- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2000

Washington-area families are lucky when it comes to camping trips. No matter in which direction they aim the minivan, there's boundto be a family-friendly campsite dead ahead.
Go west, and the choices are obvious and plentiful Catoctin Mountain Park and Cunningham Falls State Park, both in Frederick County, Md. Go farther west, and you're into Garrett County, Md., home of Deep Creek Lake, which is growing into a year-round vacation spot.
Virginians have the George Washington and Jefferson national forests, which stretch nearly the length of the state's western border, from Winchester to Tennessee. The forests have more than 2 million acres of public land and hundreds of campsites and hiking trails.
Go east, and there's Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware and Assateague and Chincoteague islands in Maryland and Virginia, respectively.
Western Maryland Deep Creek Lake State Park in particular has grown tremendously as a year-round vacation getaway in recent years, says Diane Miller of the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce.
"People come in family groups to camp, and Deep Creek Lake is the main campground, but then they find things to do all around the area," Mrs. Miller says.
Karl Christensen, a park ranger at Deep Creek, says families usually start arriving in April for weekend camping at one of the park's 112 sites, although the region can still be cold at nights during that time of year.
"We have a fairly new Discovery Center that's fairly large and has a bunch of displays, so we're doing programs year-round now," Mr. Christensen says.
Just down the road from Deep Creek Lake is Swallow Falls State Park, which has 63 campsites and four waterfalls, including Muddy Creek Falls, the state's tallest at 53 feet.
In Virginia, George Washington and Jefferson national forests draw thousands of families every year. Nadine Pollock, a spokeswoman for the forests, says many Washington-area families flock to the Lee District, the northernmost of the forests' 12 districts, because of its proximity to their homes.
The Massanutten Visitors Center, about three miles east of New Market, Va., has trail maps and guides available for all the sites in Lee District. Ms. Pollock says some of the more popular family sites in the district include Trout Pond Recreation Center, which has 50 campsites, 30 picnic sites, a 17-acre lake and a playground for small children, and Elizabeth Furnace, which has 30 campsites, 54 picnic sites and a trout stream.
Elizabeth Furnace also has the remnants of an iron furnace, nicknamed "Elizabeth," that dates back more than 150 years, and an authentic log cabin open to visitors on weekends.
For a less rustic camping experience, Assateague and Chincoteague have long been popular family camping destinations because of the ocean and the relative lack of rowdy teens and young adults, who tend to go to nearby Ocean City instead.
"It's probably the lack of a boardwalk environment that contributes to the family-oriented type of place here," says Beth Hanback of the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce. "But most of the amenities that families like, you can still find in Chincoteague; they're scattered evenly throughout the island area. There are thousands of families that keep coming back and enjoy the sweet old-fashioned lifestyle here."
Ms. Hanback says most campgrounds in Chincoteague have a wide variety of accommodations, from primitive campsites to sites with cable TV access.
"You can come with nothing but a tent and a bag, and you can come with your 'illennium machine' and enjoy the island no matter what," Ms. Hanback says.
Assateague State Park (311 campsites), Assateague National Seashore (104 ocean-side campsites and 49 bay-front sites) and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge are all so close together that many campers bring their bicycles and ride back and forth from campsite to park to beach.
Farther up the coast, Cape Henlopen State Park features 151 campsites and a postcard-perfect cape for sunbathing and beach viewing. The park doesn't take reservations, though, so campers are advised to arrive early if they're planning on spending the weekend. Delaware Seashore State Park is a close-by option if other sites aren't available.
For hiking enthusiasts, the area's offerings are equally plentiful. Families with younger children might want to consider a day trip to Harpers Ferry, where they can take an easy two-mile loop hike along part of the Appalachian Trail. The hike includes a scenic view from Jefferson Rock, a popular climbing point for children, and plenty of Civil War history as a bonus.

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