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Pitch a Tent Away From the City Lights

The Mid-Atlantic Offers Sites to Fit a Variety of Camping Styles

There’s something misleading about Capitol Hill and it has nothing to do with the politicians who work there. It’s that this so-called Hill is lacking in any of the qualities associated with a word meant for rolling green pastures and knolly scenic views.

Ken Reichard knows what it feels like to get the wilderness itch on the barren Hill, where he works as an assistant to Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.). Reichard says his remedy comes in the form of what his grandchildren call the “bye-bye van,” a 38-foot-long motor home.

“It’s a great stress reliever,” he says, recommending camping vacations to anyone with a high-pressure job.

Reichard said he takes his motor home out every chance he gets and frequents places such as

Maryland’s Cunningham Falls State Park, Cherry Hill Park and Little Bennett Regional Park.

“It sort of gets in your blood after a while,” says the 25-year camping veteran.

Kathy Wilmoth, an administrative director in the office of Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), says she and her two children — ages 6 and 8 — have found that camping is the perfect vacation.

The children enjoy riding their bikes and playing on the sites’ playgrounds, Wilmoth says. The weekends in the woods are liberating because “you wouldn’t open the hotel door to let them play outside.”

Camping isn’t just a vacation for the kids though, and Wilmoth says the time outside also allows her a break from responsibilities.

“Sitting them outside with a bowl of cereal is sort of easier than getting them dressed and going to dinner,” she says.

Whether you are a Hillite looking for a vacation to satisfy your wilderness withdrawal or a staffer who desperately needs a place to let the kiddies run loose, check out these nearby grounds for some quick getaway suggestions.

For the True Outdoors Lovers

To get truly lost in the woods without the trek, check out Sky Meadows State Park, just south of Paris, Va., and only an hour’s drive from the District. Leave your BlackBerry at home for this trip and don’t even think about charging your cell phone in your car — all vehicles are parked in a lot that is almost a mile-long hike from the grounds. The campgrounds are slim on the luxuries of everyday life and the $13-per-night sites are described as “primitive” on the park’s Web site. Basics like pit toilets, picnic tables and nonpotable water are a few of the commodities made available to guests.

Sky Meadows is at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, which explorers can take advantage of during the day. Anglers can fish the pond for largemouth bass, catfish and bluegill, and equestrians can ride their own horses on a six-mile trail (Sky Meadows does not rent horses).

Sky Meadows State Park
11012 Edmonds Lane, Delaplane, Va.
For reservations, call 800-933-7275.
Campgrounds are open year-round.

For a Site With a View

With a 78-foot cascading waterfall, nine scenic trails and 3,500 acres of undeveloped wild land ripe for hunting, Cunningham Falls State Park in Thurmont, Md., makes it hard to get lost in the confines of your tent.

Cunningham offers guests more than just a pretty picture. Activities like fishing in the Big Hunting Creek, swimming in the Hunting Creek Lake and various boating possibilities mean bathing suits are a must-have. Pets also are allowed to enjoy the park — located in the Catoctin Mountains — and a playground made of more than 3,000 recycled tires will keep all members of the family entertained for hours.

No need to unpack the tents just yet — the campgrounds at Cunningham Falls don’t open until the last weekend in April, but all of the other facilities, including the trails and lakes, are available for use. When the camping season does begin on April 25, a standard campsite is $25 a night and one with electrical hookups is $30. Camper cabins also are available for $50 a night.

Cunningham Falls State Park
14039 Catoctin Hollow Road,
Thurmont, Md.
For reservations, call 888-432-2267.
Campgrounds open April 25.

Camping in Style

A weekend of fresh air doesn’t have to be a grungy one. So for nature done chic, check out Ole Mink Farm Recreation Resort in Thurmont, Md.

If you don’t consider a sleeping bag a vacation, try Ole Mink’s luxury log cabin, which comes equipped with all of the comforts of city life including a microwave, Wi-Fi and a queen-size bed. Despite the plush accommodations, it will be hard to ignore your natural surroundings with the view from your screened porch, the outside fireplace and picnic tables. Bedbugs will surely not be a problem, as visitors are required to bring their own linens and pets are not allowed.

The price of a classy outdoors vacation comes at a steeper cost than most, at $300 for two nights and two adults. For four adults, the price tag rises to $440 for two nights.

Ole Mink Farm Recreation Resort
12806 Mink Farm Rd., Thurmont, Md.
For reservations, call 877-653-6465.
Log cabins are available year-round.

For Young Children

Parents smarter than the average bear know children need more than rocks and sticks to stay entertained. Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts near Hagerstown, Md., might be just the place to drag them away from the Saturday morning cartoons without pulling the plug on fun.

Glide the day away on Jellystone’s 400-foot waterslide or spend the afternoon hibernating in the Bear Cave, a game room lit with black lights. Keep your kids entertained throughout the night with an evening game of mini-golf or an outdoor kid-friendly movie (shown in the summer months only). For the occasional mud fight, Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park offers a 24-hour laundromat, so clean socks will never be a problem.

Accommodations include camping cabins, luxury cottages, RV sites and tent sites; the price varies depending on the day of the week and the month of your stay. From March 21 through May 8, tent sites are $36 a night, a luxury cabin or cottage is $140, and a standard RV site is $43. Weekends book quickly at Jellystone, and some have already reserved spaces for 2009, so planning is key to securing a weekend away.

Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts
16519 Lappans Road, Williamsport, Md.
For reservations, call 800-421-7116.
Campgrounds are open year-round and
activities run from April 1 to Dec. 1.

For the Car-Sick

If a weekend in the wilderness sounds like the optimal getaway but the thought of Friday afternoon traffic makes you want to pitch a tent in your own backyard, try opting for a nearby site like Duncan’s Family Campground, 17 miles south of Annapolis, Md.

If you’re having a reunion with out-of-towners, Duncan’s proximity to the city makes for a nice meeting spot. It’s close enough to the city that it’s still easy to take D.C. newbies on a tour of the sites. Start your day at 9 a.m. by catching Duncan’s shuttle to the Largo Town Center Metro stop. A round-trip ticket is $2 and the shuttle will pick you up from Largo Town Center at 5:45 p.m. You can also book a customized guided tour for $50 per person if you are looking for a jam-packed day.

Last-minute planners should not have a problem booking a site in the off-season — anytime before Memorial Day and after Labor Day. Until May 22, a two-room cottage is $48 a night and a renter trailer can be booked for $80 a night. Tents without hookup are $27 and a one-room cabin is $43 during the off-season. All of these prices will increase from May 23 through Aug. 31.

Duncan’s Family Campground
5381 Sands Road, Lothian, Md.
For reservations, call 800-222-2086.
Campgrounds are open year-round.

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