BOOK: Autumn Escapes in the Pacific Northwest

Washington Camping: Ten Great Campgrounds

by Lauren Braden

in Camping and Outdoors

Pitch a tent and build a campfire! With summer almost here, we’re thinking about sleeping under the stars.  And it won’t break the bank, either. Where else can you sleep on waterfront property for $15 a night?

Camping in the Northwest: Ten Great Campgrounds in Washington State

Of course, you’re probably wondering where to pitch your tent. Choosing a great campground in Washington is kind of like choosing a great Beatles song–there are just too many!  I can help you narrow down the greatness just a bit, at least on the campground front. All of my picks are public campgrounds – no KOA on my list. After searching deep in my soul for some of my favorite camping memories in this state, I had a nice little list going. I sampled a handful of camp-loving friends and the list grew longer. The result is below, and I made sure there is truly something on this list for everyone.

What makes a great campground? A special view or setting, a unique experience, spacious campsites with some privacy surrounded by nature, nearby attractions and things to do, and sometimes–just very great memories.

Looking for a more comprehensive guide to Washington camping? I recommend Ron Judd’s Camping Washington : The Best Public Campgrounds for Tents and RVs–Rated and Reviewed published by The Mountaineers Books. Ron is well-versed with RV camping in addition to tents (I am not) and his writing is punctuated with his signature humor.

Need camping gear? The best one-stop shop for all things camping, from cookstoves to sleeping bags, is REI. Looking for campgrounds in Oregon? We reveal our favorite campgrounds on the Oregon Coast right here. We’ve also dished on Washington’s best lakefront campgrounds here.

Enjoy, and happy camping!

1. Ohanapecosh, Mount Rainier National Park

Washington Camping - Ten Great Campgrounds

There are three stunning campgrounds in Mount Rainier National Park, and each is wonderful, beautiful and… popular.  Ohanapecosh is usually the least crowded of the three, away from the hustle and bustle of the summer crowds at Paradise and Sunrise. The main reason it tops my list is for its magical old-growth forests and the wild river that runs right through the middle of the campground. Hike the little .5 mile nature loop trail out of the campground through enormous Doug firs and hemlocks to the bubbling waters of the Ohanapecosh Hot Springs. Up the road a bit is the famed Grove of the Patriarchs trail, also an easy, flat loop to see (and hug) some of the biggest trees on earth.

Details: 188 sites, 2 groups sites. $15 a night for single site. Late May – early October. RVs up to 32 feet. Some tent-only sites, including several walk-ins for additional privacy. Water and flush toilets. About half the sites can be reserved in advance (recommended) and half are first-come, first-serve. Reserve here.

Need a hiking guide to Mt. Rainier for your camping trips? Try Day Hiking: Mount Rainier by Dan Nelson, published by The Mountaineers Books.

 

2. White River, Mount Rainier National Park

At 4,400 feet elevation, White River melts out a bit later than other Rainier campgrounds, but that’s okay. You’ll want to save your trip here for late July or early August anyway, when the wildflowers that carpet subalpine meadows 12 miles up the road at Sunrise are in full bloom.  Campsites directly on the river are the most spacious and enjoy the view of Mt. Rainier towering overhead. No RV hookups, and the sites are small for RVs of any size, but perfect for tent campers. Hike right from the campground if you want–the Wonderland Trail passes right through here, and the Glacier Basin Trail, which takes day hikers to the snout of Emmons Glacier and eventually makes its way to the summit and is popular with small groups of climbers, begins here.

Details: 112 sites. No group sites. $12 a night. Late June – September. Water and flush toilets. No reservations; all sites are first-come, first-serve, so have some backup campgrounds in mind (Silver Springs and The Dalles are nearby). Campground info.

Need a hiking guide to Mt. Rainier for your camping trips? Try Day Hiking: Mount Rainier by Dan Nelson, published by The Mountaineers Books.

 

3. Nason Creek, Wenatchee National Forest near Lake Wenatchee

Washington Camping - Ten Great Campgrounds

Skip the crowds camping on top of each other at Lake Wenatchee State Park and opt for this nearby US Forest Service campground, complete with flush toilets and potable water. You can walk from here to Lake Wenatchee State Park if you want a shower, canoe rental, horseback ride or ice cream cone. We especially love the tent-only loop, which is sometimes closed later in the season (post-Labor Day).  The sites are big, most are right on the creek and feel very secluded.

Details: 73 sites, 2 groups sites. $17 a night for single site. RVs fine. Water and flush toilets. No reservations; campsites are first-come, first-serve. Nason Creek campground info.

