Best Lake Camping in Washington

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.

Best Lake Camping in Washington  -  Top picks for places to pitch your tent beside a lake in Washington state.

When I was a child growing up in the Midwest going camping meant three things: camping by a lake, swimming in a lake, and fishing in a lake. (It also involved picking ticks off once getting out of the lake. If there’s one thing I don’t miss about the Midwest, it’s the plethora of ticks!)

A friend recently asked me for a recommendation on a few great lakefront campgrounds in Washington, and it got me thinking. I don’t think of the Northwest as having a lot of lowland lakes like say, Minnesota, but as I started to list off the best lakeside campgrounds in the state I realized there are quite a few of them. And then I decided the list was too great to not share with everybody.

Below are my top picks for places to pitch your tent beside a lake in Washington. See all of these plotted on a map here.

Are you 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 has been camping in Washington since he was a child and his writing is punctuated with his signature humor.

Need camping gear? My car camping checklist is here, and I’ve included my gear recommendations in the list. The best one-stop shop for all things camping, from cookstoves to sleeping bags, is REI.

Enjoy, and happy lakeside camping!


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Moran State Park, Orcas Island

Best Lake Camping in Washington  -  Top picks for places to pitch your tent beside a lake in Washington statePick a freshwater lake to camp on – there are two. Although visitors might expect a huge state park in the San Juan Islands to have saltwater shoreline, this 5,200-acre park has very little. But Moran State Park does have four freshwater lakes, old-growth forest, hiking trails and its own mountain (Mt. Constitution, and you can hike to the top). My favorite place to camp at the park is at Mountain Lake where you’ll get a bit more privacy. 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: 151 sites. $12-$25 a night. Small RVs allowed but there are no hookups. Reservations here up to 9 months in advance; some campsites are first-come, first-serve. Reserve here for summer camping.

Lake activities: Swimming beaches, two boat launches, peddleboats and kayaks to rent. Fish in Cascade Lake for kokanee, cutthroat and rainbow trout.

What to bring:  Hiking shoes – the trail around Mountain Lake makes for an easy, relaxing morning stroll.


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Fairholme on Lake Crescent, North Olympic Peninsula

Best Lake Camping in Washington  -  Top picks for places to pitch your tent beside a lake in Washington state.On the west end of Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park sits Fairholme Campground (open May through mid-fall). No reservations here, so the key is to arrive early before the weekend to snag a lakefront campsite away from the highway noise. The Fairholme General Store and a boat launch are nearby, and the campground has an amphitheater for summertime ranger programs.

Details: 88 sites. No utility hookups, though there’s room for small RVs to 21 feet. Restroom, but no showers. $12 a night. No reservations accepted; sites are first-come, first-served. More info.

Lake activities: Lake Crescent is deep and stunning, and you’ll want to bring a boat (like a kayak or canoe) to paddle out into it.  There are swimming beaches and a popular swimming hole known as Devil’s Punchbowl (brrrrrr!).

What to bring: Mosquito repellent, your fishing pole, and a boat. Pack earplugs in case you end up at a campsite near the highway.

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Willaby on Lake Quinault, SW Olympic Peninsula

Best Lake Camping in Washington  -  Top picks for places to pitch your tent beside a lake in Washington state

On the south shore of Lake Quinault is Willaby Campground, tucked into the mossy forest. It’s within walking distance (via a shoreline trail) to the historic Lake Quinault Lodge.

Details: 22 sites. $20 a night. No utility hookups, though there’s room for small RVs to 16 feet. No showers. Open May – September.

Lake activities: The campground has its own boat launch to get you into the water. The Lake is part of the Quinault Indian Nation, and so a Tribal Fishing Permit and Boat Decal are required; both may be purchased at local merchants. (Note: we’re told only resident boats are permitted in the lake for the 2014 season to prevent transmission of invasive species).

What to bring: Your canoe or kayak for paddling on the lake. A book to read by the fire in the lobby of the Lake Quinault Lodge nearby.

