Who's up for camping this summer? It's a wonderful way to make family memories and enjoy the outdoors together, and there is no shortage of great campgrounds within a quick drive from Philadelphia. Regardless of experience level--first-timers or veterans, bare-bones campers or real-deal glampers--the suggestions below have you covered. All campgrounds on the list are 2.5 hours or less from Center City, and they range from "primitive" (pretty much just a clearing in the woods with a fire pit) to moderate (campsite, fire pit, basic bathroom nearby) to "luxury" (campsite, fire pit, electric and water hook-ups, bathrooms and showers nearby, campground with amenities such as a pool, playground, even wifi). The good news is, you don't need to drive all day or sacrifice the basic comforts of home for a scenic, unforgettable camping adventure with your kids.
Wharton State Forest- Hammonton, NJ
Located in the heart of the Pineland National Reserve, Wharton State Forest is the largest State Forest in NJ--more than 125,000 acres. About an hour's drive from Philadelphia and 30 minutes from Atlantic City and nearby shore points, the State Forest includes nine campgrounds varying in amenities and method of access. Atsion Family Campground is a good place to start, where campers can settle in one of 50 tent or trailer sites that offer fire pits, bathrooms, and showers. There's no electricity, but there is access to potable water. More adventurous or experienced campers may enjoy the park's "primitive" sites, which have pit toilets only, no potable water, and no showers. For even more adventure (and privacy), check out the park's sites that are accessible only by hiking or boating! Finally, the park also has nine rustic cabins, perfect for the family that wants to get away from it all, just with the comforts of a private bathroom, shower, electricity, and small kitchen.
Pennsylvania State Parks System- Statewide
Newbies rejoice: nine parks in the PA State Parks system participate in a First-time Camper Program! Available to anyone who has never camped in a state park before, the program is $20 for two nights of camping, plus it includes rentals of a four-person tent, four sleeping pads, four camp chairs, four hot dog roasting sticks, a flashlight, and camp stove. The program's website has more details, including a list of the participating parks and a checklist of what to bring--a smart recourse even for seasoned campers.
Gifford Pinchot State Park- Lewisberry, PA
Situated in northern York county about 2 hours from Philly, Gifford Pinchot is a great state park for family camping. Many of the park's 339 campsites include water and electric hook-ups, and all have access to bathrooms and showers. Cabins and yurts are also available. The park offers 18 miles of hiking trails and 4 miles of biking trails, and the 340-acre Pinchot Lake is nice for boating and swimming.
Jim Thorpe Camping Resort- Jim Thorpe, PA
Though not as private as state park camping can be, "full-service" campgrounds like the Jim Thorpe Camping Resort can be an excellent starting point for new campers and those with little ones. Kids can relish in all the magical parts of camping--sitting around the fire, sleeping under the stars--while parents enjoy amenities that make things, well, easier. These include campsites with water and electric hook-ups, convenient access to flush toilets and showers, a general store for any forgotten supplies, playgrounds, and swimming pools. Located 1.5 hours from Philly in the Pocono Mountains, the Jim Thorpe Camping Resort is also close to waterfalls, a butterfly sanctuary, boat rentals, and historic railroads--plenty of things to keep the kids happy during the day. Cabins are also available.
Otter Lake Camp Resort- East Stroudsburg, PA
Otter Lake Camp Resort offers all the bells and whistles: two pools, a general store, boat rentals, playgrounds, family activities, and a 60-acre lake for boating, swimming, and fishing. Sites range from basic (no hook-up) to the whole shebang (water, electric, sewer for RVs, even cable and wifi!). About 2.5 hours from Philly, Otter Lake is close to many major Poconos attractions.
Ocean View Resort- Ocean View, NJ
Let’s not forget the terrific camping along the Jersey shore! Like the Pocono Mountains, the shore offers many family-friendly campgrounds. Just inland from Sea Isle City and a little over an hour from Philly, the Ocean View Resort Campground is one of them. Like Jim Thorpe and Otter Lake, Ocean View is a glamper’s paradise. Kids may not even want to leave the campground for the beach when they see the pool and splash pad, beautiful lake, arcade, general store, and playground.
The Great American Backyard Campout Event at the Schuylkill Center- Philadelphia, PA
Last but not least, families can camp right in their own backyard (almost) at the annual Schuylkill Center For Environmental Education’s Great American Backyard Campout event each June. Kids love not only sleeping outside in the Center’s beautiful wooded grounds, but also hiking, canoeing, and meeting animals from the Center’s Wildlife Clinic. Dinner and breakfast are included, rental tents are available, and pre-registration is required.
Let’s get camping!
All photos provided by the author.