 

4. Ida Creek, Wenatchee National Forest up Icicle River Road near Leavenworth

The Icicle River canyon just east of Leavenworth is one of the most beautiful areas of Washington state, and so naturally it’s a magnet for hikers and rock climbers all summer long. A major road washout has cut off several campgrounds here, putting additional pressure of the remaining ones, including the tiny Ida Creek campground, the last one before the washout. It’s on the confluence of Ida and Icicle Creeks, and I don’t think I’ve ever camped at such a pretty spot as this.  Just up the road past the washout (due to be repaired late 2011, by the way) is the Icicle Gorge Trail, a wonderful little jaunt for beginners and families.

Details: 10 sites, $14 a night. RVs to 30 feet Water and vault toilets. No reservations; campsites are first-come, first-serve. Campground info.

 

5. Spencer Spit State Park, Lopez Island, San Juan Islands

Washington Camping - Ten Great Campgrounds

While it’s a bit of a toss-up which of Lopez Island’s two laid-back waterfront campgrounds nudge above the other in greatness, I’ll go with Spencer Spit just for the setting. Situated on the northeast corner of the island on a sand spit that encloses a picturesque lagoon, the campground within this 138-acre state park includes seven walk-in campsites (sites 44-50) right on the beach. Whether you are fortunate to snag one of these campsites or you end up with a roomier one up on the bluff, you’ll enjoy hours of fun exploring the tidal areas and walking along the sand spit itself. Note – the beachfront sites offer no privacy whatsoever–you trade that for the view and setting. The seven sites are literally separated from one another by a suspended boundary rope. The other Lopez Island campground is a great alternative; Odlin County Park is a short distance away and also has beachfront sites.

Details: 37 sites, $22 a night. RVs to 20 feet. Water and restrooms, but no showers (unusual for a state park). Reservations here up to 9 months in advance; some campsites are first-come, first-serve.

 

6. Moran State Park, Orcas Island, San Juan Islands

Orcas is one of the most wonderful places on earth, this park is absolutely stunning, and right from your campsite you can climb to the top of a small mountain to one of the best views of the Northwest Straits there is. Now you know why this is on my list! There’s plenty of diversity in Moran’s 166 camp sites; the sites are split among five different areas, and four of these are on two of the Park’s freshwater lakes. My favorite place to camp at the park is at Mountain Lake, where you’ll get a bit more privacy, and the trail around the lake makes for an easy, relaxing morning stroll. Hike, bike or drive to the top of Mt. Constitution (2,400 feet) and check out the view from the CCC-era observation tower-stunning! Ferry lines can be a bear in summertime, but you can walk on with your camping gear and pay just $12 round-trip to take the Orcas Island Shuttle to the park.

Details: 166 sites, $12-25 a night. RVs to 45 feet. Reservations here up to 9 months in advance; some campsites are first-come, first-serve.

 

7. Kalaloch, Olympic National Park (Coast)

Washington Camping - Ten Great Campgrounds

The National Park Lodge of the same name, sweet as it is, will set you back wad of cash. Just up the coast highway 101, though, is Kalaloch Campground, set on a spectacular bluff overlooking the ocean. It’s nestled atop one of the most accessible stretches of Olympic National Park’s 73 miles of wild coastline. Some sites are ocean-view, and many enjoy a near-constant background roar of crashing waves. Several staircases descend to the beach below from the campground, and you can hike the beach in either direction from here. Warning – this campground has become even more popular with the influx of Twilight tourists traveling to Forks, which is just up the highway.

Details: 170 sites. $14-$18 a night. Open year-round. RVs to 21 feet. Water and flush toilets. Reservations accepted and recommended in summer months up to 5 months in advance. Reserve here.

Need a hiking guide to go with your camping adventure? Try Day Hiking: Olympic Peninsula by Craig Romano, published by The Mountaineers Books.

 

8. Camp Disappointment State Park, Washington Coast on the mouth of the Columbia River

It’s probably the oldest line in a Washington travel writer’s lexicon, but it’s true. There is absolutely nothing disappointing about Cape Disappointment! Yurt rentals at this park (which was formerly called Fort Camby, by the way) are incredibly popular (and expensive – $70 a night last time we checked), so pitch your tent instead. The campsites here are nothing spectacular, but the setting is–miles of beach to hike, clamming, fishing and a lighthouse to tour. Hiking trails at the park have improved considerably the past few years thanks to volunteers with the Washington Trails Association.

Details: $22 a night. RVs ok. Open and reservable year-round. Water, bathrooms, showers. Reserve here.

