Five places to take the family camping
To help families either new to camping or looking for new spots to try, we assembled a selection of campgrounds that have a variety of family-friendly amenities within a few hours drive time. (Drive times are calculated from the State House in Annapolis.)
Some campgrounds offer alternatives for the tent-challenged, including cabins, tipis, and even tree houses. Having dry ground and a roof overhead may be important, too, when the overnight temperatures begin to dip. Online reviews can also help you get a vibe for the campground – whether it caters to families, for example.
Reservations are recommended, and cabins fill up especially quickly. Also check out the suggested packing list on the next page.
1. Patapsco Valley State Park, Hilton area
* Drive Time: Less than a hour.
Because it’s close enough to return home quickly if the trip is a bust, this is probably the safest bet for first-time campers.
The centrally located Hilton campground also has camper cabins, which offers an alternative to struggling with a tent. Camper cabins have real beds and doors, but you still must use a shared bathhouse facility.
When making plans—whether it’s getting directions or meeting up with friends—it’s important to note which part of Patapsco Valley State Park you are searching for because the park has eight separate areas. (The Hollofield area also has tent camping.)
And, says Barbara Knisely, of the Maryland Parks Service, “There’s a lot of nice programming.”
Past programs include Owl prowls (hikes to look for owls and owl habitat), campfires, and storytelling.
You’ll also love Lost Lake in the Glen Artney area, and the swinging bridge on the Grist Mill Trail in the Orange Grove area.
2. Outlanders River Camp
Drive Time: 3 hours
The fall foliage, the river setting, the mountains in the distance—this is the great outdoors. Here, most of the tent sites are right next to the Shenandoah River.
Fishing is popular with campers. Staff can also arrange for tubing excursions, horseback riding, boat rentals and ATV rides. Naturally, the nearby Shenandoah National Park, famous for its foliage, and the Luray Caverns are big attractions.
If you chose a riverfront site, you’ll want to pack light, because you can’t drive up to your campsite. There are handcarts to help schlep your gear and you can rent golf carts by the day to get you around the 100-acre campground.
3. Cape Henlopen
Drive Time: 2.5 hours
Who needs some cookie-cutter condo on the beach when you can sleep on the sandy, pine-covered dunes at the Delaware seashore?
In addition to tent sites—most with water hook-up— there are a half-dozen camping cabins, which have two sets of bunks, a queen bed and a pull-out sofa. (That’s roomier than most camping cabins.) They don’t have bathrooms or refrigerators, but they do have heat and air-conditioning.
Maggie Miller, a mother of four from Centreville, her husband and four kids love climbing to the top of the World War II Observation Tower.
And, they enjoy seeing all types of wildlife. “We usually see dolphins,” says Miller. “That’s exciting.”
The state park also has free bicycles, boat rentals, disc golf, hiking trails and a nature center.
4. Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort
Drive Time: 2 hours
The Vales family compared staying at this campground to going on a cruise. “There’s so much to do,” Nicole Vales says.
Vales, her husband and three sons stayed at the park in the fall and were surprised with a schedule full of programs, including trick-or-treating, a Halloween dance, campsite decorating contest and haunted trail walk.
There are often movie nights at the outdoor theater and arts and craft programs. Yogi Bear also has an arcade, a laser tag park, go-cart track and expansive playground. In the summer, a water park with multiple slides and fountains is a big draw.
In addition to tent sites, the campground has several types of cabins.
5. Maple Tree Campground
Drive Time: Less than 2 hours
This is where you can live your dreams—ok, your 8-year-old’s dreams—of your family becoming the Swiss Family Robinson.
Tree houses and tree cottages are nestled in the woods of this Frederick County campground. You even shower outdoors! (The water is hot and toilets are inside).
The tree houses will keep you warm and dry. But these are basic structures. They are not air-conditioned, and do not have running water. The tree cottages are insulated for year-round use and have mattresses.
There are also tent sites at this campground, which backs up to the Appalachian Trail. Harpers Ferry—and great tubing—and the Antietam Battlefield are about 10 minutes away.
—Laura Barnhardt Cech
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