The Best Washington Camping

Three Great Campgrounds

Pitch a tent and build a campfire! We’re thinking about sleeping under the stars.  Dreaming about building fires and roasting marshmallows. Some of the best things about camping. One of the other best things about camping is that it won’t break the bank, either. Where else can you sleep on waterfront property for $15 a night?

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!

Ohanapecosh, Mount Rainier National Park

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.

The campground, on the southeast side of Mount Rainier National Park, is closet to popular hikes to Silver Falls and the Grove of the Patriarchs.

The main attraction at Mount Rainier National Park is the mountain itself, a glacier-clad volcano of immense proportions. At 14,411 ft., it dominates the skyline for hundreds of miles. Visitors travel through majestic old-growth forests, past tumbling waterfalls and historic buildings to reach sub-alpine meadows, where world-famous wildflower displays are seen in July and August. Popular activities in the park include sight-seeing, hiking, climbing and camping.

Number of sites: 188, 2 group sites

Cost: $15 a night for a single site

Season: Late May thru early October

Extras: Water and flush toilets

Ohanapecosh Bridge by Raven Falls

Ohanapecosh campground has an elevation of 1,914 feet. Weather is dry, cool and sunny in the summer with daytime temperatures in the 60 to 80-degree range. Even though the eastern side of the park can be sunnier than other areas, weather can be variable and visitors should come prepared.

Ohanapecosh is convenient to both the Paradise and Sunrise areas. Numerous hiking trails originate both in and nearby the facility, including the Grove of the Patriarchs trail, which leads hikers through stands of old growth forest, and several trails that lead to Silver Falls waterfall.

For visitors who would like to learn more about natural and cultural history, the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center is close by as well.

This large campground has 188 individual sites for RV or tent camping situated among the ancient trees. RVs up to 32 feet. There is drinking water, but no electric hookups. Visitors must use extra caution with food storage, as bear and other animals inhabit the area around the campground. About half the sites can be reserved in advance (recommended) and half are first-come, first-serve.

Getting There: Year-round access to the park is via SR 706 to the Nisqually Entrance in the southwest corner of the park. The road from the entrance to Longmire remains open throughout winter except during extreme weather. The road from Longmire to Paradise closes nightly from November 1 through winter. It reopens the following morning dependent upon snow removal. Even though roads will be open, some facilities may not be available.

Directions to the Southwest Entrance of the park from Seattle: South on I-5 to SR 512 (exit 127). East on SR 512 to SR 7. South on SR 7 to SR 706 in Elbe. East on SR 706 through Ashford to the Nisqually Entrance.

Contacts: Recreation.gov: www.recreation.gov Information Number: 360-569-2211 x6627

Nason Creek, Wenatchee National Forest near Lake Wenatchee

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.The Nason Creek Campground is located approximately 19 miles north of Leavenworth, Washington, and about one mile south of the Lake Wenatchee State Park. Set in old growth forest and in the Cascade foothills, Nason Creek is a popular destination. Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest offers stunning scenic views, with high, glaciated alpine peaks, valleys of old growth forest and rugged shrub-steppe country making up the diverse landscape. Elevations range from below 1,000 feet to over 9,000 feet. Visitors to the area can expect many days of warm, sunny weather in the summer, and winters with clear skies and plenty of snow.

Number of sites: 73 sites, 2 groups sites

Cost: $17 a night for a single site

Season: Late June thru early October

Extras: Water and flush toilets

Nason Creek
The surrounding undeveloped wilderness, clean streams and diverse forests support an abundance of wildlife, including deer, porcupine, native fish and migratory birds. Endangered and threatened species, including the Northern Bald Eagle, the Northern Spotted Owl, gray wolves and grizzly bears, also find havens in nearby ecosystems. In addition to being a prime location for hiking, fishing, swimming, horseback riding and mountain biking in summer and early fall, the Nason Creek area offers excellent skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling in the winter months. The campground is also a great base camp for day-hikers and overnight backpackers. Several access trails from the area give hikers the chance to create their own excursions, whether it be a day hike or an overnight trip. Anglers enjoy fishing for rainbow trout, cutthroat trout and kokanee salmon from boat or shoreline on nearby Lake Wenatchee. The campground has 70 single sites and 3 double sites. Sites are all equipped with picnic tables, fire rings, and grills. Restrooms include flush toilets. Water is available in common areas. RVs fine. No reservations; campsites are first-come, first-serve. Nason Creek campground info. Visitors enjoy the North Cascades and Lake Wenatchee State Park. Guests can also explore the area's colorful railroad and mining history at the Steven's Pass Historic District, or hit the slopes at Steven's Pass Ski Area.

Getting There: From Leavenworth, WA head southwest on US-2 toward 9th street and go about 15 miles. Turn right onto WA-207 N for 3.4 miles and the campground will be on the left hand side.

Contacts: US Forest Service: www.fs.usda.gov Information Number: (509)763-7020

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. Moran State Park has a whopping 30 miles of hiking trails, plus there are other places to hike on Orcas Island as well (check out nearby Turtleback Mountain and Obstruction Pass). The big attraction is Mt. Constitution, and you can hike, bike or even drive to the top. Check out the stunning views in every direction from the CCC-era observation tower. It can be very windy up here, so I’d bring along a windbreaker jacket. For an easy, peaceful hike, take the trail that loops around Mountain Lake. Take these and more hikes with you in your backpack with Day Hiking the San Juans and Gulf Islands, written by Craig Romano and published by The Mountaineers Books.

Number of sites: 166 sites

Cost: $12-$25 a night for a single site

Season: Late May thru early September

Extras:  Water and Flush Toilets, no showers

Kayakers on Cascade Lake, in Moran State Park
Northend camp area is located closest to the entrance, across the road from the day-use and swim beach area. Several of these sites provide a great deal of privacy. Midway camp area is near the Cascade Lake boat launch with 12 of the sites located on the shore of the lake. The remaining Midway sites are across the road from the lake, but several offer nice views. The Southend camp area is the most popular with almost all of the sites located right along the shoreline. This area has one ADA accessible campsite and restroom facility. Mountain Lake camp area is located one mile up Mount Constitution Road on the shores of Mountain Lake, the largest lake in the park. For those who arrive by bicycle or on foot, 15 primitive campsites are located on the road to Mount Constitution. Maximum site length is 45-feet (limited availability). Certain areas and campsites will not fit large RVs or motorhomes; RVs to 45 feet. Reservations here up to 9 months in advance; some campsites are first-come, first-serve.

Getting There: From the Orcas Island Ferry Terminal: follow Orcas Road for 9 miles to Eastsound Village. Continue driving through town and after approximately 1 more mile take a right onto Olga road. The entrance to Moran State Park will be 3 miles ahead.

Contacts: Washington State Parks: www.washington.goingtocamp.com Information Number: 1-888-226-7688