Let’s Go Camping in Washington! (Maybe…)

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If you haven’t booked a getaway for the Memorial Day weekend yet, good luck. You might want to start sorting through the storage closet for your camping gear. Yet with snow levels keeping many popular campgrounds closed into June, finding even a campsite this weekend may pose a bit of a challenge.

Here’s a bit of the bad news on Cascade campgrounds.

Greg Johnston made a pretty captivating case for spending the long, leisurely weekend camped up Icicle Canyon near Leavenworth in the Seattle P-I last week. A beautiful, picturesque place to pitch a tent at any of its eight campgrounds, the Icicle Valley is a base from which to explore dozens of hiking trails, from easy walks like the Icicle River Gorge Loop Trail, a perfect choice for families with small children, to steep, invigorating climbs like the Snow Lake Trail or Eightmile. Hands-down, this is one of my favorite late spring outdoor destinations in all of the Northwest. Still, these campgrounds might not be your best bet on this holiday weekend; even with all of the campgrounds’ 200 sites accessible, you’d want to show up on Friday to be guaranteed a spot for yourself. Unfortunately, last weekend’s warm weather and rapid snowmelt resulted in quite a damaging slide, washing out a portion of the Icicle Creek Road and severing access to the inner-most three campgrounds of the valley. If you go, expect crowds. As a backup, head to the less-crowded Tumwater campground just a few miles away on Highway 2, where 84 more campsites await.

How about Mount Rainier? Even though we’re (finally) enjoying warm weather in the lowlands, Mount Rainier is still covered in snow, and several of its campgrounds are, too. A recent press release from the park states: “Due to record low elevation snowfall over the past several months, many areas of the park that would normally open in May and June will be delayed by several weeks. Visitors should keep these conditions in mind when planning visits to the park this spring.” Cougar Rock Campground, usually open for business by Memorial Day, will not open until June 6. However, Ohanapecosh Campground in the park’s southeast corner will open as scheduled tomorrow (May 23). Be sure and check the park’s website (www.nps.gov/mora) or call the park (360-569-2211, ext. 2334) before heading up to Rainier this weekend, or any time this spring.

So, where to camp?

With Highway 20 back open and fabulous weather in the forecast, camping in the the Methow Valley, like at Klichuck or Early Winters campgrounds, is sounding pretty wonderful. Closer to Puget Sound is the Teanaway / Cle Elum River area, which also receives its fair share of spring sunshine and has several campgrounds open for business.

For more chance of solitude, pack your tent and head to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in southwest Washington. Although several campgrounds are still closed by snow, plenty are open, including Sunset Falls campground at Mount St Helens and the lightly-visited Panther Creek near Mount Adams.

Wherever you go, do check conditions first. There’s still gobs of snow on the ground out there. Here are some useful websites:

Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Olympic National Forest

Washington State Parks

Happy camping!

Lauren Braden’s new book, 52 Ways to Nature, Washington: Your Seasonal Guide to a Wilder Year, is now available for pre-order
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2 Responses

  1. The Associated Press and the Seattle Times are reporting that snow will keep many campgrounds and trails closed in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest this weekend (and of course in other forests, too.)

  2. My favorite campground in the Leavenworth area is at Nason Creek, especially the “no trailers” loop, as that rules out a lot of the otherwise rowdy crowds. We camped there last summer right on the creek, with only one other camper in our loop, while nearby Lake Wenatchee State park (which was walking distance from out site) was practically full and very noisy!

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