Visiting Washington DC

Places for Scouts to Stay When Visiting Arlington, VA and Washington, DC

The following information is provided as a simple starting point for Boy Scout Troops interested in visiting the Arlington, VA and Washington, DC area. You may find some worthwhile hints here. It will require some legwork on your part.

Note that this is NOT a comprehensive or finished document. It’s still in rough draft form once you get past the first section on Arlington County. Most of this mini-treatise was prepared from 2001 to 2005; some of the information may now be outdated and inaccurate, esp. phone numbers and some websites.

– Dr. Bob, ASM-111

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In ARLINGTON COUNTY, VIRGINIA (Directly Across the Potomac River from Washington); this is where Troop 111 is located.

I regret that St. Agnes Church (our Chartering Partner) does not have adequate facilities for Scout Troops to stay there (no showers, etc.); furthermore, the Troop does not have a dedicated facility – the hall we use for Scouts is moderately to heavily used by other Parish groups both day and night.

There are NO public facilities for tent-camping anywhere in Arlington County, either commercial facilities (KOA, etc.) or National, State, Regional, or County parks. Likewise, there is nothing nearby in CLOSE-IN Fairfax County either (Fairfax is the next county out, and surrounds Arlington County). Similarly, there is nothing in Alexandria (an independent city in Fairfax Co. bordering Arlington County on the south side). There are some campgrounds further out in Fairfax County (see below), but they are not particularly convenient to Washington, unless you have personal vehicles and are willing to endure the unpleasant and dangerous morning and afternoon commuter traffic in the Washington area.

There are numerous locales in Arlington and close-in Fairfax that *might* be able to provide inside “floor camping” in community halls or gyms, including dozens of Churches, private schools, military facilities, and community groups (e.g., Knights of Columbus, VFW Posts, American Legion Posts, etc.). Furthermore, a few of these Churches, private schools, and community groups have large lawns, and might allow tent-camping on them for a night or two. Obviously this is both hit-or-miss and constantly changing, and there is no way to provide an accurate or stable list of such facilities. For this reason, if you are interested in pursuing such options, you are best served by working through your own Church or community groups to both locate and contact affiliated Churches and community groups in Arlington and Fairfax.

Some special cautionary notes on Washington area military facilities. There are a large number of such facilities in the Washington area, including in Arlington County. However, access to these facilities is sharply limited, due to post-911 security issues and anti-Boy Scout activism by the ACLU and their counter-culture allies, both of which has sharply limited the assistance that can legally be provided by the U.S. military to Scouting Units. An additional complication are the ongoing base closings and relocations mandated by the BRAC Act – basically meaning that a facility that Scouts used 3 years ago may not even be there today, or may be in the process of closing or moving. This is another dynamic situation, and (again) there is no way to provide an accurate or stable list of the availability or current status of such facilities.

The bottom line is that, with few exceptions, local military facilities are not likely to have anything you can use (unless you’re a general, an admiral, or a Congressman). In addition (and very important), even if you can arrange something, be aware that if the terrorism threat level rises even one notch, only active-duty DOD personnel will be allowed in the door of all local facilities – that means no Scouts, period, regardless of who you are or what prior arrangements you have made with the facility. Therefore, if you do manage to secure lodging at a local military facility, be sure to have a Plan B in case your arrangements are voided 2 hours before you arrive, due to something that occurred half a world away. Finally, it is routine for local military facilities to have lengthy delays at their entrances, due to security checks (including ID checks and vehicle searches). Up to one hour delays are routine. For this reason, if you do secure lodging at a military facility, leave major time blocks in your schedule for getting in the gates (and that’s every time you show up!) You can also expect to have to provide some PII, including names, addresses, DOBs, social security numbers, etc., as part of the security firewall – and that includes for the Scouts. Many parents have serious heartburn with such requirements.

LESS EXPENSIVE HOTEL ACCOMMODATIONS IN ARLINGTON

(Note: “Less Expensive” is a VERY relative term! – Everything in Arlington is expensive!) These are arranged roughly from the least expensive up. This is NOT a comprehensive list, but rather represents suggestions made by local Scouters. The only common thread is that they are located within easy walking distance of the Metro (subway) lines running through Arlington. There are many other hotels and motels in Arlington County (but no local Scouter has suggested their use for Scout groups). A travel agent might be able to provide other suggestions for lower-cost hotel accommodations.

