Washington Camping: Ten Great Campgrounds

by Lauren Braden

in Camping and Outdoors

Psst…. we’ve got the goods on autumn camping in the Pacific Northwest so you can make the most of vibrant fall color and crisp outdoor air. Get our top tips here.

 

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.

 

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