For most vacationers, a week at the shore means camping out in a motel room or a rented condo unit with most of the amenities of home.
But real camping -- pitching a tent -- at one of the state or national parks along the Delaware and Maryland coast can be an enjoyable alternative to motel or condo living, if you don't mind a little sand in your sleeping bag or a few mosquitoes buzzing around your tent.
If only for a day or two, camping can be an escape from the urban resort, where the crowds are large and the traffic along Coastal Highway is at a rush-hour pace.
Camping can be an adventure, too.
In the nearby Assateague state and national parks, you can camp among wild ponies and enjoy natural beaches. In Delaware, you can camp just off the beach. And just 45 minutes away from Ocean City, you can camp in the woods at Pocomoke State Forest.
Following is a sampling of what can be found at area campgrounds:
The campgrounds at Assateague Island National Seashore and at Assateague State Park top the must-do list for several reasons. The beaches are natural and there are no man-made intrusions, such as trash bins, lifeguard towers or hotel concession stands.
Campers can pitch tents or park motor homes near the bay or the ocean. On the ocean side, campsites are just a stone's throw from the ocean.
Campers can go clamming, crabbing, shell collecting, surf fishing, hiking, bicycling and canoeing on the grounds.
In the national park, the camping is primitive. There are grills and picnic tables, cold showers and portable bathrooms. To reach some campsites, you must carry gear 50 to 75 yards.
On secluded sites among grassy dunes, you may awake in the morning to the sound of ponies galloping by, grazing nearby, or snooping in your camping gear.
The national park features 104 ocean-side and 49 bay-side campsites. The cost is $10 per night; senior citizens ages 62 and older pay half price.
In addition to the camping fee, there is a $3 park entrance charge.
Walk-in campers are welcome but the park becomes full quickly in July and August. To make reservations, call (800) 365-CAMP. For more information, call (410) 641-3030.
The state park has 311 camping sites available. Each contains a picnic table and fire ring. Camping is $18 per night.
The park has no electrical hookups, but does have hot and cold showers and flush toilets. A concession stand is located off the beach.
For non-campers, there is a $2 park entrance fee. Reservations may be made for weeklong, Saturday-to-Saturday visits. Otherwise, it's first come, first serve. For more information, call (410) 641-2120.
It is recommended that campers at both parks bring bug repellant for ticks and mosquitoes.
The Assateague parks are about 20 minutes from Ocean City.
If beaches are your sole purpose for coming to the shore, you can't find a better camp site than Delaware Seashore state park, located on a narrow strip along Route 1 between Rehoboth beach and Ocean City. Rehoboth Bay is one side and the Atlantic on the other.
The camp sites are barren; there are no trees and no shade. Most sites have picnic tables but no grills or fire rings. There are indoor showers and flush toilets.
The campground is away from the maddening crowds, but convenient to the beaches and boardwalks in Rehoboth, Dewey and Bethany.,
The cost is $18 per night for up to four people with, water, sewer and electric hookup; $12, for up to four people, without the utilities.
There are 144 sites with hookups and 133 without. An overflow camping area is open on weekends for self-contained units.
Delaware Seashore State Park is about 10 miles north of Ocean City. Advance reservations are not accepted. For more information, call (302) 539-7202.
The nicer of the Delaware costal parks, Cape Henlopen State Park contains picnic tables and firee rings. Most sites are shaded, providing relief for beachgoers who have had too much sun.
An observation tower, built as part of the national defense during World War II, is open for the public to climb.
Henlopen is near Lewes, a small, quaint town with unique stores and restaurants. The crowds here are smaller than those at the other Delaware resorts.
The park has 159 camp sites. The cost is $13 per night for up to fourpeople; $2 for each additional person.
The park features running water, hot and cold showers, flush toilets, and dumping stations. There are no electrical hookups.
Cape Henlopen State Park is about 25 miles north of Ocean City. Reservations are not accepted. For more information, call (302) 645-2103.
It's not the ocean, but Pocomoke River State Park offers something the others do not; an abundance of shade. The camping, as you may hav guessed, is in the heart of the Pocomoke River State Forest.
Fishing is allowed on the Pocomoke River; in fact, children can rent fishing poles for $1 and hour. Besides fishing, the park features a swimming pool, nature center, hiking trails and other activities, including evening canoe trips, sing-alongs and crafts for the kids.
The park has 250 campsites, The cost is $10 per night; senior citizens pay half price Sunday through Thursday. An additional $3 per day is charged for electricity. Sites contain picnic tables and fire rings. Hot and cold showers, flush toilets and runninbg water are available.
The Pocomoke River State Park is about 40 miles south of Ocean City. Reservations are accepted. For more information, call (410) 632-2566.