1) EconoLodge at the corner of Lee Highway and Washington Boulevard. Easy access from I-66. It’s a 5 minute walk down the W&OD bike path to the East Falls Church Metro (Orange Line). Renovated around 2010. Probably the least expensive hotel along the Metro’s Orange Line. 6800 Lee Highway; 703/538-5300 If you’re on bikes, it’s right on the W&OD Bike Trail.

2) Highlander. Probably the second least expensive place. Nearest Metro stop is either Virginia Square or Clarendon (both Orange Line). 3336 Wilson Blvd; 703/524-4300 If you’re on bikes, it’s not too far from the Custis Bike Trail (which parallels I-66).

3) Hotel Americana. Located in Crystal City (South Arlington) on South Eads and about South 18th Street. According to several Scouters, they might offer you a group discount. Close to the Crystal City Metro stop (Yellow Line). It used to provide a donut breakfast (which some Cub Scout Leaders stated was popular with their Scouts). 703/979-3772 1300 Jefferson Davis Hwy, Arlington, 22202. [NOTE: One of the Scout groups that used this hotel in early 2005 returned a very favorable report on it.] Not too far from the Mt. Vernon Bike Trail (enter/exit the Bike Trail at National Airport).

4) Holiday Inn on Fairfax Drive in Arlington is convenient and within a few blocks walking distance to Ballston Metro (Orange line). 4610 N. Fairfax Dr. 703/243-9800 Located on a spur trail off the Custis Bike Trail, and has easy access to I-66. Pricier.

5) A bit further out but still within a reasonable 10 minute walk of Ballston (and the Orange Line) is the Comfort Inn on the corner of Washington Boulevard and Glebe Road. Located right off the Custis Bike Trail, and has easy access to I-66. 703/247-3399. Pricier.

Other Facilities in Arlington

YMCA – Arlington: Bob – During the summer of 2005 a Scout troop from Iowa spent the night at the YMCA in Arlington. They slept in the gym with their sleeping bags. They were able to come and sleep anytime after 9pm as long as they out before 8 am or so, they used it just as a place to sleep and then they had a charter bus where they took all of their stuff with them. I talked to this Scout group; they said this was the cheapest place around, even with the other YMCAs the total for the hall was about $200 per night. They may still offer this. The number to the YMCA of Arlington is 703/525-5420. They have to have a staff member stay the night with them; that’s normally the only difficult issue – finding someone who is willing to do so.

YMCAs in the Washington, DC area: http://www.ymcadc.org/YMCA-Arlington.aspx

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WITHIN REASONABLE DISTANCE OF WASHINGTON, DC (not including Arlington County)

Note: I have included non-Arlington venues because you can use the Metro (subway system) or local rail systems to get yourselves to (some) distant locales. If you choose to do this, be sure to get pre-approvals from Metro or the specific rail system – especially if you’re on bikes or have a lot of luggage – and don’t try to use either during any rush-hour period. Most of this info was provided by other Scouters.

Some of the places for Scouts to Stay Outside of Arlington County:

Bob – You might look into the National 4-H Center, 7100 Connecticut Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD 20815. The phone number is 301/961-2800 (or 1-800-368-7432). This might be about the cheapest group site in the DC area. I believe they have a fairly cheap meal service as part of the plan. Also, you might look into Andrews or Bolling Air Force Base. I don’t know what, if anything, they might have, but it never hurts to ask!

[Added Note: Based on feedback from past visitors, the National 4-H Center is probably the most popular option. Here is some additional information:

National 4-H Center
7100 Connecticut Ave.
Chevy Chase, MD 20815
Contact Main # Sales & Marketing (DC area)
Standard rooms with private baths sleep from one to four. Rec Center, and dining hall which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Free ample parking at the center. Call for room rates.

Website (2007): http://www.4hcenter.org/ ]

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Bob, I ran into a SM Saturday at the Air and Space Museum, and his Troop was staying at the Anacostia Naval Station (adjacent to Bolling Air Force Base). The downside was that they had to be out by 6:30 in the morning and couldn’t come back until after 6:30 in the afternoon.

