Virginia Camping Tips For An Unforgettable Outdoor Adventure

We LOVE camping in Virginia and have many favorite campground spots that are both easy to explore and stunningly scenic. With this love in mind, we also want to help you enjoy the outdoors responsibly and smartly, to make the most of your Virginia camping vacation, whether you are with your family, friends, or pets.

To help you plan, we’ve put together some camping tips and highlighted camping destinations that are perfect for beginners.

First decide what type of camping you want to do. Do you want to camp in the frontcountry, places accessible by vehicle? Or do you want to head to the backcountry, usually by foot, but also by canoe, kayak or bicycle? Consider the following camping options to help you determine your style of camping.

  • Private campgrounds such as KOAs are preferable when location is important, say if wanting to camp near a theme park or concert site. They are generally geared more toward RV campers than tent campers. Go for a private campground should you want increased amenities such as laundry, on site game rooms and more luxurious bathhouses.
  • State parks and national parks are good for both RVs and tent campers. Their campgrounds usually have more amenities such as showers but they are also long on nature-based activities such as hiking, paddling and nature study.
  • National forest campgrounds are generally more remote, but have fewer amenities and also lesser crowds, yet are still rich in traditional outdoor recreation such as hiking and paddling.
  • Backcountry camping options offer little or no amenities, but make up for it with privacy and remoteness. Here, it is even more important to follow leave no trace principles and be a good land steward. Most campers get comfortable frontcountry camping before heading to the backcountry to overnight it.

Virginia is rich with all the above options. After deciding what type of camping you want to do, commit to doing it right. A successful, responsible vacation camping in Virginia uses camping and green tips to give you an edge. Camping tips help you take the rough out of roughing it while taking care of the land. Then you can better enjoy your Virginia camping road trip whether you are next to the Atlantic surf, beside a scenic lake, next to a crystalline river, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, or high in the Appalachians.

With that in mind, here are 10 great camping destinations for beginners, along with camping tips to enhance your experience and “green” tips to help you tread lightly while on your Virginia camping vacation.

Kiptopeke State Park Campground—Cape Charles

Photo Credit: Johnny Molloy

The Camping: This well run, well organized state park on the Eastern Shore is a fine camping destination great for families and novices. Open March-November, the campground offers tent only sites as well as tent and RV sites with electricity. Hot showers keep campers clean. Upgrade your experience by renting one of 4 camping yurts, each with its own deck, water spigot, fire ring and grill.

The Fun: Stroll some of the mile of beachfront on Chesapeake Bay. Take on some of the 5 miles of hiking and biking trails. Fish license-free from the park pier. Launch your kayak and paddle Chesapeake Bay. Single and double kayaks as well as paddleboards can be rented from the camp store during the warm season.

Camping Tip: Keep kids, pets and the tent away from the campfire. Clear the area around the fire ring, especially after dark, to avoid tripping into the flames. Beware picking up partially burned wood pieces; they may be burning on their unseen side.

Green Tip: Keep a clean campsite. Store items when not in use. Wind and rain can blow loose trash and other items all over the campground. Put away food if it is not being eaten, to avoid attracting everything from ants to bears.

Prince William Forest Campground—Dumfries

PHOTO CREDIT: JOHNNY MOLLOY

The Camping: When camped here it is hard to believe you are in the shadow of D.C. A 15,000 acre natural oasis in Northern Virginia, Prince William Forest features rustic 100-site Oak Ridge Campground. Open March-November, a shady forest canopies a variety of campsites, big sites for large families, more secluded walk-in tent sites, as well as intimate sites for couples. Hot showers and water spigots add a little luxury. No hookups make it primarily the domain of tent campers. Want to up your game? Rent a rustic wood cabin.    

The Fun: Developed back in the 1930s, Prince William Forest features an extensive trail system for hikers. My favorite paths are South Valley Trail and North Valley Trail. They travel along South Fork Quantico Creek and Quantico Creek respectively, where you can trek beside singing rocky streams shaded by verdant forests. Scenic Drive is not only fun for a quiet drive in hilly woods but it is also good for a bicycle ride. Want to paddle? Rent a kayak or canoe at nearby Pohick Bay Regional Park then explore Gunston Cove, a part of the tidal Potomac River.  

Camping Tip: Pay particular attention to your bedding. A pillow is key. Bring a fluffy pillow from home for a good night’s sleep. An air mattress is much more comfortable than sleeping on the ground. Make sure your sleeping bag is adequately warm then bring an extra blanket just in case. A cold bed makes for a long cold night. Consider pajamas for warmth and in case you have to make a midnight bathroom run.

Green Tip: When nature calls  and there is no restroom available dig a hole at least 100 feet from water and around 6 inches deep. Use your heel. Do your business, burn your toilet paper, then bury the evidence, sparing both the environment and the next camper unsightly unsanitary hygiene practices.

