All You Need to Know About Going to Assateague

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Wild ponies, sandy beaches, crabs and clams, open skies: Assateague is a unique Atlantic destination capturing the best of the sea and wrapping it up in ... camping! That's how I was sold on it, at least. My family of four headed east over the recent holiday weekend. There were three families — 6 adults and 6 kids total across three reserved camp sites.

Getting there & setting up
Our friends left Baltimore Friday afternoon and hit traffic. We left DC before sunrise Saturday morning and did not. While they got to wake up with wild ponies rummaging through their trash (more on them below), we missed setting up a tent in the dark and wind. Sunset is at 6:30! While my wife took the boys to the beach, I set up the tent and put all the sleeping gear into it.

Getting around
The campground is on a separate road from the rest of the park, which means there's not a lot of traffic. The kids all had scooters (except my infant). Other bigger kids had bikes. Either will allow them to get back and forth to the camp store and playground with ease. The bathrooms (and water and trash) are on every other loop, so one thing I'd add to my next trip is a collapsible beach wagon to wash off toys and gather water. (I bring a 5 gallon water tank for camping trips. 5 gallons = 40 pounds.)

At your camp site
There are no trees in the camp ground area. The paved parking pads are among the dunes. That means no wind breaks and no shade. For your tent, you'll want a mix sand stakes and regular stakes. Regular stakes can go into rooted vegetation without a problem and sand stakes for the, well, sand. Try to set up your tent at a 45 degree angle to the prevailing wind so a corners is taking the brunt of the wind, not a wide wall. You'll also want to weigh down the bottom of your tent with all your sleeping gear. (Nothing with a scent though, see Ponies below.) And then, create cross-ventilation. In addition to keeping your tent grounded, it will keep it cooler in the summer. You can either leave your tent without the fly so it's mesh all around, or if you want to set up the fly (for shade, day naps, so you don't have to do it later), then open the front and back door of the fly if you have it.

Also, there is no shade. (Did I say that already?) Time to use a camp canopy or an EZ-Up. For either, you have the same wind problem as described for the tent, so put it up and take it down as you need it, rather than creating a heavy metal kite!

Finally, a note about the late summer vegetation: on the plus side, there's milk weed, so there are butterflies everything. On the minus, there are less desirable plans that aren't stinging nettles, but like those Appalachian plants, they have small spiky balls when they dry out that will get stuck everywhere. Walk on the paved areas, not through the grass. Will also simplify your tick checks.

Things to do
A lot of people had kayaks, canoes, clam shovels, and fishing poles in addition to the afore-mentioned bikes and scooters. Packing camping *and* beach stuff was enough to fill my car's trunk to the gill, but if you have the sky box or a trailer hitch, you can add tons of variety. My kids only went to the Atlantic beach side, but on the bay side the water is calmer, and the cove up by the visitor center is even more toddler-friendly. If you drive to the end of the state park road and have 4WD (and a rope and a shovel) they'll let you drive on the sand, for a fee of course. You can also "backpack" as far as 15 miles south and find three designated backpacker campsites along the way (reservations required, but almost always available, according to the Ranger). I'd definitely consider a flat top kayak for a bayside cruise next time.

The Ponies
The best way I can describe them is this: pretend they're bears. Beautiful from a distance, but a kick to the face by a wild horse is bad news, and they are not tidy houseguests. If you wouldn't leave it out when camping in Shenandoah or the Smokies, put it in your car at Assateague, too. Anything with a scent! As noted, our friends accidentally left a bag of trash on their picnic table and awoke to a half dozen ponies fighting for it and kicking up sand in their camp site. And leaving other ... evidence ... behind.

Reservations
While Assateague in the summer can sell out, DC-area summer weather starts before Mother's Day and extends well into October most years. Our off-season trip meant the ice cream stands in town were closed, and lunch at Ocean City on the way out wasn't quite the scene it is in August, but we had the beach to ourselves. Advance reservations are needed but if you need just one site, chances are unless it's a Saturday you can find one.

How To Go Backpacking With A 4 Year Old

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This past weekend I took my son (4) to Shenandoah National Park. This was a last minute trip for us and my preferred car camping sites were all booked by the time the plan came together. So I packed up stuff for 2, took a calculated risk based on what I though he could handle, and we hiked up the Overall Run Trail.

It was about 3 miles to our campsite and another half mile to the waterfall at the top. The next day there was to be a swimming hole on the way back to the car. We parked at 1 pm and started hiking. I had two friends joining us that were a few hours behind. My son and I went slow, but there was no rush. He talked nonstop. I kept him well fed with snacks he likes. (Honey Stinger waffles will motivate him to go anywhere!) And I won’t lie, I was his packhorse and carried him on my shoulders part way.

By about 3 pm he was dragging and we were still a long uphill half-mile from camp. We stopped for a long rest and took out his monster trucks to wait for our friends. Then my son screamed — he had grazed his hand along a small funny-looking caterpillar (later identified as a saddleback) and said his finger was burning. After some hugs and an alcohol pad and band aid, he was all right. Our friends showed up just in time.

As I packed up the backpack again, he caught his second wind and hiked full steam ahead uphill to the campsite. After a brief rest and tent setup period, we were off to the waterfall. It was a letdown — running much drier than I anticipated — but we filled our water bladders in the stream and headed back in time to catch the sunset over the Masanutten ridge. Dinner was sandwiches and roasted marshmallows. My son led the fireside story-telling about Mr Booty the Bad Guy who was a duck.

