8020 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City; 410-461-5005
This enormous park is better understood as several smaller “areas,” and while parts of it often reach capacity on weekends, it’s usually not a hassle to score a campsite in the superlatively mellow Hollofield Area. From there you can hike down the Patapsco River among raspberry bushes and fall asleep to the sounds of trains. Ellicott City and some pretty terrific Korean food await when you get sick of franks and beans.
18170 Park Entrance Rd., Triangle; 703-221-7181
The bike trails, hiking, and birdwatching are great—but so is the fact that you can leave work at a normal time and have your tent set up here before dark. You can almost always get a campsite at the former spy training ground’s 100-unit Oak Ridge Campground, a grand perch for a weekend in the woods where you’re still close enough to run home and pick up anything you forgot.
350 Daughter of Stars Dr., Bentonville; 540-622-6840
Roughing it is pretty smooth at this 1,600-acre park, which offers views of Virginia’s Massanutten mountain range. Pick your style of campsite: There are spots for RVs and pop-ups, with electric and water hookups. There are primitive, tent-only sites along the river that are accessible by foot or canoe. There are campsites hidden in the woods. Plus, three yurts are available to rent. All sites have access to fresh water and bathhouses; most include picnic tables and fire rings. The park also has a zipline/ropes adventure course.
145 Cliff Rd., Montross; 804-493-8821
A genuine fossil beach awaits anyone who makes the nearly one-mile walk down this Northern Neck park’s Big Meadow Trail. There you can spend a fabulous day hunting for prehistoric sharks’ teeth along the brackish Potomac shore or just chill on the sand. It’s also easy to rent a kayak and explore the shoreline, and there’s a huge swimming pool for anyone freaked out by natural water. The camping is at a Civilian Conservation Corps–constructed park, and it’s fantastic.
This article appears in the May 2019 issue of Washingtonian.