More on the Anacostia Naval Station: We have done local “campouts” in the gym at the Navy & Marine Corps Reserve Center at the Anacostia Naval Station arranged through the office of the Command Master Chief 202/433-3849. The Navy Museum at the Navy Yard across the river is worth seeing.

Several Troops from all over were there…. They needed to pack up Sat morning to make room for the mustering reservists but it is a good facility with access to the Enlisted Dining Facility next door at Bolling Air Force Base (Bolling has many historic aviation history markers along the river in their park & picnic area) 202/767-9136.

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Bob – I have seen many Scout Troops at George Washington University (in DC) during Jambo year summers. No idea what the deal is there. The phone number is 202/994-1000.

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YOUTH HOSTELS WITHIN APPROXIMATELY 50 MILES OF WASHINGTON, DC

Here are over a dozen hostels in Washington, DC, or within a reasonable distance (defined as within 50 miles). However, most of these hostels are inappropriate for Scouts (too small for groups, do not permit children, undesirable location in less safe sections of town, undesirable clientele, way too expensive, etc.) There are various other restrictions that may make a hostel an inappropriate choice for Scout groups (proceed with caution). The few hostels listed below are based on recommendations from Scouters. If you want a comprehensive list, search the Internet for “Hostels/Washington, DC”, “Hostels/Virginia”, and/or “Hostels/Maryland”.

IN VIRGINIA

Arlington Hostel (739 South 22nd Street, Arlington, VA; No Phone)

The fine print on the website for this Hostel states “No Children”. It is listed here only so you don’t waste your time investigating it.

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Bears Den Hostel, Bluemont (18393 Blueridge Mountain Road (VA HW 60), Bluemont, VA; 540-554-8708; www.bearsdencenter.org)

About an hour from D.C. (non-rush-hour drive), this charming, castlelike stone hostel is surrounded by hiking trails, including the Appalachian Trail, and overlooks the Shenandoah Valley. Run and owned by the Appalachian Trail Conference, the site also offers interpretive exhibits and trails. You’ll have easy access to water activities on the Shenandoah River, the historic sites of Harpers Ferry and Antietam Battlefield. Don’t miss the sunset from Bears Den Rocks. Rates are $15 per night per person; $6 per night for ages 13 and younger. A private room with a bath is $36 per night for two adults.

[Bob – A long-distance option is the Bear’s Den American Youth Hostel (AYH) in Bluemont, Virginia. Bluemont probably isn’t on any map you have but it’s just off of Route 7 about five miles west of Purcellsville, about 15 miles west of Leesburg. Unfortunately, it’s about an hour’s drive from Washington DC, even more if you would be driving in during weekday rush hours. Other than the usual inconveniences of a youth hostel (it’s closed during the day), the place is perfect. It’s an old 1930s-era mansion in isolated woods right next to the Appalachian Trail. It’s cheap and you’d be preparing your own food in the large kitchen (an appropriate Scouting activity). I’ve stayed there many times and am certain they could accommodate a large group.]

[Additional Comments: This Hostel especially caters to hikers off the Appalachian Trail, and similar “adventure travellers”. You can expect “some” AT thru-hikers from mid-May through July. Some chat-room/bulletin board comments are less than favorable, but others are more positive. It also has a Scout-specific webpage: http://www.bearsdencenter.org/scouting.html ]

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IN MARYLAND

Harpers Ferry Lodge, Knoxville (19123 Sandy Hook Road, Harper’s Ferry, Maryland; 301-834-7652, members.aol.com/ferrylodge/hostel.html)

Just an hour from D.C. (non rush hour), this lodge is perched atop a cliff overlooking the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Nearby you’ll find access to scenic trails (including the Appalachian Trail), walking or biking on the C&O path, and white water rafting. Harpers Ferry itself is a lovely two-mile walk from the hostel, and charming Shepherdstown, W.Va., is 13 miles by bike. Rates are $16 per night per person; ages 9 and younger are half price. Private rooms and camping are available.

