As much as we love this city, there comes a time when we need a break — a break from the Hill, marble, concrete, and traffic. When you’re craving a scenic escape, a retreat to the outdoors might be just what you need.
Whether you’re looking for a rugged weekend sleeping under the stars, a campsite, or a cozy cabin, we have your go-to camping destinations around the District. Here’s to getting back to nature and coming back to the daily grind revitalized.
Just 75 miles outside of DC, Shenandoah National Park offers over 200,000 acres to explore. And you can choose just how close to nature you want to get — with a permit, you can “backcountry camp”, laying down your sleeping bag anywhere you see fit. Hike the AT (Appalachian Trail), absorb the great views at White Oak Canyon, or bike through Skyline Drive.
For a quick weekend getaway, head three hours west to Coopers Rock State Forest. With campsites available April through October (and each site costing just $28) it makes for an affordable, care-free weekend away from the city. Each site comes with an electrical hook-up, there are hot showers available, and best of all — there’s tons of great bouldering to be found throughout the area.
Here’s your itinerary for the weekend: head north to Gettysburg, explore the battlefield, then set up camp at Caledonia State Park. There’s more than enough to do: whitewater rafting, horseback riding, and a swimming pool are situated right on site. Plus, you can choose how you camp: sleep in a cottage, cabin, tent, or go rogue, and try car camping.
When Ocean City gets too crowded (which is always), you can head to the beach in Cowans Gap State Park. Just a two-hour drive from DC, this 1,000-acre park offers places to camp, swim, bike, and fish — year-round! Try ice skating and ice fishing in the winter, then come back to lounge on the beach in the summertime.
Next to Great Falls, Cunningham Falls State Park might be the shortest distance to DC on this list. Centered in the Catoctin Mountains just an hour’s drive from the city, Cunningham Falls offers hiking, off-road trails (reservations required), and tubing — all with scenic views of the waterfalls. The campsites have everything from cottages, cabins, and other unique venues April through October.
It’s a trek out there—a three-and-a-half-hour drive, without traffic—but well worth it. Blackwater Falls State Park offers breathtaking views and overlooks of the surrounding waterfalls and Blackwater Canyon. There are 60+ campsites available for reservations, half of them with electric hook-ups. Or, if you book them early enough, stay at one of the area’s 20+ cabins.
Best known for its iconic rocky cliffs, Seneca Rocks in West Virginia is the go-to destination for climbs. Here, you can absorb the great views and scale the area’s many boulders just a three-hour drive from DC. If you choose to take a climbing course (or sign up for a climbing guide), great news: there’s free camping included at the base of the rocks. Otherwise, Seneca Shadows offers a modern campground with electric hook-ups and running water.
With miles of beaches, wild horses, and scenic views, Assateague Island is one of the most beautiful areas to set up camp. But be warned — you better come prepared. Campers are instructed to bring their own firewood, insect repellent, tent screens to protect from insects and wind, and long stakes to secure your tent in the sand. Just three hours from DC (and just south of Ocean City) it’s a go-to destination for all Washingtonians.
Perhaps sleeping under the stars isn’t your thing. Well, just outside DC in College Park, Cherry Hill has cottages, premium log cabins, and over 400 RV sites available for all your glamping needs. They have everything from hot tubs, swimming pools, mini golf, laundry, hot showers, and their own café, so you can still pamper yourself while retreating to the great outdoors.
For those of you who love water adventures, Harpers Ferry is your go-to destination. Plan a group trip for kayaking, tubing, and whitewater rafting on the Potomac — all just an hour’s drive from DC. For those of your friends who prefer to stay ashore, zip lining is also available. When it’s time to crash, river-front cabins are available for pre-booking, or, for those who prefer to rough it, get after it, and book a tent site.
Just 12 miles from DC, Greenbelt Park makes for a quick retreat from the city. With 10 miles of trails to explore, you’ll spend the weekend hiking and climbing throughout area. Hot showers and picnic areas are available, and each site is just 20 bucks a night.
Camping in a treehouse? Um, hello — sign us up! Less than two hours from DC, Maple Tree includes a Hobbit house, tree cottages, tree houses, and tent sites. Plus, most tree cottages are insulated, so you can enjoy them year-round. Around the campsite, enjoy hiking in the Appalachian Mountains or antiquing in Harpers Ferry — that is, if you ever want to leave.