Sunday we took our time packing up and went a much easier three miles downhill to the swimming hole. By the time we got to the car at 1 pm, he said he wanted to skip lunch and just close his eyes.

With patience, waffles, and extra hands, we had a great time. By the time we got home, the caterpillar was a highlight!

Gear list:

I had a lot of gear rented out this weekend, so this isn’t exactly what I would have chosen in every category:

• EMS Long Trail 70L backpack
• Sunhiker 12L backpack
• GoLite Shangri-La 2 person tent with mismatched footprint and rainfly
• 2 sleeping pads
• 1 adult sleeping bag and a double size wool blanket
• MSR Trailshot band pump water filter
• ThermaCell mosquito burner
• Osprey and Camelbak 3L water bladders
• Stuffed monkey
• 4 monster trucks

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What It Is Like to Rent From Us

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We rented some gear from Capitol Hill Outfitters for a long weekend backpacking and hiking trip in World's End State Park and Ricketts Glen State Park in Northern Pennsylvania. We had most of everything ourselves, but just needed one pack, two sleeping pads, and a sleeping bag. Tim gave us some options and recommendations from his selection, and we ended up perfectly set up! What's more, the prices were super affordable. We had an incredible trip, and the gear was tip top. 100% recommend using Capital Hill Outfitters. —Graham Robertson

Rent Your Gear Now!

Capitol Hill Outfitters is going to Yosemite National Park!

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Join us for a five day, four night backpacking adventure in one of America's most iconic parks. We've planned a route that will give newcomers a real taste of California wilderness, and allow experts some free time for High Sierra adventures. 

Trip highlights: John Muir Trail, Cathedral Lakes, Cloud's Rest, Half Dome, Little Yosemite Valley, Lake Merced, and on and on!

Trip logistics: 

  • Arrivals October 20, Departures October 26 into and out of San Francisco

  • First and last night accommodations in the park 

  • Hiking days Monday, October 21 through Friday October 25

Price: $699 single, $999 two people  

  • Includes ground transportation to and from Yosemite, lodging 

  • Includes group gear (tents, cookware, group safety gear) 

  • Includes group meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) 

  • Includes any rentals of individual gear you need 

  • Does not include flights 

For a $199 deposit you can reserve your spot today! 

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Get Outside This Month

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With the weather warming up and the idea of being outside becoming more and more appealing, we've found some great organizations to help you get hiking. And we've got you covered when it comes to gear (ie we have A LOT of backpacks to help you get through any nature walks).

May 4—Hike Like a Girl hosted by the African American Nature & Parks Experience
Casual hikers, extreme hikers, however you define yourself, this event is for you! Join our friends at the African American Nature & Parks Experience by participating in their annual Hike Like A Girl event! It's simple to get involved:  1) Get out for a hike on any trail you want on May 4-5; 2) Take a photo from your hike; 3) Share it on social media using the hashtag #HIKELAG2019 and tagging the giveaway sponsors. Visit their website for more details.

May 12—Waterfalls, Wine & Beer: Catoctin Mountain State Park, MD hosted by Trails and Ales
Make sure you register in advance for this moderate 5 mile hike paired with a visit to an adjourning brewery and vineyard.

May 14—Mappy Hour DC: Exploring the Anacostia Boat Tour hosted by Mappy Hour
Join Mappy Hour and Anacostia Riverkeeper for a boat tour of the Anacostia River! There will be snacks and drinks during a boat ride down the river. Attendees will learn about the river's history, wildlife, the environmental threats it faces, and the solutions being employed to help it realize its full potential. For more details and to register visit their website. There are future events in June, July & August.

Plan a hike any day! Check out Hiking Upward to get info about hikes in Virignia, Maryland, West Virginia and North Carolina and select the one that will work best for you or your group!

Join Us for a Local Adventure!

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We're going for a day hike! Join us on April 14 at 1 p.m. Please RSVP to cap.hill.outfitters@gmail.com. This will be a family-friendly jaunt in Prince William Forest in Virginia, just off I-95. We'll talk trails, gear, animals, and kids, while we enjoy the benefits of fresh air. Park at the visitor center and we'll do one of a few loops from there. There are over 37 miles of hiking trails in the Park.

Need a ride? Let us know and we'll try to arrange carpools. Need a backpack (child carrier or otherwise) or water storage? We have those! We'll bring the maps, you bring your own water and snacks.

Wilderness First Aid Tips

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As the weather improves, it’s exciting to be able to spend more time exploring the great outdoors. While being in nature is great, make sure you are prepared for those long hikes and camping in warm weather by checking out these tips about Blisters and Dehydration.

With some prior knowledge you’ll be prepared to recognize and respond quickly if one of these issues does arise on your next adventure.

Time to Start Your Summer Travel Plans

Picture this — the open road. Running under waterfalls to cool off after a day in the hot sun. S’mores next to a campfire under a full moon, listening to owls hoot and crickets chirp. Awaking to the crisp mountain air after a night under the stars. Views for miles that make memories you and your kids will remember forever. If you want this, do you know where to start? We’ll help find the right park or forest for you, plan the mode (Motel? Camper? Car camp? Backpacking?) and logistics, and help outfit you with all the gear you’ll need to enjoy the great outdoors this summer. Contact us at caphilloutfitters@gmail.com to get started on planning your perfect summer road trip adventure today!