.  

I tend to camp in public parks as they tend to have larger wooded sites.  Two in the area are:

Greenbelt National Park. This is as the name implies a National Park which is inside the DC beltway and the only one I have personally camped at. The nice part is it is a wooded oasis very close to DC. The bad thing is that they do not have any hookups. All camping is "DRY". There is a foot path to the closest Metro station, but it is about a mile hike, probably not for the little ones. This campground is 2 miles from the Greenbelt Metro station on the GREEN line.

The next government campground is Pohick Bay Regional Park which is run by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. This is, in my opinion the hidden gem in DC camping!  Fully wooded sites with electric on every one. There is a 7 day limit on camping and no alcohol is allowed in the park  I overlooked this park for a long time, figuring this close to DC is must leave something out.  I must say, I was wrong.  This park is a gem.  Check out my trip report to Pohick Bay.  This campground is south of the last station on the BLUE line of the metro, Franconia-Springfield.

West of DC in Virginia is Lake Fairfax Park Campground  Each site has a grill, picnic table, and a fire ring. There is a mix of  shaded and sunny sites and each site provides space for at least one car or has parking nearby.  There are 70 sites with electric, but 40 of them are 15a only.  If you are there in the summer you want a 30a site to run the air conditioning.  The campground provides water spigots bathhouse with sinks, hot showers and flushing toilets.  There is a dump station with sanitary rinse-out.  The closest Metro stop would be a little south east at the Vienna/Fairfax-GMU station which is the last stop (west) on the ORANGE line.

North of DC, the The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission has a camping available at Little Bennett Regional Park.  We visited this park on our maiden voyage for 2003.  Their website boasts "Each of Little Bennett's 91 campsites offers a tranquil setting with ample opportunities to enjoy the scenic splendor of the park. Campsite amenities include a parking pad, a picnic table and barbecue grill. Comfort stations with sinks, showers, toilet facilities, and drinking fountains are located within walking distance. Water spigots are randomly located throughout each camping loop. A limited number of campsites are available with electrical hookups."   The description is correct.  Many of the sites are very roomy.  Only loop "D" has electric, so make reservations.  As the park is just north of DC on I-270 (a major commuting route) I would advise against planning any travel into DC during rush hour times.  As I say other places, drive to the nearest DC Metro subway station and ride the train into the city.  A sign at the welcome station tells you to "Ask about the Metro".  Follow their advise, ask. Little Bennett is about 15 miles north of the last stop on the RED line of the Metro, the Shady Grove Station.

Now come the commercial campgrounds. As with most commercial campgrounds you end up with reduced site size, more people and noise. The following have received fairly good reviews from most people:

Cherry Hill Park 

Close to DC, just outside the beltway on the north side.  I find it funny that I had to move to Atlanta to discover this campground in the DC area..  I spent a week there in the summer of 2005, when I had to go back to DC for business.  There is a large covered bus stop across from the camp office which is on several  local bus routes.  The buses run about  every15 minutes, during daytime hours, and it is approximately a 12 minute bus ride to the nearest to the nearest DC Metro subway station.  Figure on about an hour each way including wait times and the bus/rail ride.

Now, I have to tell you that if you are accustomed to public campgrounds with large wooded sites, Cherry Hill Park is not that. This is an RV park, not a wooded campground. The majority of sites are lined up shoulder to shoulder like rows of soldiers. Not my usual thought of camping, but if I were doing the tourist visit to DC this is the place to stay.

The positives: Water, electric, sewer and cable at every site.  Two beautiful pools for relaxing after a long day of walking around DC.  If you don't feel like cooking there is a diner on site with the normal fast food fare (breakfast lunch and dinner, figure 7AM to at least 10PM). A game room and places to hook up your laptop for high speed Internet.  A wooded hiking trail around the park gives you more then two miles of walking, if DC didn't do you in. Pets are welcome and they have bag stations set up all around the campground.  A large field is available if your dog needs to run.

The negatives: This campground is build right along side both I-95 and the Washington Beltway I-495.  It is probably better to say that the roads are next to the campground since the family has owned the land from the 1930's.  Traffic noise is constant and I'm sure it gets a little worse in the winter when the leaves are off the trees.  The sites are a little close for my taste, but it is well worth it for a campground in this close.

Washington DC, NE KOA (also known as Millersville, MD)  

Between DC and Baltimore on the eastern (Maryland) side of DC. They advertise free shuttles to the DC transit system. Verify that this is the Metro, not to the nearest DC bus stop! Most people refer to this campground as a base camp for a DC visit. I drove through this campground in early July 2003.  It seems very clean and the staff was helpful.  In addition to the shuttle to the transit system they have several package tours to points of interest in DC.  While the sites are a little smaller than I am accustomed to, they are still not that bad.  The sites directly in front of the campground office (#1-31, 84-90) are fairly open with little tree cover. The sites past the office (to the N/W #35-39, 115-137) are under a canopy of trees.  The sites along the outside of the north border are also tree covered but differ in size - ask before you end up with one too small for your unit. This campground is east of the last stop on the ORANGE line of the Metro, New Carrollton.

Aquia Pines Camp Resort 

South of DC along the I-95 corridor. Described as a real nice campground with lots of shade trees, the campground has advised me that they get many compliments on our very clean bathrooms, which which they feel is VERY important to pop-up and conversion van campers. Just off I-95 at exit 143 A (as in a 1/4 mile off I-95).  To get to DC you would need to travel north on I-95. Avoid this trip between 5:15AM and 8:30-9AM.  This campground is south of the last station on the BLUE line of the metro, Franconia-Springfield.  Another option is to take the VRE into Washington, especially if you are a senior or kid (half price!!) Additionally, you can drive to Arlington Cemetery and park, then take the Tourmobile.  Very popular in the area of Aquia Pines are the new Marine Corps Museum at Quantico and the remodeled visitors' center at Mt. Vernon.
Aquia Pines has assisted in keeping this information updated and can be contacted via e-mail.

Harpers Ferry KOA It is not very close to DC but always gets good reviews. 

If you find a campground further out in Virginia, check to see if it is close to a Virginia Railway Express station.  VRE provides express commuter train service from outlying Virginia areas to Washington, DC.


   Revised: May 08, 2009


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