Unique Camping Destinations Throughout the Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest of the United States is one of the most unique, ecologically pristine places in the country. For one, it is the only place in the United States where one can find rain forests. The impressive verdure of lush forests combines with massive, snow-capped peaks that rise into the sky. Rock cliffs drop quickly to beaches teeming with marine wildlife, and the opportunity to watch the sunset over the ocean horizon is truly a one of a kind experience.
If you are planning a trip to northern California, Washington, Oregon, or Alaska, you will want to take the time to find a great campground; your home base that will allow you to explore the surrounding mountains, coastal regions, and other natural wonders that characterize this beautiful region. What follows is a list of some of the top campgrounds in each of the states that make up the Pacific Northwest.
What Makes a Great Campground
One of the hidden pleasures of every nature explorer out there is finding a hidden gem of a campground in the most unexpected places. While the national parks usually have decent campground locations with essential amenities such as showers with hot water, there are thousands of other smaller state parks, wilderness areas, and protected forests that also offer camping for the traveler.
The characteristics of a great campground will differ according to who you are and how you´re travelling. The lone, wilderness-seeker might very well be looking for a place where he or she can experience a heavy dose of solitude and not have to listen to the next-door RV motor running all night. This type of camper might have no problem dealing with limited facilities and comforts, can forego the hot shower for a few days, and might not mind finding and making their own outhouse in the middle of the woods.
If you´re travelling with small children, however, you will most likely be looking for a campground that has bathrooms, showers, hot water, and a nearby campground store to keep the little ones well cleansed and well fed. Furthermore, having a few neighbors camping nearby is usually not a problem, especially if they have young kids so that new friendships can be forged.
Whatever your camping needs and preferences, however, there is one quality that all great campgrounds should offer: beauty. We come into Nature to experience the wider world of which we are all a part; to come into contact with the rest of the creatures with whom we share this world. A great campground, whether it be a three-person back country campground hundreds of miles from civilization or a family friendly campground in your nearby state park, needs to offer you access to the beauty and wonder that the natural world can invoke in us human beings.
A campground with more pavement than fallen leaves, or where the sounds of the nearby interstate drown out the morning birdsong filling the air, or where the view on the horizon is hindered by the neon glow of the signs of fast food restaurants is not the ideal venue for communing with Nature. Below, we offer advice on three great places to camp in each of the states that make up the Pacific Northwest region.
Moran State Park
What could be better than camping on an island in the Pacific. This state park of Washington is located in the San Juan Islands, on Orcas Island. As far as the San Juan Islands go, this is one of the most developed and offers a number of biking and hiking trails. Mount Constitution is a 2,400 peak that will give you great views of the surrounding ocean. The Moran State Park campground offers shaded campsites in a pretty thick forest area. It is also located near Cascade Lake which will allow you to cool off with an afternoon swim after a day of exploring.
Second Beach at Olympic National Park
The ocean in front of you and the rain forest behind you: what could be a better place for a campground. Second beach at Olympic National Park offers the best in terms of beach camping and is surprisingly accessible. Although there is no potable water at the campsite (you´ll have to carry in what you´ll need), it is only a 0.7 mile hike to this gem of a campground. A number of natural arches give you keyhole views to beach below where if you´re lucky you might spot seals and/or bald eagles. The sunset over the ocean and the surrounding islands isn´t too shabby either.
The Wilderness at Mount Rainier National Park
Washington offers much more than ocean and beach camping. The majestic Mount Rainier is a favorite for extreme hikers and adrenaline seekers. The alpine forest that surrounds the singular, snow-capped peak of Rainier is also a great place to get into the wilderness. For folks looking for a bit of adventure and solitude to be among some of the most pristine mountains and forests around, you can easily reserve a backcountry permit to hike and camp anywhere along the Wonderland Trail. Be sure to look for a spot that will give you views of Mount Rainier and the surrounding mountains.
Silver Falls State Park
Near the town of Sublimity you can find Oregon´s largest and most appreciated state park. The campgrounds at Silver Falls State Park are perfectly designed to offer you a sort of base camp from where you can travel out to explore the many wonders of this huge piece of land. The trail of ten falls is a seven mile hike fairly close to the campground which will take you along a river where you´ll find (you guessed it) ten gorgeous water falls.
