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Leisure At the Lake: State Parks in the DMV Area

state parks

In the DMV, when someone mentions the beach most of us immediately picture the eastern shore with its miles of sandy beaches along the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay.

But for those of us in Western Maryland, or West Virginia, planning a one-day excursion to the eastern shore beaches can be a bit too far away for a little bit of sun and sand.

Back in the day, my family’s getaways consisted of packing up the beach gear into our 1970’s blue and wood paneled station wagon and cruising down to Lake Caroline, a beach community in Virginia. Day-trips were easy because it was only an hour and a half drive. Still, our anticipation to get there probably drove our parents crazy. We couldn’t wait to see the “Lake Caroline” sign along the side of the road. At that point, it was just a matter of minutes before we would jump out of the car, run onto the beach, and straight into the water. Sunny memories my siblings and I will never forget.

My twin sister, Terri and I now have families of our own. Our kids are like brothers to each other. During the summer months, we brainstorm ideas for keeping our boys active. We fondly remember the joy of long summer days hanging out on the beach, eating packed lunches and swimming to our heart’s content. We now strive to create that same memorable experience for our own children.

Living in Frederick County, Maryland, we’re extremely lucky to have lakes with beaches nearby. But really, no matter where you live, you’re bound to find a lake with a beach worthy of a day-trip. How? Two words: State Parks.

There are 7,804 State Parks in the United States. StateParks.org can help you find a state park near you. While you’re there, download free apps, read up on the history of each park, and skim featured articles. You can even become a State Park Ambassador.

The Price

In Maryland, the State Park entry fee per person is $3 on weekdays. It is $5 on weekends and holidays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Admission is free for visitors with a Golden Age Pass, a DNR Universal Disability Pass and for children in car seats. Amenities abound with nature centers, visitor centers, beach lifeguards, boat rentals, concession stands, picnic areas with tables, grills, playgrounds, lakefront gazebo rentals, restrooms, campsites, and hiking trails. Hours are 8am to sunset and adhere to a limited capacity policy. Once a park is filled, any additional visitors will be turned away. So make sure to get there early and claim your spot.

State Parks in Maryland

Greenbrier State Park, in Boonsboro, Maryland, is among the Appalachian Mountains. This park has a 42-acre lake and a 1,000-foot sandy beach awaiting summer day-trip visitors.

In Thurmont, Maryland among the beautiful Catoctin Mountains, is Cunningham Falls State Park. A beautiful white sandy beach sits beside the 43-acre man-made Hunting Creek Lake, beckoning beachgoers to spend the day.

For us, part of the fun of a day-trip is exploring the world outside of town and checking out something new. So, I found a handful of State Parks with lakes and beaches. And, they are located within an hour and a half drive of Frederick.

Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis, Maryland sits on the northwestern shore of the gorgeous Chesapeake Bay. South Beach offers visitors a place to set up for the day and enjoy the breathtaking, scenic water views. And, you still get that true beach experience. You’ll be surprised how big the waves actually get.

State Parks in Pennsylvania

Another beautiful place to go is Cowans Gap State Park in Fort Loudon, Pennsylvania. This park has a 500 foot sand beach to park your flip flops and set up your blanket, along the 42-acre Cowans Gap Lake. If you get tired of swimming, rent a paddle, row boat or kayak and venture a bit further into the waters.

Pine Grove Furnace State Park, is located in Gardners, Pennsylvania. This park has two mountain lakes: 1.7-acre Fuller Lake & 25-acre Laurel Lake, each with its own sandy beach to claim your spot and go for a swim. After you’ve walked along the shores venture instead to the famous Appalachian Trail which runs through the park.

Gifford Pinchot State Park in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania has a 340-acre lake, Pinchot Lake, with a large beach to satisfy all of your castle-building needs. The lake is large mouth bass designated so bring your fishing rods and cast a line or two.

State Park in West Virginia

Cacapon Resort State Park is located in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. The 6-acre Cacapon Resort State Park Lake has a wide sandy beach to get that much needed sand-between-your-toes fix. Cacapon also offers golfing for seasoned players and a golf academy for newbies.

No matter which park you decide to visit, be sure to go to their individual website for specific park amenities, fees, and policies.

We’re lucky to live in an area surrounded by State Parks. The opportunities for loading up the kids in the family truckster and taking a day-trip to the beach are plentiful.

For Terri and I, SUV’s have replaced the old wood paneled station wagon, but the experience remains the same. These day trips are full of fun memories for our kids, just like they were for us when we were young. And as they grow up and start families of their own, they’ll preserve and continue this memorable beach tradition.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2016 print issue of Sass Magazine.

By Pam Stultz

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