Early September just might be the best time of year to go camping in the greater area. The weather is still warm enough to wear light clothing while hiking, boating, and lounging at camp, but it is not so hot that you feel as though you might wilt beneath the sun. Bugs are retreating, leaves are ready to turn to copper and gold, and autumn is just around the corner—it’s the perfect season to pack up your gear and head out on a spontaneous Labor Day camping trip to celebrate summer’s last hurrah.
You don't have to be an experienced camper to have fun this Labor Day weekend. This camping isn't pack-your-tent, hike for days, and live off the land. These sites make it easy to get out of dodge for a couple of days without stressing too much. If you want to hop in your RV, rent a rustic cabin, or camp out of your car, then check out these great spots for camping in DC over the upcoming long weekend:
1. Tent and RV Camping at Shenandoah National Park
No ‘W here to Camp’ list in this area is complete without assigning top billing to one of the most beloved National Parks on the east coast. Just 75 miles and about 90 minutes driving from downtown DC you’ll find yourself at the top of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, overlooking cascading valleys enfolding the Appalachian Trail . Here, you can bike or drive historic Skyline Drive and rest at overlooks along the route positioned above the sprawling valley. Paddle along the Shenandoah River, take your adventure underground to the nearby Luray Caverns, or lace up your kicks and explore more than 500 miles of trail networks, including the most challenging hike in the area, Old Rag Loop .
A smart place to stay in the area is the Front Royal RV Park just a few miles away from the north entrance. This spot welcomes RVs as well as car campers wanting to set up near the park. The big benefit of this place is that it's close, but just far enough to escape the rule banning campfires—s'more anyone? In addition, the campsite offers every basic amenity that you could want or need, including a small store stocked with fishing gear, ice, firewood, and food; nearby bathhouse facilities; a swimming pool, playground, fishing pond, and even a basketball court.
2. Car Camping at Greenbelt Park Campground
This park is one of the best-kept secrets of DC nature addicts who have difficulty making time to get out of the city, but can commit to short jaunts to places within a close proximity. Just 13 miles northeast of the District sits the 1,100-acre Greenbelt Park and campground . Thickly wooded areas protect 174 campground sites, trails, and picnic areas, and even during peak season finding a camping space is pretty much a sure bet. The nine miles of trail, broken down into four easy one to five-mile hiking trails, are right near the campground making it easy to get out for that morning run or hike away from the sounds of the city. Offering trouble-free access, this is a no-fuss spot to steal a getaway with family and friends before camping season ends. There is no entrance fee for day visitors and tent and trailer campers can reserve a spot for just $16 a night.
3. Cabin Camping at Westmoreland State Park
Located along the Northern Neck of Virginia on the Potomac River , Westmoreland State Park is the perfect spot for camping, whatever it is your style may be—fully-stocked cabins, camping cabins or tent sites. You will be satisfied with the array of activities available as well, with everything from boat rentals, trails for hiking, a pier for fishing, and a power-boat ramp where you can set out for a day on the water (boat not included).
This area is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a unique a prize for fossil collectors. It is also a birders paradise, known for active spotting areas that serve as a vagrant home to America’s favorite bird—the bald eagle—along with many other species of prized birds. There is some access to wifi, though reports are in that you probably won’t miss it.
If you're truly in the market for Labor Day camping in DC, and none of the spots above are have worked out, you should also check out:
Prince William Forest: Prince William Forest, which sits 35 miles south of Washington, and offers 15,000 acres of forested camp and 37 miles of hiking trails that accommodate nature-goers of all sizes. The hike-in camping area is free and located on a Two-mile loop trail. Elsewhere there are 100 sites dedicated to tent campers and RVs.
Oak Ridge Campground: This first-come first served camping spot features 100 tent and RV sites and is dog friendly. Oak Ridge is a full service campground and has three loops open April through October though be warned RV campers, there are no hook-ups for RVs and there are length restrictions to boot.
Chopawamsic Backcountry Area: This area is a little more rustic and requires a little more work on your part, but this eight-site, backcountry campground is beautiful. While you have to backpack in and out to your campsite, it's a perfect place to unplug—it’s just you, what you can carry on your person, your companions, and wild Earth.