This post was updated May, 2016. Camping is truly a great family bonding experience, and each season offers a different opportunity to experience nature. Some people prefer the fall season, with cooler weather, no bugs, and the changing of the leaves. Others like summer, especially when camping near a river or lake. Whatever the season, here are 5 popular campgrounds in Virginia and West Virginia, each with something unique to offer. I also share tips and resources to help you find your ideal campsite in locations throughout the US.
1. Fairy Stone State Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Search for the well-known fairy stones while camping in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Fairy Stone Lake. Families looking for more challenging hiking can take the 3.3 mile hike along the Little Mountain Falls trails, although there are many shorter trails as well throughout the park.
2. Big Bend in Smoke Hole Canyon, West Virginia. If you are looking for a dog-friendly campground right next to the South Branch Potomac River, this is the place. Activities include fishing, kayaking, swimming and tubing. In the summer there are several spots that are easy to get into the river for swimming, and if you bring your own inner tubes, there is a loop that you can tube starting near the parking lot at the entrance to the campground that will bring you around the campground. The trees in the surrounding Monangahela National Forest will provide plenty of fall color when the leaves start to change colors. My family camped during the summer, and were amazed by the hundreds of fireflies that lit up the night sky. The owners were very helpful and the campground is dog friendly. If you really start missing life in the suburbs, make a trip to Warner’s Drive-In Theater in nearby Franklin.
3. First Landing State Park, Virginia Beach, Virginia. With nearby access to beautiful Virginia Beach, along with canoeing, hiking, swimming and fishing, First Landing is a great family camping option for those who like to be close to civilization. Choose between cabin or tent camping along the Chesapeake Bay. Kids will enjoy viewing exhibits along with the touch tank at the nearby Chesapeake Bay Center.
4. Occoneechee State Park, Clarksville, Virginia. The family fishermen will love camping at Virginia’s largest lake, the John H. Kerr Reservoir. The park also offers several leisurely hiking trails that are less than 1 mile long.
5. Mathews Arm Campground in Shenandoah National Park. This campground, one of 4 in the park, is closest to the northern entrance of the park. Kids will enjoy the ranger programs like Wild About Bears or can participate in the Junior Ranger Program (recommended for ages 7-12). Kids 13 and up can download the Ranger Explorer Activity Guides to bring along.
Tips to Find a Campground Near You. For other locations around the US, I would suggest using a tool like the Reserve America website to find a campsites close to home. Some of the nice features include drop down menus that allow you to search for certain amenities and hook-ups, such as boating, fishing, trails, water activities and various other recreational activities.
Campfire Cooking. The other piece of camping that many people enjoy is cooking over an open fire. The possibilities are endless, and there are many web sites that can get you started with some new recipes sure to become your camping favorites. The KOA website has many recipes that have been camper tested and can be made over a campfire with limited supplies. You can even test a few of them over a fire pit at home to see how tasty they really are.
Be sure to visit my Camping & Hiking Pinterest board, where you'll find tons of suggestions for some of the best campsites around the US as well as tips for all levels of campers. You can also join the National Wildlife Federation's Great American Campout, celebrating with thousands of campers across the country who are connecting with nature this summer. So no matter the season, head to the great outdoors. I can promise you that having your family sleeping together in one tent is the ultimate in family bonding!
This post was updated May, 2016.