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This weekend I came across the greatest find since moving to D.C. Caveat: My interests tend to skew less toward record stores and more toward woodland creatures. If yours do, too (hey, I know it’s a stretch, but the blog is lookin’ light today, OK?), you should check out Prince William Forest Park. Once you have your immigration papers in order, that is. They don’t like them illegals there, you know, but there are 15,000 acres, so it’s easy enough to get lost no matter who you are. That’s what’s great about this place.
From D.C., the park is only about 35 miles down the road, right off I-95 and the Marine Corps training site at Quantico. That means that in less than an hour, you could be set up at a wonderful campsite deep in the woods for 15 bucks a night. The Oak Ridge Campground inside the park has nearly 100 sites and is located 5.5 miles down wooded roads from the visitor center. Stop in there to get a great map of the park. Each of the three campground loops has decent bathrooms and a water spigot; Loop A has a shower, even, for those who do that sort of nonsense while camping. There are no hookups, however, a blessed deletion for tent campers (there won’t be any retirees and their obnoxious RVs anywere nearby. In fact, having had a few bad experiences with the RV/generator crowd, I found this place with the help of The Best in Tent Camping: Virginia: A Guide for Car Campers Who Hate RVs, Concrete Slabs, and Loud Portable Stereos). One aspect the book fails to play up is the spaciousness of the sites, especially compared to some of the puny ones inside Shenandoah National Park. Each comes with a fire ring and a pole to hang a lantern.
Beware the raccoons, though; they’re cheeky, so hide your grub. Also, I found a tick on my person, quickly tweezed off and killed, so bring some spray, but for god’s sake don’t whine about ticks. Just be careful.
Best of all: There are 37 miles of hiking trails maintained by the Potomac Appalacian Trail Club; several nice ones start right at the campground. The North Valley Trail includes a lovely stretch along Quantico Creek to Lake Quantico Falls and the former Pyrite Mine, abandoned in 1920 after workers went on strike for a 50-cent raise. Apparently, they don’t like them unions in Prince William, either.