Lewis Mountain Campground—Madison

PHOTO CREDIT: JOHNNY MOLLOY

The Camping: Perched atop the mountain splendor that is Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, Lewis Mountain is the preserve’s most intimate campground with 30 sites. The entire campground is first come, first served, no reservations. This is a great place to visit during off times, such as during the week, or late spring and early fall. Campers who like it simple will love Lewis Mountain – no electricity or hookups – yet you do have a camp store, laundry and showers during the warm season.  

The Fun: Lewis Mountain is ideally situated to explore Shenandoah. For starters, the one and only Appalachian Trail runs directly alongside the campground. Other nearby hiking opportunities include view-laden Bearfence Mountain. Trek to President Hoover’s historic Camp Rapidan. Take a spin on the scenic road that is Skyline Drive. Big Meadows, with its visitor center, wildlife and nearby waterfalls is only 7 miles away. There’s plenty of action using quiet Lewis Mountain as your base camp. 

Camping Tip: Bring tasty foods when camping out. Surprise your fellow campers with their favorite treats. Write down a meal plan, then purchase all the items needed before you head to the campsite. Remember not only meals, but also snacks, desserts and drinks.

Green Tip: Never feed wild animals. This includes everything from birds to chipmunks to raccoons to deer. You may damage their health, plus expose yourself –and them — to danger.

The Pines Campground—New Castle

PHOTO CREDIT: JOHNNY MOLLOY

The Camping: Small, remote and simple, The Pines is set deep in the George Washington & Jefferson National Forest. The getaway, open March through November and located northwest of Roanoke, offers a dozen campsites. Each site has a picnic table, fire ring and lantern post. Trouty Barbours Creek flows nearby deep in this wooded back of beyond. You will truly get back to nature in the Virginia Appalachians. Bring your own water — and leave your cares behind.     

The Fun: Nearby Potts Mountain jeep trail attracts four wheelers to the area. Anglers can vie for stocked trout in adjacent Barbours Creek. Explore the nearby trails of Fenwick Mines, hike and swim at Craig Creek or visit the iron furnace and waterfalls of Roaring Run. Or you can simply pull up a chair and read that book distraction free at The Pines.

Camping Tip: Bring ample lighting for darkness. Headlamps make for hands free lighting. A lantern will brighten the campsite while light strings add to the camping fun.

Green Tip: Leave natural souvenirs where you find them. This means wildflowers, rocks, shells, and driftwood as well as historic artifacts such as fossils and arrowheads. Let others discover and enjoy them, too.

Hurricane Campground—Sugar Grove

PHOTO CREDIT: JOHNNY MOLLOY

The Camping: Set where Hurricane Creek and Comers Creek meet at famed Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, this overlooked mountain campground presents 27 reservable campsites in a serene setting. Hot showers, water and an onsite campground host keep things clean and orderly. The sites are large and far enough apart for good campsite privacy.  

The Fun: Quiet but not too far off the beaten path, you can relax at camp, play in the creek or discover adjacent Raccoon Branch Wilderness on the Appalachian Trail or the Virginia Highlands Trail. Grab a view from nearby Dickey Knob or check out Comers Creek Falls.

Camping Tip: Bring fire starter material with you – candles, pre-formed fire starter sticks, kindling, dry paper, and lighter fluid. This makes it way easier to start a campfire. However, don’t bring firewood. Instead, gather it on site or purchase wood at your favorite campground to prevent spread of wood pests such as emerald ash borer, hemlock wooly adelgid and other.

Green Tip: Do you love the outdoors? Demonstrate your commitment through action by volunteering with an outdoors-related conservation group or trail organization, or by donating time to your favorite national, state, or local park.

Longwood Park—Clarksville

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Photo Credit: Sam Dean, IG account: @sdeanphotos

The Camping: This fine campground is located on the shores of big Lake Kerr, with over 800 big miles of shoreline! The big campsites are spread over three peninsulas extending on the Grassy Creek arm of Lake Kerr, only 10 minutes from Clarksville, making for lots of reservable lakefront campsites. Suitable for tents and RVs, these 66 well-kept campsites have lots of shade and also more open sites. They have electric and nonelectric campsites, hot showers and water spigots. Widespread sites enhance privacy. Open year-round, too!

The Fun: Water is the name of the game here at Longwood Park. Swim at the designated beach in a cove of Lake Kerr. Toss a line for freshwater bass and bream. Use the boat ramp to launch your motorized watercraft or paddle your kayak or canoe along the wooded shoreline. Splash your toes in the water at your campsite. Ride your bike on the roads of the campground.

Camping Tip: Preparing for your Virginia camping adventure saves more time than it consumes. Start a camping checklist then store it on your phone, tweaking the list after every adventure.

Green Tip: Recycle your old camping gear by giving it to someone or an organization that will reuse it.

Chincoteague Island KOA—Chincoteague

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Photo Credit: Todd Wright, IG account: @toddwrightphoto

The Camping: Multiple camping options are available at this resort style campground. Bring your own tent or RV, or rent a “glamping style” safari tent. Almost a camping village, amenities are bountiful with fine bathhouses, golf cart rentals, and outdoor pool. Smoothly run.  

