Monday, August 24, 2009

Weekend Getaway: Camping Edition

With the kids heading back to school this week and cooler temps in the forecast (where were those dog days anyway?) summer is sadly drawing to a close. While I love summer for trips to the beach, the pool and even thunderstorms, my thoughts are quickly turning to fall and I love fall in Maryland. If for nothing else than the return of camping weather. I know a lot of people camp in the summer, but we tend to camp in the other three seasons. The absence of crowds, bugs and heat makes the camping experience a lot more enjoyable with kids.

Camping has always been a great way for our family to reconnect. DSs, gameboys and DVDs are usually forbidden on our trips in favor of card and board games. There is always opposition, but they adjust quickly. I realize that’s not for everyone, but I really encourage you to try it for at least one trip.

Tips for 1st time campers or 1st time camping with kids could be a whole different article, but here is a rundown of some quick things to consider. Try backyard camping first to get the kids used to a tent, sleeping outside and to see where problems might occur. Don’t go out and buy $500 worth of camping equipment. Try renting, Craigslist, freecycle or a neighbor first. Make a checklist and use it. Think about taking a first aid class and get a good first aid kit. Remember it’s about having fun!

Okay, on to destinations. Here’s a list of some of my favorites and what makes them unique. If you have a favorite that is not listed or more to say about the ones below, please mention it in the comments section!

Susquehanna State Park It’s right in our backyard and a beautiful park. There are lots of trails and you can even hike as far up as Conowingo Dam and as far downriver as Havre de Grace on the Heritage Greenways Trail (and parts of the Mason Dixon Trail). There is a working mill, Deer Creek, the Susquehanna River and many events at the Stepping Stone Museum. Camping is weekend only May through September but there are bathhouses and water available.

Elk Neck State Park Another beautiful park bordering the water in nearby Cecil County. Elk Neck boasts some beautiful trails that go down to the cliffs and to Turkey Point Light House and an awesome view of the bay. Elk Neck also has a beach and a lot more campsites than Susquehanna. Certain camping loops are open year round and all have bathhouses and water.

Greenbriar and Gambrill State Parks I unfairly lump these two together because they are further away to the west in Washington and Frederick Counties. Both are beautiful mountain parks with the Appalachian Trail passing through Greenbriar and Gambrill resting in the Catoctin Mountains. They both offer tons of hiking trails, amazing views of fall foliage and bathhouses and water.

Greenridge State Forest My favorite place in Maryland to camp. Greenridge essentially has no amenities. You are lucky if you get a picnic table in your site, the sites can be a quarter mile apart and it can take 30 minutes on pot holed dirt roads to reach your campsite. Its 46,000 acres border the Potomac River and several creeks run through the forest. Greenridge offers canoeing, fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding all in a primitive setting.

So there are my picks. Here is a list of all the public lands in Maryland and you can go here for a list of private campgrounds. I’d love to hear your feedback and your picks in the comments.

As a final note, regulations in Maryland regarding alcohol on public lands have changed this year. Effective November 1, 2009, you must pay $35 for a special use alcohol permit or face the possibility of being fined $55 for having alcohol in your camp. DNR has yet to say how this will be enforced, but it is a big change for many.

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