All politics aside, DC has our vote for one of the most friendly urban camping cities in the northeast region.
What traveler can contest the free museums, more of them that one could see in a single visit? Or the presidential monuments and array of ancient Egyptian, Greek, Romanesque, medieval, and modern architecture that span the city blocks?
Every nook of the city is bursting with visual stimuli. From Stikman underfoot to the cylindrical Hirshhorn museum. Massive street murals in the local neighborhoods, and avenues of brick row houses and Edwardian style homes around the vibrant traffic circles. Even Union Station is decorated with Roman columns and statues fit for…err, parking.
So, if you’ve put off seeing DC because you’re not sure that it’s a spot you’d like to wrangle your home on wheels around, then read on. We’ve put together some helpful tips for our fellow RVing friends and those found art lovers in search of the U.S. capital city, Washington, DC.
Union Station Downtown DC
This is an over-sized vehicle and RV parking garage used mainly for tourist buses, however they also allow motorhomes to park here as well. Camping inside your RV is not permitted, however we did it anyway. There’s 24 hour security and you’re steps from the inside of Union Station, bathrooms, coffee, and free WiFi.
This RV Parking spot puts you directly in the heart of the city, across the street from the capital right on a Metro line. Location is everything, so you’ll pay. Great for a day trip parking space or if you have hotel reservations, you can park your big rig here safely and easily.
Option 1 (What we did):
Day: 7am-7pm = $20.00
Night: 7pm-7am = $10.00
Space is NOT guaranteed.
Option 2: 24 hour Reservation = $50.00
Guaranteed slip with in and out privileges.
In our opinion, it’s too much for not really allowing you to sleep there.
RV Street Camping Plan Gets Scrapped
We ended up at Union Station because our first plan to street camp, took an unexpected turn. That afternoon, we drove around, scoping out street camp spots and found a cozy neighborhood in the Northwest side of the city (shown in the above photo). The area was clean, we could walk easily to a metro station and we found a parking spot under a tree and near a community park. Yup, looked good.
However, while still inside, taking five to relax, a group of curious kids started hanging around the motorhome. It was no big until we overheard two of them plotting to ‘get’ our bikes. Bummer. As we sat and watched them through our tinted house windows, a small group of them ventured around to the front, to the un-tinted cab window. They spotted us inside.
Not to appear threatened, I waved. That gesture turned into an invite and in seconds we were giving a tour of the Cheddar Yeti to fifteen rambunctious kids. Not sure why but, we let them peek inside and answered dozens of personal questions. Most of the kids thought it was rad that we lived in this ‘thing’ and traveled all over the place. But, a most were a bit skeptical, still. They couldn’t believe there was a bathroom inside and that we traveled with a cat!
So, after the Q&A tour, we nicely waved good-by and watched them mozy down the street until they disappeared. We hoped that somehow we might have inspired those kids to set out on an adventure of their own someday… but, we didn’t stick around to find out. We decided to scrap our street camping plan and head down to the Union Station parking garage.
Campgrounds Near DC
Pohick Bay Regional RV Park and Campground
This is a nicely wooded campground in Virgina about 30 miles from the city where we stayed before going into DC. It has beautiful hiking trails, boating and fishing, laundry, fire pits, tables, WiFi… well, all the good camp stuff. However, it was not close enough to the train to make it a good urban camp spot for us. You’d need a car to get to the nearest station or the city, from this park.
So, for $31.50 per night, go if you want to enjoy the park offerings or if you have a car to take you into the city.
6501 Pohick Bay Drive Lorton, VA 22079
(703) 339-8585 More Information
Greenbelt RV Park
Greenbelt park is OUR FAVORITE camp spot for seeing DC. It’s close to the University of Maryland metro stop, it’s inexpensive, and has hiking trails. We stayed here on our last Washington, DC trip, and loved it. But, on this trip we needed to check out the other options available in the area, and we did and this is still the best choice. Next time, we’ll be back here again, without a doubt.
Greenbelt Park 6565 Greenbelt Road Greenbelt, Maryland 20770
Park hours: Open seven days a week, 8 a.m. to dusk. Year-round.
Park Headquarters: (301) 344-3948 Ranger Station: (301) 344-3944
Space type/surroundings: Back in and pull through spaces.
Facilities: NONE on site. Pull through water and dump facilities available.
