Leaves are on trees, which means it’s time to leave the city.
Washington, DC is conveniently located near beautiful national parks, frolicking horses, stunning vistas and drive-in movie theaters. “Near” is the key word in that sentence.
If you truly want to get away from the city, you’re going to need to get in a car, but our six picks are all under a four-hour-or-so drive from DC (depending on traffic, of course). They’re also all more than two hours away from the district. Prices range from $10 to $439 a night, so whatever your budget, we’ve got you covered.
Whether you want to sleep in a bag, on a National Park Services mattress or under 500-thread-count sheets, here are some excellent options.
Is this the equivalent of recommending Coca-Cola in an article about soda? Possibly, but Shenandoah lives up to its reputation. Staying inside the park is the obvious choice if you want to maximize your time in said park. If you’re an expert camper, you can backcountry camp. If you’re more of a park and pitch-a-tent person, there are five separate campground options, all of which are quite reasonably priced. If you’re hesitant to befriend bears, you can stay in the Lewis Mountain Cabins, which include options ranging from bunk-bed-centric “Hiker’s Cabins” to pet-friendly lodging with space for up to two dogs and/or cats.
If you’re going camping for the separation from DC but don’t want to disconnect from modern comfort, the nearby Getaway Shenandoah tiny houses in Stanardsville are a fine compromise. You’ll sleep in a bed, but you’ll have the option for a campfire and s’mores, and if that’s all you’re looking for in camping, that’s perfectly fine. Maybe somewhat surprisingly, a stay in a tiny house is more expensive than staying in a beautiful inn.
If you really don’t want to camp but would be quite content to say you did and maybe take a very short hike in Virginia’s finest national park, head to The Blue Door Kitchen & Inn. The space is small enough to be a bed and breakfast but way more upscale than your normal homey B&Bs. Located in Flint Hill, it’s ideal for the person that prefers wineries to walks in the woods.
This is sort of a tease. Most everyone that camps on the East Coast that knows about the horses wants to camp near the horses. Which means reservations for camping on Assateague Island are quite hard to come by. Most reservations for every warm weather weekend are filled the day they become available — and staying in a nearby Airbnb on those weekends is just as difficult and maybe prohibitive cost. But if you’re able to do some early week camping, there are still some Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday campsites available in May and June. July is completely reserved, August has two available dates as of this writing, and by mid-September there’s somewhat regular availability again.
If you’re a novice camper or new to the area, maybe bookmark this and set a Google Calendar reminder six months out from the date you may want to visit in 2023. Or stay active on your local neighborhood listserv. I’ve seen multiple neighbors offer up their weekend reservations this spring.
If you’re a climber, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better camping and climbing friendly option than Seneca Rocks. Spruce Knob is the highest peak in West Virginia, which means the views are out of a postcard — and the 100,000-acre spread means it’s as secluded as you want it to be. There’s no shortage of available sites at the Big Bend Campground most every popular weekend (July 3 is the only date at capacity), but there are still 18 sites that are first come, first served.
The furthest campsite recommendation is also the most unique. Sure, it’s nice to take in stunning vistas and commune with nature, but it’s also really nice to watch a movie and eat a bunch of concession stand popcorn. The Mahoning Drive-In Theater allows patrons attending the feature presentation a chance to pop a tent and spend the night. Movie tickets range from $8 to $15 and it’s only an extra $10 to sleep over. If you’re more of a cinephile than camper, this is your gateway drug to the outdoors.
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