Need a hiking guide to go with your camping adventure? Try Day Hiking: Olympic Peninsula by Craig Romano, published by The Mountaineers Books.

 

9. Colonial Creek Campground, North Cascades National Park

Washington Camping - Ten Great Campgrounds

The word hasn’t totally gotten out about this awesome campground yet, so go now and enjoy the tranquility! Camp along the shores of blue-green Diablo Lake under the looming, glaciated crags of nearby peaks. Several trails leave right from the campground, including a climb to the top of Thunder Knob, or a stroll along beautiful Thunder Creek. I can’t think of a better campground for families on a summer weekend; there’s an amphitheater and interpretive staff are on hand for family programming.

Details: 142 sites. $12 a night. Open year-round, but not plowed in winter. Water and toilets, no showers. Bear-proof food storage provided. RVs ok, no hookups. Some walk-in sites, some accessible sites. Water and flush toilets. No reservations. Campground info.

 

10. Takhlakh Lake, Gifford Pinchot National Forest,  Mount Adams district

The first thing you’ll want to know is how to pronounce it: TOCK-lock. Next, you’ll want to know that Mt. Adams will loom so closely above your lakefront campsite that you’ll want to reach out and touch it. No motors are permitted here, just canoes and kayaks and tranquility. That’s why the few miles of washboard road driving make this destination sooo worth it. Bring mosquito repellent (crucial in early summer) and your trout fishing pole.

Details: 62 sites. $16 a night. Small RVs ok. Vault toilets, but bring your own drinking water or a filter.  Ten walk-in only sites. Reserve here for summer camping.

 

Love outdoor adventure in the Pacific Northwest? Get more great camping trips free in your inbox.

Get the Newsletter

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Lesley May 25, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Kalaloch is spectacular – I would recommend trying to get a site that is as far away from the highway as you can, though, as I remember logging trucks going up and down 101 all night long.

Reply

The NVR Guys May 27, 2011 at 5:02 am

Great post. You better believe I am bookmarking this for the next time we plan a local camping trip.

Reply

Joel August 17, 2011 at 10:08 am

As it goes, I found Cape Disappointment Campground to be very disappointing indeed. Just a large field cluttered with RVs, loud music, and kids running around all over the place. The other recommendations look quite awesome, however.

Reply

Tami July 27, 2014 at 10:22 pm

The first time I went to Cape Disappointment I stayed in the grassy field campground and was disappointed but there is another section of the campground tucked in the woods. The beach is just a stones throw from the campsites. In fact you can fall asleep to the roar of the ocean. The campsites are wooded and arranged in circular pods. I recommend that you give it another try and stay in one of these spots. I wasn’t disappointed!

Reply

Lauren August 17, 2011 at 11:21 am

Joel, I agree the campsites are nothing spectacular. It’s the dramatic setting, lighthouse and trails that put this one on my list. Also, and I’ll edit the write-up to add this, too – Cape Disappointment is best as an off-season spot, like most state park campgrounds, IMO. The summer crowds keep me away, but fall storm-watching here is phenomenal and the kids are all back in school ;)

Reply

diane June 27, 2014 at 10:26 am

Thanks for the update. We do working vacations at some of the lighthouses… as well as RVing. but we find that if you want to avoid the under 12 crowd, we camp during the M_F days when parents are working… Some of course do take off, but a great way to daytrip and then the kids are ready for bed by post supper, though some families crank up about then bc they had naps… Find generators and dogs bark less unsettling then most kids whining and high pitched screams…enjoy seeing families on hikes or bikes but it’s the idle time they seem bored and mom or dad are busy and they can scare away and critters:)

Reply

Ann August 21, 2011 at 8:15 pm

I have stayed in and enjoyed most of these campsites. The comment from Joel about a large field at Cape Disappointment leads me to believe he did not go to the “good” camping area farther away from the gate. There is no large field, and each spot is surrounded with trees. It is one of our favorite places.

Reply

Rich January 1, 2012 at 11:15 am

We love Cape Disappointment, and like Ann we prefer the more northern campsites away from the “open field” area. With the lighthouse, the Lewis & Clark visitor center, the beach, the historic sites and great scenery surrounding this area, it’s one of our favorites. We always bring kites to fly, because the winds are pretty constant on the beach.