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Ike Kinswa State Park on Mayfield Lake

Best Lake Camping in Washington  -  Top picks for places to pitch your tent beside a lake in Washington state

Bring your bathing suits and water skis! Ike Kinswa State Park is 454-acres of forest on the north shore of 14-mile long Mayfield Lake, a reservoir located near Mossyrock in Lewis County. It’s the 46,000 feet of freshwater shoreline that draw campers here in droves, especially in warm summer months (though camping is available year-round).

Details: 103 sites (from primitive walk-in to full hookup) plus 5 cabins. $12-$37 a night for camping. Vault toilets and showers. Reserve here or call or call 1-(888)-CAMPOUT.

Lake activities: Water skiers love this spot, and you’ll be constantly reminded of this from the sounds of motors. Sunbathe on the swimming beach or enjoy the water (no lifeguard).

What to bring: Sunblock, a fishing pole and earplugs.

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Takhlakh Lake, SW Washington near Mt. Adams

Best Lake Camping in Washington  -  Top picks for places to pitch your tent beside a lake in Washington state

Pronounced TOCK-lock, this beautiful lake is the only thing sitting between your campsite and Mt. Adams.  It’s one of the most stunning campsites in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and the season is short, so don’t dally.

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. Elevation is 4,500 feet. Reserve here for summer camping or call 1-877-444-6777.

Lake activities: No motors are permitted here, just canoes and kayaks and tranquility. A 1.5-mile hiking trail runs around the lake.

What to bring: Mosquito repellent (crucial in early summer), your trout fishing pole, and a car that can handle a few miles of washboard road.

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Kachess Lake, East of Snoqualmie Pass

Best Lake Camping in Washington  -  Top picks for places to pitch your tent beside a lake in Washington state

Let’s be honest here – Kachess Campground gets crowded. It’s close to Seattle and has plenty of group sites, so don’t expect any quiet, peaceful moments of solitude here. Instead, you’ll set up camp in the open ponderosa pine forest that surrounds Lake Kachess, a dammed reservoir, and enjoy plenty of lakeside family fun! And that’s what Kachess is all about.

Details: 120 sites. $20 a night, $40 for double campsites. No hookups. 42 of the sites can be reserved in advance. Reserve here for summer camping, or call 1-877-444-6777.

Lake activities: Swimming! Families come here in droves for fun in the sun. There is a boat launch nearby, and a hiking trail along the lake that leaves from the campground – the Little Kachess Lake Trail.

What to bring: Mosquito repellent, swimming inflatables and don’t forget the ear plugs.


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Lake Wenatchee State Park, North Cascades

Best Lake Camping in Washington  -  Top picks for places to pitch your tent beside a lake in Washington stateAll the comforts of a state park campground (gotta love those coin-op showers after a day on the sand!) with the alpine vistas of a national park. That is Lake Wenatchee State Park, a beautiful and large camping park that sits in between Stevens Pass and the town of Leavenworth.

Details: 197 sites. $12-$37 a night. No hookups, RVs to 60 feet.  Reserve here.

Lake activities: One of the most scenic sandy swimming beaches in the state, and epic views are in store for you from the seat of your canoe. Off the lake there are miles of trails in the vicinity for hiking, mountain biking or horseback riding.

What to bring: A swimsuit for sure, and a boat if you have one. Don’t forget to pack your camera and fishing pole.


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Lake Chelan State Park, North Cascades

Best Lake Camping in Washington  -  Top picks for places to pitch your tent beside a lake in Washington state

A summer vacation on the glacier-carved, fjordlike Lake Chelan is a must-do for many Washington families, and Lake Chelan State Park is pretty much the epicenter of all that family fun. The 127-acre park is set in a ponderosa pine forest on the lake’s south shore, with 6,000 feet of public shoreline. A big bonus is the lake views from many of the campsites, and expansive lawns for playing frisbee in the sun. Some of the campsites even have their own docks! The walk-in tent sites are the most spacious and private.

Details: 109 tent sites and 35 utility hookup sites sites. $6 a night. Plenty of restrooms and showers. Reserve here.

