For those living in or visiting Washington State, you’ve had either a great camping experience (at least once) or not. If the latter, you’re missing out—big time. The state makes up a large part of the extraordinary Pacific Northwest, a region in the world marked by untouched nature and stately landscapes (in addition to impressive human accomplishments). For the best places to sleep under the stars, consider camping in the following locations.
This spot is one of the less crowded campgrounds located in the Mount Rainier National Park, though it is still extremely popular. Lovely trails from the site, including the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail and the Silver Falls Trail, wind through the surrounding old-growth forest, tossing river, hot springs, and gushing waterfall. With sites starting at $20 per night, the 188-site area also offers a ranger station and sense of community among campers, making it a great option for first-timers. Do note that the campground is closed during the winter, and otherwise reservations are highly suggested.
Moran State Park
The fourth largest state park in Washington, Moran State Park’s 5,252 acres of forest offer everything from 38 miles (61 kilometers) of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails to fishing, swimming, and kayaking on one of the five lakes. Located on Orcas Island of the San Juan Islands, the park is easily accessible by ferry. The 151 campsites, with individual sites starting at $12 per night, offer a decent amount of privacy and aren’t far from beaches on the Northwest Straits. Checking out Cascade Falls and Mt. Constitution for an unparalleled view is a must.
Starting at $16 per night, the 142 sites that make up Colonial Creek Campground are open (or partially open) year-round in the North Cascades National Park. Trails will bring visitors to the top of Thunder Knob, twisting next to Thunder Creek, or strolling along the Thunder Woods Natural Walk. Don’t be fooled by the ominous names; between the base of Colonial Peak and the shores of Diablo Lake, the campground among old-growth forest is incredibly tranquil. There is also an amphitheater and interpretive programs seasonally available.
Lake Wenatchee is an excellent location for camping in Washington, complete with a handful of campgrounds to choose from, ranging between $12 and $23. Nason Creek Campground provides 73 large, secluded sites along the creek where it meets Lake Wenatchee. It’s next door to the more popular Lake Wenatchee State Park campground, which is ideal for families; it has a playground, hiking, fishing, and canoeing options, and 155 spacious sites. Wenatchee Confluence State Park offers eight private tent sites where the Columbia and Wenatchee rivers meet. Finally, the less well-known Glacier View Campground has 23 campsites along Lake Wenatchee, along with an incredible view of Glacier Peak.
Formed by the Alder Dam, Alder Lake near Mt. Rainier is a popular summertime spot for day use as well as camping. Fishing, swimming, and motorized boats are all allowed at Alder Lake Park. The campground offers 173 sites on its well-equipped land. Rocky Point Campground at Alder Lake is calmer both in traffic and weather and offers 25 sites. Mostly open year-round, camping starts at $25.
Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park
Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park provides 7,470 acres of fossils, petroglyphs, petrified wood, and 27,000 feet (8,230 meters) of shoreline of the Wanapum Reservoir along the Columbia River. A National Natural Landmark, the park offers trails, an interpretive center, and the nearby Wanapum Recreation Area. Camp there, starting at $30 per night, and explore “one of the most diverse fossil forests in North America.” Keep in mind that the area is known not only for crowds during concert season due to its proximity to the Gorge Amphitheater but also high winds, especially in the evenings.
Another beautiful option in the Mount Rainier National Park, the White River campground is best suited for late summer due to its elevation at 4,400 feet (1,341 meters). What you won’t find is running water or cell phone service. What you will find, however, are wildflowers, mountain goats, and stunning views of Mt. Rainier. The 112 sites start at $20 per night and provide easy access to trails, including the Wonderland Trail and the Glacier Basin Trail. While it’s not great for recreation, the river still offers visual as well as auditory beauty.
Meaning “a good place to land” in the Quinault language, Kalaloch, which is open year-round, provides approximately 170 campsites, starting at $22 per night, sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Olympic National Park. The campground, which has become increasingly popular with the nearby town of Forks, sits on a ridge overlooking the Pacific. A few spots have views of the ocean, though all have access to stairs leading down to the beach as well as the sound of crashing waves 24/7. Check out the Kalaloch Creek Nature Trail, and—whatever you do—don’t miss the opportunity to explore the Hoh Rainforest.
The Salt Creek Recreation Area has almost every amenity one could imagine when camping. In the north of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, the space includes a playground and sports courts or fields. Wildlife-viewing is exceptional due to the location on the National Audubon’s Washington birding trail and the Whale Trail. Hiking, kayaking, and surfing are all possible, as is relaxing on the beach by Crescent Bay. The Olympic Hot Springs are less than an hour away. The campground itself offers 92 sites, many with views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Canada in the distance. There’s even the Tongue Point Marine Sanctuary with excellent tide pooling opportunities.
Deception Pass State Park
The most visited park in Washington State, Deception Pass is on every camper’s list. Spanning across Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands, the state park is connected by the famous Deception Pass Bridge. The park includes over 100,000 combined feet (30,480 meters) of saltwater and freshwater shoreline and 37 miles (59.5 miles) of hiking trails, not to mention coves, cliffs, wildlife, the West Beach Sand Dunes, Rosario Beach’s tide pools, and the Kukutalki Preserve, over its 4,134 acres. Three campgrounds—Cranberry, Bowman Bay, and Quarry Pond—offer a total of 167 tent sites starting at $12 per night. Note that the nearby naval base does mean loud jets sometimes fly overhead, even early in the morning.