10 Perfect Washington State Campsites

Whether you’re looking for scenery or privacy, there is a campsite just for you

By Roddy Scheer May 26, 2018


This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Seattle magazine.

This article appears in print in the June 2018 issue, as part of the “85 Best Outdoor Adventures” cover story. Click here to subscribe.

Salt Creek Recreation Area
Seventy-three of the 92 sites at the well-appointed campground on a bluff above Salt Creek Recreation Area, near Port Angles, have views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Enjoy miles of sea-stack-festooned beach bisected by Salt Creek (where kids will love to splash around) and Tongue Point, where tide-pool aficionados can get up close with ochre starfish, purple sea urchins, green anemones and gooseneck barnacles.
Need To Know: Half the Clallam County–managed sites are first come, first served; the rest can be reserved in advance via the park’s website. Pay showers available. $22‒$30/night.

Kalaloch Campground
Camp at Kalaloch Campground on the wild and woolly Olympic Peninsula coast and you’ll have miles of driftwood-festooned beach and all the misty ambiance you could ever hope to drink in.
Need To Know: Kalaloch is only one of two campgrounds in Olympic National Park that accepts advance reservations, so those who like to plan ahead won’t have to make a mad dash to get there on Friday morning and hope for a site; the remaining 22 of its 170 sites are first come, first served. No showers. $22‒$44/night.

GET OUT: Hiking in Moran State Park. Photo courtesy of Washington State Parks.

Moran State Park
Mountain Lake campground—the most remote of four excellent lakeside campgrounds in Moran State Park on Orcas Island in the San Juans—is halfway between the sky and ocean, and an idyllic place to spend a few nights in between hiking, swimming or canoeing. 
Need To Know: Reservations are required during the summer for any of Mountain Lake’s 18 campsites or the other 133 sites in this Washington state park. Pay showers available. Basic campsite $30/night.

Jones Island
Paddle off under your own power with a kayak loaded with food and camping supplies—destination Jones Island, an uninhabited 188-acre gem in the middle of the San Juans, just a 6-mile paddle from Friday Harbor.
Need To Know: All of this marine state park’s 24 campsites and are first come, first served, so get out early. Bring your own kayak if you own one, or plan to rent one from an outfitter in Friday Harbor. No showers. $12/night.

GET OUT: A beachside campsite at Kalaloch Campground on the Washington coast

White River Campground
Many of the sites at White River Campground, the lesser known (and highest in elevation) of the three drive-in campgrounds within Mount Rainier National Park, boast not only river frontage but boss views of snow peaks through the towering evergreens as well. A quick drive (or long hike) up to Sunrise yields access to an alpine wildflower wonderland in July and August.
Need To Know: The 112 sites in this National Park Service campground are all first come, first served. No showers. $20/night.

Chain Lakes Trail
A short jaunt alongside the Chain Lakes Trail offers the best backcountry experience without having to hike too far in. Depart from Artist Point between Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan, and follow this epic alpine trail along snowy ridges and through evergreen dales to your choice of campsites along any of three pristine mountain lakes. 
Need To Know: Camping is free but primitive; you’ll need to pack in (and out) everything you’ll need. A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park overnight at Artist Point (or at any trailheads or parking lots within the Mount Baker–Snoqualmie National Forest). No showers. 

Eightmile Campground
Located just outside of Leavenworth, Eightmile Campground fronts Icicle Creek, a playground for river recreation of all stripes (tubers, rafters, kayakers). Go ahead, stick your nose into the bark of that ponderosa pine—a species whose sweet sap smells like vanilla; the tree is common in the high, dry forests on the east side of the Cascades. 
Need To Know: You can reserve 26 of this Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest campground’s 45 sites in advance, while the remaining 19 are available first come, first served. No showers. $22‒$44/night.

GET OUT: Hunting for sea creatures in the tide pools at Salt Creek near Port Angeles. Photo courtesy of Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau

Deception Pass State Park
With five sites permanently reserved for those arriving by bicycle—and with the whole island of Whidbey and the mainland north country at your two-wheeled disposal—you won’t find a better base camp than Deception Pass State Park. After your ride, cool down with a dip in the ocean or a full-on swim in freshwater Cranberry Lake.
Need To Know: Besides the five biker/hiker sites, this most visited of Washington’s state parks offers as many as 306 other campsites (172 for tents only, and 134 that can accommodate RVs) across its three campgrounds. Reserve a spot online or by phone (888.226.7688). Pay showers available. $12‒$45.

Mount Baker–Snoqualmie National Forest
If you like the convenience of car camping but hate the crowds, blaze your own trail in a “cowboy” campsite in any of Washington’s abundant, publicly owned (that’s you and me) national forestlands. Just don’t go if you can’t change a tire or cook a backcountry meal for yourself. National Forest Road 3040 off State Route 542 in the Mount Baker–Snoqualmie National Forest offers some excellent out-of-the-way sites. 
Need To Know: A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park within the national forest.

PITCH A TENT: Campsites at White River Campground can accommodate tent, car and trailer campers. Photo by Deby Dixon Photography

Hoh Campground
If your idea of experiencing nature is seeing wildlife, the Hoh Campground, near the entrance to the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park, might fit the bill, given that campers often must share their riverside campsites with a rambling herd of majestic Roosevelt elk. 
Need To Know: This national park campground has 78 sites, all first come, first served. No showers. $20/night.

“No food in your tent—period. Not even smelly items like toothpaste. Hang your food properly and make it part of your routine. Enjoy the thrill of camping and think like our ancestors did. It helps you really develop a respect for the pace and the experience and the wildlife that lives there.”
—Chris Morgan, founder of Western Wildlife, a nonprofit that promotes a better understanding of large carnivores, such as bears, wolves and cougars

“Early summer is the easiest time to get lost, because the trails can still be partially snow-covered and hard to follow. I advocate for a mix of high- and low-tech solutions. There are a lot of great apps out there that can help with navigation, but bring a paper map, too, because its batteries never die. Don’t forget that your phone has a flashlight, but bring a real headlamp, too, even if you’re just planning on going out for a few hours.”
—Bree Loewen, Mount Rainier climbing ranger and author of Found: A Life in Mountain Rescue

“June in the high country (but below snow line) is a good time to keep eyes peeled for morels, spring porcini and fiddleheads. All three can be found along trails on the sunny side of the Cascades; think Glacier Peak or the eastern portion of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. I’ll often combine all three of these wild ingredients into a ‘backpacker’s blue plate special’ with rice or ramen. Gourmet camp food for the forager!”
—Langdon Cook, foraging expert and Seattle magazine columnist. His latest book is Upstream: Searching for Wild Salmon, from River to Table.

Portrait credits: Brenda Phillips Photography (Morgan), Martha Silano (Cook)

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