Four Locations to Find the Best Camping in the Pacific Northwest
One of the great things about living in the Pacific Northwest is that camping doesn’t have to be solely an activity that happens in the summer.
In fact, camping in the Pacific Northwest can happen any time of the year, depending on the type of camping you want to do.
What we expect from our camping experiences comes down to personal preference. Some of us are looking for somewhere to park and plug with a fully stocked RV. Others want a more minimalist experience, hiking into a campsite with nothing but a backpack.
No matter what type of camping appeals to you, there are countless options to choose from all up and down the west coast.
Here are four of our top picks for finding the best camping in the Pacific Northwest.
Before You Start Planning
Before you start planning your next vacation, you should know about the types of camping that different locations offer.
These may include:
Campground camping. You bring the tent and all the needed supplies. Most sites will be drive-up. They may or may not have electrical depending on the park.
Cabin or yurt camping. When you rent a cabin or yurt, other than food or clothes, most things you need will already be at the location when you arrive. Bedding and towels may or may not be included so you should ensure you check this beforehand. These may or may not have electricity.
Hike in/hike out (dispersed) camping. You go in on foot and you only bring what you can carry. Your car is parked at the main lot then you’ll head to the campground on foot. Most dispersed campsites also follow a rule of “leave no trace”, meaning all garbage and waste must be taken with you when you leave. No electrical service should be expected.
RV or trailer camping. You’ll bring your own recreation vehicle or trailer to your rented site. Some campgrounds have sites suitable for RVs with no electricity, so always check before you book. For campgrounds with areas specific to RVs and trailers, you can expect electrical service and sometimes a hookup or dumping areas for waste water.
Group camping. This generally refers to the size of the campsite you rent. If you are camping in a larger group, you can either rent individual sites or a group site, which is suitable for multiple tents and can host upwards of 20 people.
#1. Cape Disappointment State Park
With windswept cliffs and the crisp smell of sea air, Cape Disappointment State Park is rife with history. Named after the unsuccessful voyage of Captain John Meares, this park offers a riveting combination of sweeping landscapes and a rich history related to the exploration of America.
Located on the Long Beach Peninsula, fronted by where the Pacific Ocean meets the Columbia River, the park offers visitors 2,023 acres of natural beauty.
Not only does the park offer multiple camping options, but there are plenty of activities to keep visitors busy. Home to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, visitors can immerse themselves in interactive exhibits. The land has several ruins to be discovered that harken back to the early military and maritime history of the area.
With a majestic old-growth forest, ocean tides, saltwater marshes and freshwater lakes, there is endless ground to cover on foot or by boat. Go clam digging on Benson Beach, or check out the North Jetty for some crabbing.
Options include: Cabin and yurt rentals, campground camping, dispersed camping, RV camping, group camping.
#2. Kalaloch Campground (Olympic National Park)
Kalaloch Campground is located high upon a bluff in Olympic National Park, right beside the Pacific Ocean.
While the campgrounds themselves aren’t located directly on the beach, you can book sites with water views, and have access to the beach as it’s only a short walk away.
Thanks to the high amount of local rainfall, this park offers everything you’d expect to find in a coastal forest.
Thanks to the Pacific shoreline, you’ll find ample marine life to discover, including sea urchins when the tide is low. You may catch a glimpse of anything from otters to whales and dolphins, or see one of the many shorebirds tending to the nests on the beaches.
Take a mile-long hike through the forest along the Kalaloch Creek Nature Trail, or head over to one of the lookouts at Ruby Beach and Beach Trail 4.
While swimming is generally permitted, it should be noted that this area is known for strong rip tides and large drifting logs, so the utmost caution should be taken.
The campground offers over 160 campsites, with some being available for rental year-round. All sites are non-electric. There’s a general store and shower rooms on-site for visitor’s convenience.
Options include: Campground camping, dispersed camping, RV camping, group camping.
#3. Shi Shi Beach (Olympic National Park)
Located in the Olympic Peninsula, Shi Shi Beach is the perfect spot for if you’re looking for a camping destination that’s a bit more rustic and undisturbed by humans. This park offers the unique experience of camping right on the beach.
This camping spot requires a Wilderness Backpacking Reservation. These sites are not accessible by car, so you expect to park and then walk in with your gear. Campers also need to get a Makah Reservation permit, along with a bear canister to store food.
On busy weekends, there can be up to 250 campers along the beach, so planning in advance will be critical.
In an effort to keep the area as pristine as possible, campers are expected to leave no trace, removing all garbage and debris and ensuring vegetation is completely undisturbed.
While this campground offers a completely different experience from many of the others in the area, it’s likely not the best suited for camping novices. Understanding the tide schedule and being prepared to hike over headland trails will be a must.
While the effort of planning for a visit to Shi Shi Beach may be a little higher, the oceanfront location, abundant wildlife and amazing hiking make it a must-see.
Options include: Dispersed camping
#4. San Juan Islands
Known for their majestic sunsets and pristine beaches, the San Juan Islands are not to be missed when looking for the best places for camping in the Pacific Northwest.
When planning a visit to the San Juan Islands you’ll need to find transportation to the islands, usually on a ferry or water taxi. For those experienced with kayaking, that’s also an option for getting there.
The islands are also known for being a cyclist’s paradise, so biking onto the ferry is always an option to get there.
Reservations are required for the islands during peak camping season (spring through fall). However, if you’re planning to venture to some of the remote islands that aren’t accessible by ferry, no reservations will be necessary.
Camping on the islands is available at multiple locations at various islands in the chain.
San Juan Island:
• San Juan County Park
• Lakedale Resort
• Moran State Park
• Obstruction Pass State Park
• Doe Bay Resort
• West Beach Resort
• Mt Baker Farm
• Spencer Spit State Park
• Odlin County Park
• Lopez Farm Cottages
• Lopez Islander Resort
• Shaw County Park
• Jones Island
• Cypress Island
• Sucia Island
Options include: Cabin and rentals, campground camping, dispersed camping, RV camping, group camping.
Camping In the Pacific Northwest: Plan Ahead
One of the most important things to remember when planning a trip for camping in the Pacific Northwest is that planning is essential. Whether it’s reserving a campsite, getting a permit, or booking a ferry ride, a trip to these popular destinations requires a bit of legwork.
Knowing that the weather in this area can be unpredictable, having the appropriate equipment for sun or rain will make your trip that much better. It doesn’t matter whether you’re camping in a luxury RV or biking in with only what you can carry, being prepared will ensure your camping in the Pacific Northwest is an unforgettable experience.
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