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How To Do Your Best State Park Camping in PA, OH, WV, and MD

on
April 10, 2022

We’re rolling into our sixth season of state park camping in our RV!

We’ll tell you where we’ll be headed this year in a minute… but first, here are some resources and tips we’ve picked up during the last five years of state park camping – from researching parks and making reservations, all the way to packing up and driving safely home.  

Researching State Parks

So you’re ready to go camping in a state park, but which one? 

First, consider how far from home you’d like to venture. Maybe your drives are limited to a few hours to make sure you get the most out of your weekend. Perhaps you’re good for four or five hours for a really great adventure! Once you’ve decided how far you’re willing to drive, then you can narrow down your options. 

Next, check out which parks have the best amenities for you. Are you interested in fishing or swimming on a lake beach, or are you more interested in hiking and biking trails? A quick look at a park’s map can tell you whether it is has a weekend’s worth of activities you’ll enjoy. 

If a state park you’d like to visit doesn’t have a campground, don’t cross it off your list! We’ve visited many state parks on the way to or from another state park’s campground. A great recent example was in northwest PA where we day-tripped at Presque Isle State Park and stayed the weekend at Chapman State Park.

Fortunately, Pennsylvania and it’s surrounding states have excellent information – including maps and schedules available online – and that’s a perfect place to begin. 

Let’s take a look- click the state names or map images to visit their websites:  

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has almost reached its goal of having a state park within 25 miles of every resident, so there are plenty to pick from! With 121 parks featuring everything from obliterated railroad bridges to many, many waterfalls, finding one to suit you is easy. Check out our PA Trip Reports here.

Ohio

Ohio has 75 state parks, along with 8 national historic sites, monuments, trails, and parks. Most hiking in Ohio is quite flat, but there are still lots of scenic views and interesting terrain (like Hocking Hills!). Check out our Ohio Trip Reports here.

West Virginia

West Virginia has 25 state park options and 4 national park attractions - including the most recent National Park addition, New River Gorge. The state also has some very scenic driving routes along the way. Check out our West Virginia Trip Reports here.

Maryland

Maryland boasts 37 state parks and 11 national attractions. Some campgrounds are small, but we've found these parks to be extremely well-kept (and often a little crowded). Check out our Maryland Trip Reports here.

Making State Park Camping Reservations

Now that you’ve researched and selected the perfect parks to visit, it’s time to make your reservations!

Each state has their own reservation system, and some are a bit wonkier than others. 

Before selecting a site, think of what you want to be close to – maybe that’s water, the bathhouse, or a playground. If you’re like us, we like to be near (but not next to) a bathhouse and far from the playgrounds (thanks, Franklin!). 

A few things we suggest not being next to under any circumstance are water processing and electric generation stations. The ones we’ve seen make a humming machine noise and don’t smell fantastic, either. 

But everyone knows that the campground map can’t tell the whole story!

The reservation websites typically offer at least one photo of the camping site, so examine it closely – is it surrounded by trees? Can you see other facilities and sites? Is it shaded or in open sun? Consider your preferences before making a choice.  

Here’s the inside scoop by state: 

Pennsylvania

Campground reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance, and a $10 fee applies if you need to change your reservation. Be sure check the boxes for the electric, water, accessibility, and pet options you prefer during your search.
Click on "Pennsylvania" above to visit the PA State Park reservation site, or call 888-PA-PARKS.

Ohio

Campground reservations can be made up to 6 months in advance, and you are permitted up to one change for free (check the Policies - some time limits apply). I have found this to be the least user-friendly of the state park reservation sites, so it might be worth a phone call to talk it through and get what you want.
Click on "Ohio" above to visit for yourself, or call 866-644-6727.

West Virginia

Campground reservations can be made up to 1 year in advance, and there are no change fees. The reservation site has a good photo of each site, but the overall campground maps are hard to navigate. You'll have an easier time just using Google images to find the specific state park campground map you'd like to see.
Click on "West Virginia" above, or call 1-833-WV-PARKS.

Maryland

Campground reservations can be made up to 1 year in advance, and there is no change or cancellation fee within the first 24 hours after they are made. This site can get confusing with the different shapes and colors and tabs, so be sure you're searching what's actually available on the dates you choose.
Click on "Maryland" above, or call 888-432-CAMP.

Packing Up

Now that you’ve selected a state park and campsite, it’s time to think about what to take with you!

Aside from the basics you already know like food and clothing, here are some recommendations we wouldn’t want you to be without in the campground: 

deep creek lake state park campground lounging
Seating

Once you arrive, you'll want a comfortable seat outside - so remember to bring the camp and lounge chairs! You might even want to throw in a side drink table.

