This Saturday is the National Wildlife Federation's Great Backyard Campout. If you don't have a backyard to camp in, check out one of these nearby spots -- you don't have to drive far away to go camping! In fact, you don't have to drive at all: you can bike to a spot on the C&O Canal, or take the metro to Greenbelt Park.
The cost per night for the sites listed here ranges from free to just $28. A bag of marshmallows will set you back another $1.50. Falling asleep under the stars and waking up to the birds? Priceless.
Click on the placemarkers on the map below to learn more about a camping area, or scroll down for the same information in printable form.
View Campgrounds Near Washington, DC in a larger map
*The travel time listed here is without traffic, starting at the US Capitol (as calculated by Google Maps). Unless you are a member of the US Congress looking to take a break from sleeping in your office, you can calculate your own more realistic driving time by clicking on any of the spots on the map and getting directions from your own starting point.
Pohick Bay Regional Park - 7501 Pohick Bay Drive, Lorton, 703-339-6104.
Pohick Bay Regional Park is located on the beautiful Mason Neck Peninsula on the Potomac River. A network of trails leads walkers to the waterfront, mini golf, pool, and Gunston Hall Plantation, home of George Mason. The park also rents sailboats, canoes, and kayaks.
|40 min||$24-26||1,000 acres||150 (100 electric)||yes||March-October|
Bull Run Regional Park Campground - 7700 Bull Run Dr., Centreville, 703-631-0550.
Bull Run is the northernmost in a series of parks that cover about 5,000 acres along Bull Run and the Occoquan River. In addition to wooded areas (including some truly stunning stretches of bluebells in the spring) the park has a waterpark, mini golf, disc golf, shooting range, and playground space.
|51 min||$24-26||1,563 acres||150 (101 electric)||yes||year round|
Burke Lake Park - 7315 Ox Road, Fairfax Station, 703-323-6600.
Burke Lake Park has a 218 acre lake and lots of developed recreational opportunities. Unfortunately swimming is not allowed, but it's a popular spot for fishing and boating. There's a paved 4.7 mile trail around the lake. Other activities include a miniature train, a carousel, and many sports facilities including volleyball, a golf course, disk golf, and miniature golf.
|32 min||$28||888 acres||100 (no electric)||yes||April-October|
Lake Fairfax Park - 1400 Lake Fairfax Drive, Reston, 703-471-5415.
Lake Fairfax Park is a relatively small park with an 18 acre lake. Some short trails follow creeks through the park. Besides boating and fishing on the lake, the main attraction is the activity-themed swimming pool (The Watermine Family Swimmin' Hole) with waterslides and other features.
|38 min||$28||476 acres||136 (54 electric)||yes||April-October|
Prince William County
Prince William Forest - 18100 Park Headquarters Road, Triangle, 703-221-7181.
Prince William Forest Park is a 15,000 acre national park with 37 miles of hiking trails. Tenters have two options: the main campground has 100 sites for tents and RVs; a hike-in camping area has 8 (free!) sites along a 2-mile loop trail. $5 park admission.
|44 min||$0-15||15,000 acres||108||yes||year-round|
If you're willing to work for a spot, the campsites on the C&O Canal are the best deal around. There's no electricity or running water, and you'll have to schlep your stuff in. And it's all first-come, first-served. If all that appeals to you, you'll have a campsite right on the shore of the Potomac River. For free. And you can bike there from DC on the towpath.
Swains Lock is at canal mile 16.6 and has parking nearby; it's often crowded. Access from Swains Lock Road, Travilah MD. (35 min)
Horsepen Branch is at canal mile 26.1 in McKee Beshers WMA; the closest vehicle access is just over a mile away (canal mile 27.2), on Sycamore Landing Road in Poolesville. (57 min)
Campsites continue every 4-5 miles or so for much of the canal; see this list of the sites and the closest access points.
|35+ min||$0||20,000 acres||2 within an hour||no||year-round|
Little Bennett Campground - 23701 Frederick Road, Clarksburg, MD, 301-528-3430.
Little Bennett is a 3,700 acre park with 20 miles of trails and a nature center with activities. The wooded campsites are on a fairly linear, spread out set-up. For an additional $25-$30 a night (two-night minimum), they'll rent you a tent, two collapsible chairs, a stove and lantern (BYO sleeping bags).
|54 min||$21-25||3,700 acres||91 (25 electric)||yes||March-November|
Cabin John Regional Park - 7701 Tuckerman Lane, Potomac, 301-495-2525.
Cabin John has been developed with lots of sports facilities, but also includes some nice woods. The park has seven walk-in, primitive sites, available only to Montgomery County residents. Open year-round, but no running water from November through March.
|36 min||?||528 acres||7 (no electric)||no||year-round|
Patapsco Valley State Park - 8020 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, 410-461-5005.
This Maryland state park is a collection of parks along the Patapsco River totalling over 16,000 acres, with 170 miles of trails. You can swim in the river or cross over a 300 foot swinging suspension bridge. There are campsites in the Hilton area (14 tent sites) and Hollofield area (73 sites, 30 with RV hookups). Additional $2 park entry.
|52 min||$17-22||16,000 acres||87 (30 electric)||yes||April-October|
Prince George's County
Greenbelt Park - 6565 Greenbelt Road, Greenbelt, 301-344-3944.
Greenbelt Park is a national park just 12 miles north of the White House (see our previous post for directions on how to get there without a car). Reservations are available, and highly recommended, through Labor Day.
|21 min||$16||1,000 acres||174 (no electric)||yes||year-round|
Patuxent River Park - 16000 Croom Airport Road, Upper Marlboro, 301-627-6074.
Jug Bay Natural Area has five campsites somewhat inland, and one canoe campsite (White Oak Landing) right on the water. Three other Patuxent Water Trail campsites in our radius (Milltown Landing, Spice Creek, and Iron Pot Landing) are accessible only by water. You'll need reservations for any of these sites. You can also rent canoes and kayaks from the park office.
|42 min||$10-24||5,000 acres||9 (no electric)||no||year-round|
Cedarville State Forest - 10201 Bee Oak Road, Brandywine, 301-888-1410.
This state park has nearly 20 miles of trails through loblolly pines and wet bottomlands. It is the headwaters of the Zekiah Swamp and includes a bog habitat that's home to carnivorous plans like sundew and pitcher plant. Two night minimum stay on weekends.
|38 min||$17-22||3,500 acres||27 (9 electric)||yes||April-October|
Smallwood State Park - 2750 Sweden Point Road, Marbury, 301-743-7613.
Smallwood is a little park but it is in a prime location for boating, with a marina on Mattawoman Creek just a mile upstream from the Potomac. It is also the site of the restored house of William Smallwood, a general in the Revolutionary War; open for tours on Sunday afternoons.
|55 min||$27||628 acres||15 (all electric)||yes||April-October|
A little farther down the road
There are a few more parks that are more than an hour from the Capitol but may be closer to where you live:
Gambrill State Park, Frederick, MD
Greenbrier State Park, Boonsboro, MD
Cunningham Falls State Park, Thurmont, MD
Westmoreland State Park, Montross, VA