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CAMPING NEAR DC: 12 BEAUTIFUL PLACES TO PITCH YOUR TENT

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Kara McCartney

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 some time off from the city's hustle and bustle, a scenic escape to the outdoors is the perfect way to take a breather.

Whether you’re looking for a rugged weekend sleeping under the stars or a cozy cabin equipped with homey comforts, we have you covered with all the go-to camping destinations around the District. Here’s to getting back to nature and coming back to the daily grind refreshed, renewed, and 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. After you've carved out your space and pitched your tent, hike the AT (Appalachian Trail), absorb the great views at White Oak Canyon, or bike through Skyline Drive. However you choose to spend your time here, you'll be surrounded by towering trees and all sorts of wildlife.

For a quick weekend getaway, head three hours west to Coopers Rock State Forest. With campsites available April through October it makes for an affordable, care-free weekend away from the city. This woodsy destination is home to two main campgrounds, one of which comes with electrical hook-ups, showers, and Wi-Fi. The other, more primitive option is only available for tented and hammock camping, but offers a more get your hands dirty type of experience. And go ahead and bring your best friend (your dog), both of the park's campsites are pet-friendly. Fitt Tip: There’s tons of great bouldering to be found throughout the area, so bring your gear if that's your thing.

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: you can go whitewater rafting, horseback riding, or kick back at the on-site swimming pool and soak up some rays. 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 over 1,000-acre park features a 42-acre lake and 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. No matter when you're itching for a little outdoor therapy, this place will be waiting.

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, this nature-filled oasis offers hiking, off-road trails (reservations required), and tubing — all with scenic views of the park's picturesque waterfalls. Spend the day exploring, then take a load off in the fully-equipped camper cabins, or settle in at one of their 21 basic, tented campsites. Fitt Tip: This area is known for black bears, so be sure consult the park's website for safety tips before heading out.

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 and about half of them with electric hook-ups. If roughing it isn't your style, book a stay at one of the area’s 20+ fully-equipped cabins. Word to the wise, their vacation cabins feature four bedrooms, so you can plan a group getaway in the great outdoors.

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, Maryland, Cherry Hill has cottages, premium log cabins, glamping pods, and over 400 RV sites available for your use. And when you're not roasting marshmallows at the campsite, you can take advantage of the park's many amenities. We're talking hot tubs, swimming pools, mini golf, laundry, hot showers, and even an on-site cafe, 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. And if you prefer to stay ashore, zip lining is also available. When it’s time to crash, head over to the Harpers Ferry Campground, where river-front cabins (you'll need to book ahead), tented and RV sites are all up for grabs.

Just 12 miles from DC, Greenbelt Park makes for a quick retreat from the city, and with 174 campsites available for just $20 a night, it's one of the most affordable around, too. Offering nine miles of trails to explore, you can easily spend the weekend hiking through woodsy pathways and peaceful forests. No worries if you worked up a sweat, either. Hot showers are available at the camping areas.

Camping in a treehouse? Sign us up! Less than two hours from DC, Maple Tree includes a Hobbit house, tree cottages, tree houses, and tent sites. Around the campsite, you can enjoy hiking in the Appalachian Mountains or antiquing in Harpers Ferry — that is, if you ever want to leave. And on the off chance you left some essentials at home, like say, firewood or matches, the on-site camp store has you covered. Fitt Tip: Bring the dog, this spot is pet-friendly!