Reply

Janice & Tom January 29, 2014 at 9:21 pm

Cape Disappointment has been on our MUST list every year for over 9 years. We have stayed in loops A, B, and C but never on the lake. Geographically, this is the best place to experience the ocean: great beach where no cars are allowed, nice space in between camp spots, trails along through the dunes to Long Beach, great food in Illwaco, variety of things to do. The great showers near Waikiki Beach, also make this a great day trip for locals. This past 6 months, we visited in October 2013 and again January 2014 when the weather was unbelievably warm. Unfortunately, gold miners pan on the beach but the winter high tides washed out all sign of them.

Reply

Seattle tree service August 31, 2011 at 7:46 pm

I will be going to White River campground this Saturday. For anyone that stays there I recommend hiking to Summerland on the Wonderland Trail. Easily one of my favorite places in Washington and a great day hike!

Reply

Sarah September 13, 2012 at 10:11 am

Would second, or third, the comments about Cape Disappointment. The “overflow” camping, for lack of a better word, is by Lake O’Neill, and very open. I have never stayed there. Opt for the lower numbered campsites 1-180, I think, to have fairly good privacy, direct-or nearly direct- access to Bensen Beach, and restrooms close by. Add to this mix TWO lighthouses, great family-friendly hiking trails, the history of Lewis and Clark and the Columbia River, the old gun batteries on MacKenzie Bluff, the friendly waves for boogie boarding at Waikiki Beach, plus being within a few miles of Astoria, OR (a great little destination all of its own), and this is truly one of my favorite places on Earth. We try to go at least once a year, sometimes more. If we only make it once in a year, it is always the second weekend of September for a car show that my husband does. The campground is FILLED to overflowing, and is usually booked solid by May for that weekend. We have never had a problem with noisy kids, or obnoxious neighbors on literally one of their busiest weekends of the year. Oh and Lauren is spot on; the waves here crashing on the headlands during fall storms are AWESOME!

Reply

Ashley J January 30, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Westport, WA has many different campgrounds. Lots of beach to stroll on. Great place to surf. Winter storms bring in lots of beautiful drift wood along with rock beds that are fun to skim through.

Sunset Falls out in the gifford pinchot national forest is beautiful. Non Flushing toilets, potable water. We went in February back in 2010, while cold in the evening, it wasn’t too bad in the morning. You can go up the back roads and go hiking. Great place for photographers but take bear spray…I guess there is a bunch of bears up the back roads and into the mountains, glad we never encountered any. :D

Reply

Mandelin February 24, 2013 at 8:21 pm

We love Hobuck Beach Resort at Neah Bay. http://hobuckbeachresort.com/index.html

The campgrounds are very primitive but the beach is spectacular. Very few people around the beaches are so untouched and pristine. They have nice cabins for a price.

The folks in town are so nice and helpful.

Reply

Tara March 9, 2013 at 11:44 am

We are excited to try some of the camp grounds you have suggested. We have reserved spots at Cape Disapointment and Moran State park because of your list. Unlike some campers we like the campgrounds with lots of noisy kids running around. That would describe my family. That’s when my kids have the most fun – when they have a bunch of other kids to play with. We tend to go east where it is hot and they have lakes to swim in . It would be great to have a list of the best hot weather places to camp and swim with children. Thanks for the great list of parks! We will eventually try everyone of them.

Reply

Lauren Braden March 10, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Hi Tara – thanks for your excellent suggestion of creating an article on nearby campgrounds that have swimming for children! Great idea – I will do that! In the meanwhile, I know that Penrose Point State Park is a great place for family swimming on warmer western Washington days. More here: http://nwtripfinder.com/2012/06/18/where-to-camp-with-kids-near-seattle/

Reply

Paul B. April 16, 2013 at 8:29 pm

I am looking for a campsite that is in old growth Forrest on a lake with good trout fishing. I am disabled and not able to to walk very far so I need a site that is within 50 miles from Seattle and far away from people. Thank you, Paul.

Reply

Michelle June 9, 2013 at 3:04 pm

This is a great list.. have camped or at least visited most of these. Just a heads up for Washington State Parks.. they are celebrating 100 years this year.. and have joined with Washington State Geocaching to celebrate by placing 100 caches in 100 state parks. Here is a link to check it out http://www.geocaching.com/adventures/geotours/washington-state-parks

Reply

Kelly January 19, 2014 at 3:19 pm

All these sites sound great. My husband has been wanting to take me to Kalaloch forever.
We love Bedal campground, in the northern cascades on the mountain loop highway out of Darrington…lovely place right on the Sauk river. I highly recommend it!

Reply

Jerry Steffen Jr May 25, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Best place to go camping in Washington State?

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

BOOK: Autumn Escapes in the Pacific Northwest