And don't forget your furry friends either! An elevated dog bed gives them a place to relax and cool off, too.

jenga
Entertainment

Outdoor games like Cornhole, Kan Jam, or giant Jenga can turn your campsite into a much funner place when the weather is good...

But don't forget the cards and board games in case you get cooped up in the rain!

organic bug repellent
Bug Deterrents

Don't let insects get the best of you - pack your repellent!

I have a lot of skin allergies, so I go with organic Bug Soother spray.

For the poochies, besides their regular tick and flea treatment, try Vet's Best spray on their bedding and blankets.

mushrooms of northeast north america
Field Guides

How are you going to identify the snake you just encountered or the mushroom you stepped on or the bird that keeps landing nearby?

Reference books can help you figure it out quickly. Pack some field guides so you're never left wondering!

bedford coffee pot pour
Coffee Coffee Coffee

Throughout the years, bringing everything to make our favorite morning beverage has been a challenge.

Be sure to pack up all of the equipment and ingredients you'll need to create coffee magic in the morning!

Arrival and Set Up

When you arrive at the campground, there’s always a feeling of relief. You’ve successfully chosen a park, made a reservation, and navigated your way from your house to the campsite- it’s almost to relax!

Time to set up!

If you look around, you’ll see all sorts of setups. Some people have so much stuff, they seem they’re settling in for a few months. Some look like they are never coming out of their camper. Has it been abandoned? Are they in there? Who can tell. 

We suggest a middle-of-the-road approach: comfortable enough you can walk outside and feel at home, but not so much that you mistake it for home!

An outdoor rug is super helpful for catching grass, sand, cinders, or leaves outside before they end up inside. 

A shoe tray you can push under the RV at night (so your shoes don’t get rained on!) also helps keep outside debris outside.

We wrote about our front windshield cover and the privacy it provides once you are parked. 

Picnic table covers are must (and most can be reused!) to avoid the last campers’ spills and tiny splinters. 

If you put it outside, they will come – so repel them in the first place! I’m of course talking about mosquitoes and other bugs. These organic bug candles should help out. 

Oh, and if you’re looking to add a little personality to your site without hauling a lot around? A set of string lights will do the trick!

Plotting a Park Plan

When you arrive at the campground, make sure you get a campground map, a park map, and an event schedule if they’re available. 

The camground map will help you find your spot quickly from any where in the park, and typically looks like this: 

cook forest state park campground map

Campground maps will also normally have the general rules, including quiet hours and check in/check out times.

Park maps usually are more colorful and have a bit of history, amenities, and trail list on one side, and a full park map on the other, like this: 

Occasionally you’ll find trail maps on a display at the trailhead (more common in Ohio and Maryland). 

trail map at alum creek state park
deep creek lake state park trailhead

If you can’t find an event schedule, stop at the at the park office or nature center (if the park has one). Events range from guided hikes and wildlife encounters to outdoor movies and boat rides, so don’t miss out! 

Over and Out

Now that you’ve set up comfortably and navigated through your camping weekend happily, womp womp….it’s already time to go home!

Besides checking all around your site to make sure you don’t leave anything behind, you’ll also want to take some notes for yourself – not just so you remember the experience, but also so you remember what you liked about your site and the park.  

Nerd alert! We keep a binder in the RV for all the campground and park maps from the places we visit (doouble nerd alert: in alphabetical order) with some notes in the margins so we can keep track of where we’ve been and where we might like to revisit again some day. 

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On the Calendar...

Now for a quick look at where we’ll be visiting this year…stay tuned for the updated Trip Report links as they happen!

Swallow Falls State Park

We have been trying to visit this Maryland state park for three years now - once we got canceled for weather, then COVID, and then for a family event. We are determined to see it this year!

Twin Falls State Park

We are excited to stay in the Lodge at this West Virginia park, and we are also excited to see how well Hazel and Franklin can behave while we are there.

Caledonia State Park

I can appreciate any state park the Appalachian Trail goes through, so I'm excited to see this PA one!

Babcock State Park

Another chance to hike a West Virginia park, as well as visit the New River Gorge National Park.

Raymond B. Winter

Interesting name...we'll let you know if it's an interesting central PA park!

Dillon State Park

This is the only Ohio park on the schedule this year...so far!

Bald Eagle State Park

This central PA park was a favorite from the past, so we'll be revisiting.

Happy State Park Camping!

Did we forget anything? Do you have something to add? Let us know in the Comments below!

west branch state park campground scenic site
Wondering what important lessons we learned from four seasons of weekend RV travel? Turn our turmoil into your own tips.
Have you hiked or biked the GAP Trail? Here’s our favorite section!
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We are a dog-loving, outdoor-adventuring, RV-traveling crew of 2 humans + 2 dogs.

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