Cost: $16.00 per night
About Those Free Museums.. and Beyond
When we hit DC, we usually pick just two or three of the free museums to see. Call us unambitious but, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Plus, there is so much outside of the national mall area and outside of the buildings, you need to leave yourself time to stumble across some of these gems.
Eating near the National Mall: All those free museums are rad, but don’t expect to find many places to grab a good bite near by. The museum cafe’s are expensive and the plentiful hot dog carts aren’t that great. Plan to hit the museums after lunch or bring your own and eat in one of the many gardens near by.
Did you know that Pulaski Park (Freedom Plaza) is a giant street map of the capital city downtown region? From above, you can see it’s a replica of the streets in downtown DC. Complete with a grass patch marking the national mall and a marker for the capital and the White House. Go ahead, check it out in Google maps.
On this visit we spent a fair amount of time in the Hirshhorn Museum, the Suprasensorial exhibit with neon lights drew us in. Interactive art is always a plus in our book, intentional or not. You can see, Dennis enjoyed channeling Francis Bacon’s work.
We also stumbled upon a natural spring outside the capital building. The Summerhouse Grotto was mysterious to us, there were no plaques telling of its origin and it seemed out-of-place. Regardless, we drank from the spring fountains and peaked through the iron fence at what looked like an ancient, undisturbed secret well. Could this be the secret “light” spring that appeared in the TV show, “Lost?”
If you need a little help, you can check out this cool DC Art App, ArtAround. ArtAround is an interactive, inside-out museum for public art in DC. Get the scoop on everything from murals, monuments, and street art to galleries, museums, and events…
Read about RV Parking, Food, Monuments and Museums from our last DC Trip
So, we hope you enjoy our nations capital as much as we have. Enjoy your travels!
14 responses to “Urban Camping: Washington DC, Found Art & RV Parking”
I found you when Googling for the best spot to park my little RV while visiting DC – excellent write up and thank you for the tips!
This is one of most well-written and designed blogs I’ve seen! Unfortunately, I found you after I’d already done my research and found most of your suggestions on my own. However, you augmented and confirmed several things for me like which garage is best for RV parking and the wonderfulness of Greenbelt Park. And I gleaned some jewels, like the natural spring near the Capitol building.
Hi I would like to know what forum I can post for a new spot for travelers. Available this weekend for the events in town.
Thanks for the great info! I have to work in DC for a week during late April, a very busy time in DC. I like the idea of using the Union Station garage for my 20 ft van and quietly crashing in the evening. In your opinion/experience, how much energy did they put into paying attn to noticing if you were sleeping there and is there a better area of the grange to use to keep a low profile? Thanks!
Can you advise me about your street camp spot that you find in the northwest?
We are 4 Italian traveller planning to go to Washington DC.
I’m moving to the DC area for work for the next year. I’d like to live in my 26 foot travel trailer. Any idea of a place near shady Grove Maryland. Full hookup would be nice. DR
Did you find a place to park your RV for long term lot rental? I’m looking to do the same in 2017.
Hi, I am considering doing the very same thing… since some time has passed since you posted this did you have any luck? Can you share any tips?
Some DC Mall food suggestions: Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken (1308 G St. NW). For lunch, WTF(1426 H St. NW, 202-347-5355), not to Woodward Takeout Food”), but to dig into the freshly made flatbreads, sandwiches (including grilled cheese for the wee ones) and desserts, all overseen by Jeffrey Buben, one of the most demanding and discerning chefs in the District.
And should you want dinner, I’d suggest Boss Shepherd’s (513 13th St. NW, 202-347-2677).
Wondering what time of year you were in DC? We are going in June and will have our dog with us and we’re wanting to do the Union station parking during the day option. Wanted to see how hot the garage parking was during the day and make sure it wasn’t too hot for our dog to be in our RV while we were sight seeing.
It wasn’t that hot and the parking garage is covered – our cat was fine. HOWEVER, we did have the fan on and our evaporative cooler which keeps it pretty cool inside. Be careful! I’d plan to check back often – there’s a metro station right on site. Have fun!
will it fit a 40foot motor home? easy to get in and out of?
Yes I imagine so. They host tour buses all day long!
[…] Experience for the first time. We are lucky to have other RVing friends that had already tackled DC in their RV with success, so needless to say I look to CheddarYeti and many others who have done it before for […]