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The Best Spots Near Washington, DC For An Epic Microadventure


Uproxx

For the next month, Uproxx GPS is zeroing in on “microadventures” — day trips, quick jaunts, and small-scale explorations that will notch neatly into your busy life. Today we’re exploring the best spots within striking distance of our nation’s capital, Washington, DC.

Life in DC is a whirlwind. Inside the Beltway is the seat of American power, where the elites take meetings in posh steakhouses and the working class bustles to-and-fro — zipping along in everyone’s favorite post-modernist Metro system. It’s a hectic place. The traffic is bad. The streets are packed. And the madness of trying to run a country never stops.

That’s why residents and visitors alike really need an escape from it all; a lifestyle pivot from the “powers that be” to the undeniable power of the natural world.

If you’ve been following our Uproxx GPS initiative, you’ve figured out that microadventures are those short nights spent beneath the stars, within striking distance of your actual bed. DC is perfect for these sorts of jaunts. the city is surrounded by lush forests, accessible parks, and a winding river. Unfortunately, pitching a tent in the massive and very rugged Rock Creek Park is not an option — though it would be a great spot to camp in the city. Still, there are plenty of places within striking distance to spend a night under the stars, away from all the hustlers and suits.

Grab your sleeping bag, a mat, some food, and plenty of water and head out to one of these fantastic spots — it’s time to ditch the DC grind.

GREENBELT PARK, MD

Greenbelt is the easiest option for a perfect microadventure. The park has 174 campsites and is open year round. The kicker? It’s accessible by public transportation. Take the green line or yellow line to the College Park-U of MD Metro station and then walk about two miles to the south entrance (alternatively go to the end of the line for the north entrance to the park). Depending where you are in the city, you can be “in nature” in less than 20 minutes.

The park is a woodsy experience with civilization just a few steps away. It’s not hardcore, but it’s the woods. There are campfires for cooking and toilets for anyone who needs to ease into the whole microadventure scene.

There’s a $20 fee to camp each night.

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Nothing beats lunch over an open fire!!

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SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK, VA

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If you’re feeling a bit more bold, head to the breathtaking Appalachian wonder of Shenandoah. It’s about an hour and a half drive from DC to the North District (depending on traffic). Which means that if you kick off of work at 5pm, could be there by seven to find a plush camping spot on the mountain and wake up to a beautiful sunrise over the Mid Atlantic lowlands.

Shenandoah isn’t city locked — so prepare to be awed by a blanket of stars as you snuggle up in your sleeping bag. The next morning, spend some time walking the ancient hills before heading back to the city. It’s wild up there, giving you a great chance to soak in some nature.

It’ll set you back $25 to enter the park with your car, plus $10 for each additional person if you have a microadventure buddy. If you’re keen for a better deal and more exploration, buy a yearly pass for $50 and spend 2018 exploring all the park has to offer.

CUNNINGHAM FALLS, MD

Heading into Maryland, you’ll find the Cunningham Falls in the Catoctin Mountains. It’ll take about an hour from DC by car to find this tucked away wilderness. The quiet, wooded park has several cabins peppered throughout, but you’re here to sleep out in the wild.

The park is split into two campgrounds: Manor Area Campground and Will Houck Area Campground. The latter is a huge area with 100+ spots for campers and a definite feel of being at a campground. The former has about 30 very well spaced out camping spots and is a little more laid back. At Manor, you can get a little lost in a moment of nature without feeling like there’s another camper breathing down your neck.

Make sure to call ahead and make a reservation for a prime camping spot. Be warned, they fill up fast in the summer months.

CHERRY HILL PARK, MD

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Our park at sunset

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Cherry Hill is probably the most accessible place to get out of DC and enter the quasi-wilds. The park is very much an urban campground, with plenty of facilities and attractions for tourists. If you look a little deeper, you can find a camping spot secluded enough to grasp that bit of natural living you’re looking for.

The best part is that Cherry Hill is only 30 mins from the center of DC by car. You can get there on the 83 bus from the College Park-U of MD Metro station as well.

Expect to pay $55 a night for a tent site.

HARPERS FERRY, WV/MD/VA

Where the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac you’ll find Harpers Ferry. The former trading post town is now a well-preserved national heritage site, worth a day of exploration on its own. But the real treat here is camping along the rivers or climbing the mountain and spending the night overlooking the rivers below. You’ll wake up with the sun as it bathes the Appalachian foothills in that magical morning light.

Entrance into the national park costs $5 if you’re on foot, $10 in a car, and an annual pass is only $30. There are several official campgrounds to choose from along the rivers or on the mountaintop (hilltop for anyone west of the Rockies). Expect to pay around $30 for a spot for one night.

Don’t miss the Country Cafe & General Store for a hearty post-night-in-the-woods breakfast. The prices are cheap and the pancakes are extra fluffy with a nice dose of Americana thrown in for free.

BULL RUN REGIONAL PARK, VA

You’ll find this verdant campsite just 26 miles from DC. Bull Run is that natural oasis you’re looking for — it’s “away” but not far from your door. A car is going to be your best bet for getting to the park, but you can bike it in under three hours if you’re feeling extra athletic.

The Virginian regional park has plenty of dense woods and long hiking trails to while away the day until night falls and you fire up a campfire and to roast some hot dogs.

if you want to sleep out, you’ll have to book ahead. A tent spot in the campground is going to set you back $33. The best part about booking ahead at Bull Run is that you can select your exact spot on their interactive map, cherry picking your location.

GREENBRIER STATE PARK, MD

Back up in Maryland, the lake at Greenbrier State Park might be the play for an exhilarating microadventure. The park is about an hour’s drive past the beltway way up in the hills near the West Virginia and Pennsylvania borders.

The park is right up against Appalachia so any remnants of the city will be long gone. The lake offers a great chance to add a kayaking dynamic to your overnight jaunt or just a nice walk around the shoreline. Either way, you’ll feel out of the city and really in the woods out in Greenbrier. It’s everything you need for a night in the wilderness to recharge those batteries.

If you’re planning to go in the peak season, it’ll be a good idea to make a reservation. Maryland State Park reservations fees of four or five bucks apply.

POHICK BAY REGIONAL PARK, VA

Down at the other end of the Potomac in Virgina, you’ll find the idyllic Pohick Bay. The picturesque spot about 40 minutes down the road from DC is the perfect place to sleep under the trees and spend time on the river. The park is a quiet and far enough away from the city to ditch almost all of the big city light pollution. So you’ll get all the regenerating effects of the outdoors that you so crave.

The camping spots are all equipped with a firepit for an evening of cooking up some good eats and will only set you back $26. An added bonus is the campground’s proximity to Mount Vernon. Drop in the Mount Vernon Inn for brunch on the way home after your night in the wilds of Virginia.

Insider toip: Don’t sleep on their peanut and chestnut soup. It’s the perfect rejuvenator. The Drunken French Toast is pretty spot on too.

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