Bull Prairie Campground, Umatilla National Forest
If the idea of lounging near a lake with a fishing pole in hand is your idea of bliss, the Bull Prairie Campground in the Umatilla National Forest near the town of Heppner might be a good option. Located in the beautiful Blue Mountains, this is a fisherman´s dream location with a number of great fishing lakes nearby. A one mile lake trail offers a number of places to find that perfect spot to spend the day lounging in the shade of Ponderosa pines while waiting for the next fish to bite.
Wallowa Lake State Park
In the northeastern part of Oregon, near the town of Joseph, you can find the stunning Wallowa Lake. There is undoubtedly something especial about mountain lakes, and Wallow Lake State Park definitely knows how to take advantage of the unique magic that comes with mountain lakes. The sapphire colored water acts as a mirror for the surrounding green mountains. The state park offers a number of outdoor activities, including hiking, swimming, and a cool tram ride to the top of Mount Howard. Your campground is only a short drive from the town of Joseph, Oregon which is an artsy town with a number of galleries to explore.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Northern California might not technically be part of the Pacific Northwest, but the terrain is similar and so stunningly beautiful that we had to include it here. Near Redding, California you can find the Lassen Volcanic National Park which is (outside of Hawaii) the best place to visit the explosive, violent, and fascinating nature of volcanoes. There are several different types of volcanoes in this park allowing for an educational experience in the geothermic activity that has helped shape our world. From your campground you will also be able to explore pristine lakes and other jagged mountain peaks from where you might uncover some smoking fumaroles. You can choose between walk-in sites (by reservation) or the Summit Lake main campground.
Redwood National Park
You simply can´t miss out on the experience of sleeping amongst giants. Near Arcata California, you will find some of the tallest and largest trees in the world. Redwood National Park offers a unique opportunity to truly experience your own insignificance in the grand scheme of things. From your campground, you´ll be able to wander through exceptional forest, bathe in beautiful streams, and the coastline is only a quick drive away.
North Pines/Lower Pines, Yosemite National Park
If you are looking for a great place to camp in one or our country´s most iconic National Parks, the North Pines or Lower Pines Campground at Yosemite National Park is the best place to experience all that Yosemite has to offer. Located in the midst of Yosemite Valley, this campground is right next to the trailhead for Half Dome and nearby Yosemite Falls making it a great base camp for all of your travels. For more information on what to do at Yosemite, check out this great guide here.
Porcupine Campground, Chugach National Forest
Alaska seems to be on everyone´s bucket list of places to visit. The sheer size of our nation´s largest state coupled with the incredible ecological diversity of the region make it a place definitely worth visiting. Porcupine Campground in the Chugach National Forest is a great place to start your exploration of the great Alaskan North. Located on a mountain ridge on the Kenai Peninsula just south of Anchorage, you will get some gorgeous ocean views and might even be lucky enough to see a beluga whale passing through.
K’esugi Ken Campground, Denali State Park
Denali is synonymous with the rustic, tough beauty of Nature. If you are bold enough to plan a trip to Denali State Park, you´ll be happy to find a pretty quality campground. There are only 10 tent sites compared to 33 RV sites, so if you´re looking for solitude and quiet, you´ll be sure to find plenty of that in the massive wilderness region of the surrounding state park.
How about camping with a view of an active volcano rising out of the Alaskan horizon? If that appeals to you, Camp Homer which is about 6 miles from the town of Homer, Alaska, is a great campground. It is relatively small with only 15 tent pads, but the sites are built uniquely among a prairie setting where the fireweed blooms in late summer. Your camp will be separated from other tents by a wall of blooming wildflowers. If you´re lucky, you might even catch glimpses of small lava flow during the night at the nearby Mount Iliamna, one of Alaska´s most active volcanoes.
Wherever You Go, find a Great Place to Camp
Wherever you plan to go, make it a priority to take the time to research the best camping site available. A quality campground will allow you to better experience the uniqueness of the place you’re visiting while also giving you a space for needed rest and relaxation.