[Bob – Another prospective place for a visiting Troop to stay is the Harper’s Ferry youth hostel. It’s not as nice as the Bear’s Den/Bluemont hostel (I’ve stayed at both), but it’s conveniently located in a very historic and touristy town that has MARC rail access to DC.]

[Additional Comments: The C&O Canal towpath (bike path) is about 10 minutes away. The Antietam Battlefield is within 25 minutes drive.]

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IN WASHINGTON, DC

See: http://www.hostels.com/en/us.dc.html

Washington Youth Hostel – Non-profit groups are considered members and charged the member price. Rooms with bunks holding 8-12 people are available. A deposit equal to the first night’s cost is required in advance and may be paid by personal check. The hostel is located close to the Mall and Metro Center. Contact: 202-737-2333 Ext 106 or write to: Washington Youth Hostel, 1009 11th St NW, Washington, DC 20001 (call for flexible rates)

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Nearby Camping Venues

Burke Lake Park – http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/burkelakepark/
7315 Ox Rd.
Fairfax Station, VA 22039
703/323-6601
Campsites have water and facilities, no hook-ups.

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Lake Fairfax Park – http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/lakefairfax/
1400 Lake Fairfax Dr
Reston, VA 20190
703-471-5415
Open March 1st to December 1st with water and facilities.

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Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority – www.nvrpa.org
5400 Ox Rd.
Fairfax Station, VA 22039
703-352-5900 (Reservations)

Bull Run Regional Park – Areas A, B, C, and D are available for youth camping March through November with water and facilities. Cost is $4.00 per night (2005). Regular campground sites available to Scout groups, at a higher fee (2 tents per site max). Bath houses. Pavillions available for rental.

Pohick Bay Regional Park – Camp Wilson (former BSA camp 1947-1967) – Available for youth camping and group camping 12 months a year with facilities. Pohick Bay Campground overflow area available to Scout groups. Regular family campground also available for small groups, at a higher fee. Bath houses. 10-15 minutes from the Lorton VRE rail station.

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Prince William Forest Park (this is the outer limit for places in VA to consider for camping) – http://www.nps.gov/prwi/index.htm
18100 Park Headquarters Rd.
Triangle, VA 22172
703-221-7181
Group fees, site fee, and entrance fee into the park. Open 12 months a year with water and facilities. By reservation only.

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Greenbelt Park – http://www.nps.gov/gree/index.htm
6565 Greenbelt Rd.
Greenbelt, MD 20770
301-344-3948
Open 12 months a year with water and facilities. Hot showers. Reservations may be made for
camping dates between April and October 31st, by calling 1-800-365-2267. 172 campsites with hot showers and bathroom facilities. We have a special rate for Scouts. There is also a group loop for 48 maximum or other loops that can be reserved for larger groups. There is no reservations service from November 1st through March 31st. A BSA Tour Permit and proof of liability insurance is required.

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The Patuxent River 4-H Center – http://www.patuxentriver4hcenter.com/PR4HC/About_Us.html
18405 Queen Anne Rd.
Upper Marlboro, MD 20774
Contact: 301-390-7259
Primitive tent camping $75.00 per night; additional charge of $1.00 per person for groups with more than 50 campers. Large groups 100+ are responsible for supplying their own portable toilets. Personal gear required. Rent a cabin $175.00 a night (sleep 40 people). Has a refrigerator, heated and have large exhaust fans but no air conditioning, microwave. Provide your own personal items such as sleeping bag, sheets, toilet paper etc.

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Cedarville State Forest – http://dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/southern/cedarville.aspx
11704 Fenno Rd.
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772
Youth group camping area (youth pass no charge) with water and facilities.

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Some Other Useful Websites:

National Airport: www.mwaa.com

Washington-Dulles Airport: www.mwaa.com

BWI Airport: www.bwiairport.com

Virginia Railway Express (VRE): www.vre.org

Maryland Rail Commuter System (MARC): www.mtamaryland.com

Washington Metro (Subway System): www.wmata.com

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Good luck and I hope all this helps.

YiS – Dr. Bob Klein, ASM-111, Arlington, VA (2005 Printing; slightly updated 2011, 2015)

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