Lake activities: The hum of a jet ski is almost a constant companion in this part of the lake. Swimming, boating, fishing – you name it, you can do it here.

What to bring: Sunblock and a big, floppy hat.

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Alta Lake State Park, Methow Valley

Best Lake Camping in Washington  -  Top picks for places to pitch your tent beside a lake in Washington stateIf Lake Chelan State Park is too noisy for your tastes, head instead to nearby Alta Lake State Park. It’s plenty big at 181 acres, and sits at the end of the Methow Valley where the pine-forested mountains meet the desert. The lake is about two miles long and a half mile wide, and the park has a nice sandy swimming beach. A boat launch will get you out onto the water so you can fish for trout. When hiking in this area, keep an alert eye out for rattlesnakes.

Details: 90 tent spots, 32 with electrical hookups and RVs to 45 feet. $12-$37 a night. Restrooms and showers. Reserve here for summer camping.

Lake activities: Trout fishing, swimming and sunbathing, boating.

What to bring: Your fishing pole and beach gear.

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Curlew Lake State Park, Colville

Best Lake Camping in Washington  -  Top picks for places to pitch your tent beside a lake in Washington state

The 5.5-mile Curlew Lake is set in a dry lodgepole pine forest near the town of Republic. Both Great Blue Herons and Bald Eagles nest here, and I’ve seen a number of other bird species as well; Curlew Lake State Park is known for wildlife watching. Another feature unique to this park is its seaplane dock. The best camping spots are walk-in tent sites on the lake.

Details: 57 tent spaces, 25 utility spaces, 2 primitive sites. $12-$37 a night.  Reserve here.

Lake activities: Go swimming. Fish for your dinner – this lake has a nice population of rainbow trout. They used to pan for gold here – maybe it’s worth a try!

What to bring: Your fishing pole and a pan to fry those trout in. Bring binoculars to get a good look at the birds.


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Even MORE Lakeside Campgrounds!

Sullivan Lake State Park, Colville National Forest

If Washington’s far northeast corner feels a bit like Idaho, you won’t find us complaining. Just don’t forget your trout fishing pole! Sullivan Lake promises brown and rainbow trout for the patient and hungry, plus swimming and water skiing.  Just three miles from here is the border of the Salmo-Priest Wilderness and the last old-growth left in Eastern Washington. Oh, and there are grizzlies in them there hills, along with bighorn sheep, woodland caribou and moose. Sullivan Lake Campground  |  (509) 684-7000

Steamboat Rock State Park, Grand Coulee

In the heart of Washington’s Grand Coulee desert country is a recreationist’s paradise in the middle of Banks Lake. And your base camp for all of it sits in the middle of an “island” surrounded by your outdoor playground. Steamboat Rock State Park draws water-lovers to its sandy swimming area and three boat launches. The park has 50,000 feet of freshwater shoreline, so there’s plenty of room for everyone. Some of the best freshwater fishing in Washington is had in Banks Lake, which is full of walleye, bass and perch.  Steamboat Rock State Park  |  (509) 633-1304.

Bonaparte Lake, Okanogan Valley

The Five Lakes area near Tonasket is remote and quiet. Bonaparte Lake is known for good swimming and great fishing; fish for brook, rainbow and lake trout. A trail to the top of Bonaparte Peak leaves from the campground.  Bonaparte Lake Campground  |   (509) 486-2186.

View The Northwest Best Lakeside Campgrounds in a larger map

photos: summertime on Ross Lake by 1yen, camping at Moran State Park by ManuelW,  water-skier on Mayfield Lake by Kenneth B. Moore, Takhlakh Lake by Bret Vogel, Lake Crescent by Gone-Walkabout, camping at Lake Quinault by Quiltsalad, swimming at Lake Kachess by the Spring Family, Canoe on Lake Wenatchee By Baha’i Views / Flitzy Phoebie, Lake Chelan by Simonds, Alta Lake by Manuel W., Curlew Lake State Park by Jack Crossen.
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