Things to Do

5 Places to Take the Kids Camping While Mom Gets a Break for Mother’s Day

Westmoreland State Park. Photograph by zrfphoto/iStock.

Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 9, and it’s the second time in many years that Mom may wish for a little less time with the fam. So while you could take your partner to brunch, or provide some sort of limited spa experience (free idea: Bluetooth shower speaker), perhaps a good present would be vamoosing altogether?

There are lots of great campsites around the Washington area to which generous caregivers could disappear with the kids for a night or two. Take it from someone who’s survived solo camping trips with multiple children while watching the hours tick by: The key is scheduling your activities in advance, bringing lots of snacks to keep them out of your hair, and strictly enforcing bedtimes. Just be sure to make a reservation for your spot in advance so you don’t show up back home a couple hours later.

Here are some nearby campsites, along with activity suggestions:

Assateague Island

The big draw here is the wild ponies. The mosquitos, which are only slightly smaller, are less of an attraction and require you to have bug spray ready at all times. There’s sand, ocean, and wind—bring kites and swimsuits and watch those hours burn.

Distance from DC: 143 miles.

Mathews Arm

The closest Shenandoah National Park campground to Washington is also home to excellent, child-tiring hikes. Be advised: It can get pretty cold up here at night. Pack accordingly and do whatever mental prep is necessary to exit your warm sleeping bag to escort children to the bathhouses.

Distance from DC: 91 miles.

Patapsco Valley State Park

A fun hike to a shallow part of the river perfect for wading, a very mellow campground in the Hollofield Area, nearby train tracks where you can leave pennies for a squishin’ mission, and—perhaps best of all if screens keep the kids quiet, no judgment here—excellent cell-phone reception. If you can’t bother to cook, great Korean food awaits in nearby Ellicott City.

Distance from DC: 43 miles.

Prince William Forest Park

This former spy-training ground is only a few minutes south of the Woodbridge Ikea and has terrific bike trails, hikes, and an available orienteering course that will convince the kids that you’re some kind of a genius.

Distance from DC: 32 miles. 

Westmoreland State Park

The pool at this Civilian Conservation Corps site is closed this season, but the fossil beach is open. It’s a hike there and back, which kills a good amount of daylight, and once at the beach, kids will happily spend hours wading in the brackish Potomac and sifting for shark teeth. Mother’s Day weekend includes a couple of programs about beekeeping and oyster gardening that will make even more time go by.

Distance from DC: 73 miles.

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.