The Fun: Chincoteague Island KOA is all about location, location, location!  It is situated in the heart of Chincoteague Village with all its amenities and attractions such as Maui Jacks Waterpark, restaurants, as well as outdoor outfitters such as Chincoteague Island Adventures. Yet the KOA is also close to the beaches of Chincoteague and Assateague as well as the natural attractions of Assateague Island National Seashore, including Chincoteague Lighthouse. The campground rents bikes to tool around and kayaks to paddle nearby salty waters.

Camping Tip: Make reservations when possible. Most online reservation platforms show individual campsite photos. If you arrive at the campground and your site is unfavorable, ask to switch – it can’t hurt. Once at a campground take note of your favorite campsites for future trips.

Green Tip: Avoid sensitive ecological areas if possible. Hike, rest, and camp at least 100 feet from streams, lakes, and rivers.

Shenandoah River State Park—Front Royal

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Photo Credit: Tony Hall

The Camping: Located on a wooded bend of the Shenandoah River, the park has campgrounds for RVers and tent campers. The 31 site EW Campground features very large, well separated sites, all with electricity and water, good for RVs. Some sites have mountain views. The campground also sports a fine, modern bathhouse. The deeply wooded River Right Campground has 12 walk-in (or paddle-in) campsites located directly riverside. A full bathhouse is available for these fine tent spots. The park also presents three yurts for rent, as well as 4 small camping cabins. 

The Fun: The historic Shenandoah River is the heart of recreation here. Use the state park as a launch point or take out. Find a deep spot and soak yourself in the river. Use River Run Outfitters or Front Royal Outdoors to rent a boat, get a shuttle and float the Shenandoah River. Additionally, hikers and mountain bikers can trek along 24 miles of state park trails that run through the river valley and adjacent hills. Head to Cullers Overlook or take the River Trail to access the fine smallmouth bass fishing waters of the Shenandoah.

Camping Tip: Keep your cooler cold as long as possible by pre-chilling it with ice before adding ice for your camping trip. While at camp keep the cooler in the shade, out of a hot car and away from the fire. Open and close it as seldom as possible (very tough assignment with kids). Drain water from the cooler to keep food from floating.

Green Tip: Go out of your way to avoid birds and animals that are mating or taking care of their young.

North Bayshore Campground—Sandbridge

Photo Credit: Johnny Molloy

The Camping: Set on a quiet shore of tidal Ashville Bridge Creek yet close to the Atlantic Ocean and the beaches of Sandbridge, this camping resort offers over 40 waterfront campsites, plus many more sites. The scenery is quiet and natural, since the campground is mostly bordered by Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Yet almost all sites offer water, electricity and wifi. 

The Fun: Tidal creeks, big bays and the Atlantic Ocean are all nearby. Launch your boat directly from the campground and do some saltwater angling. Or tackle a fun 5 mile loop paddle using Ashville Bridge Creek, Hell’s Point Creek and Back Bay. Make the short drive to Sandbridge Beach and stroll along the Atlantic. Ride your bike along the shoreline roads of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, then return to relax at camp.

Camping Tip: If you take a camping newbie, plan the trip with them in mind. Consider the newbie’s desires, physical abilities and lack of experience when choosing where to camp and what to do once there — you want them to like it.

Green Tip: Be courteous to other campers and outdoor enthusiasts. After all, we are enjoying the same slice of nature together. Let’s make it better for each of us in turn. Camp etiquette goes a long way in smoothing things out when we’re roughing it.

James River State Park—Norwood

Photo Credit: Johnny Molloy

The Camping: Your biggest challenge here will be picking the perfect campsite at one of Virginia’s newer state parks. James River State Park presents 5 distinct campgrounds! Red Oak is the most developed, with large, full hookup campsites designed with RVs in mind. Add a fine bathhouse and laundry and the big rigs are set. Three campgrounds are designed for tenters. Solitude seekers will head to Branch Pond’s seven primitive sites while water lovers will pitch their tent at the 12 walk-in riverside sites of Canoe Landing. These camps present a mix of sun and shade. The five Walnut Grove campsites are set back a little ways from the river, but still have quick water access. Horseshoe Campground offers developed water and electric sites for equestrians. 

The Fun: An onsite paddling livery, open during the warm season, rents canoes and kayaks then shuttles you up the James River, where you can float back to the state park on Class I waters. Choose your trip – 8 miles, 6 miles or 2 miles. Tubes offered for the 2 mile run. Landlubbers can tackle 22 miles of trails. My favorite is the River Trail. True to its name the path runs along the shore of the James. Some other paths were designed with mountain bikers in mind. No matter you mode of travel you can enjoy multiple loop possibilities.

Camping Tip: Take care of your gear after your camping trip: Air out your tent and sleeping bags, unroll and dry sleeping pads/mattresses, wash camp dishes/pots/utensils, empty your backpacks/daypacks, then properly store your gear after drying. It sounds like a hassle but equipment aftercare protects your camping gear for the next adventure.

Green Tip: Preserve our outdoor resources. Loving care and taxpayer money have gone into creating public campgrounds and parks. Don’t deface signs or trees. There’s no need to let passersby know you were here.

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