The difference between being a "happy camper" or not can be slight and often is a matter of logistics. The preparatory details of assembling gear and provisions, when key aspects overlooked-"Honey, did you pack the kids' sleeping pads?" or "Where are the headlamps?" or "Oh, no, we forgot the marshmallows!"-can doom the prospects of a cheerily comfortable time outdoors under the open sky. Such failings are compounded if the chosen destination is hours from home, where the solutions may be sitting, packed and ready, on the kitchen table. Proximity to the "base camp" also has the obvious advantage of truncating the anticipatory boredom of getting there. Camping close to home, in short, can increase the happiness quotient of an overnight outdoors adventure.
Fortunately for Baltimoreans, nearby public campsites abound, found in the rocky piedmont to the wooded coastal plain to the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. And if key supplies remain forgotten at home, threatening to ruin the good times, reclaiming them is only a matter of a quick sortie back home.
Bear in mind, alcohol is prohibited in all Maryland state parks, so the price of indiscreet partying could be a criminal record; those choosing to risk it should masquerade their drinking vessels and practice moderation so as not to attract attention. Also, camping reservations for Maryland state parks involve per-night service charges of $4.56 when made over the internet at reservations.dnr.state.md.us, $4.61 by calling (888) 432-2267, and $4.51 when made at the park. Campsites have space for setting up tents and parking cars, and generally have picnic tables and fire pits, though firewood must be purchased or collected at the park to avoid the damaging risk of hitchhiker insects on wood brought in from elsewhere. Here are eight possibilities, all within a 90-minute drive of Baltimore.