Tent camping with small children can be
terrifying challenging. There are intrepid families who camp with their kids as tiny newborns, but all the packing for camping intimidates me, let alone with a very tiny person. We finally started camping with Julia when she was about 16 or 17 months old, and while it wasn’t bad in the summer, I still wanted 4 walls around us in the late fall to help keep us warm and comfortable. Enter the cabins at Dosewallips State Park. These have become our go to in October when we want to enjoy the fall colors, but don’t want to deal with all the layers that cold-weather camping entails. We’ve since taken James as well, and it’s quickly becoming an annual tradition I really look forward to.
Drive Time from Seattle and Recommended Stops
We live in North Seattle, so if we time the Kingston-Edmonds Ferry right, it takes just over 2 hours to get to the park, even though we can never seem to drive more than an hour without stopping. Sometimes we go through Tacoma on the way home, which is about 2.5 hours.
We always stop in Port Gamble on our way. One year, we forgot a warm hat for Julia, so we popped in the Port Gamble General Store and picked up a cute little gnome hat. We enjoy the views(including Point Julia!) and the beautiful dahlia garden at the waterfront and then stop at the playground (if there isn’t a pandemic going on). There is a large lawn that is great for kids to stretch their legs even when avoiding high touch surfaces. After we get the wiggles out, we grab some lunch at Butcher & Baker Provisions. Their treats and sandwiches are so delicious!
On our last trip, Peter wasn’t feeling well and we didn’t want to risk missing a ferry and delaying our return, so we drove through Tacoma and stopped at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually Refuge that’s between Olympia and Tacoma. There are beautiful boardwalks in a short loop trail and a longer trail was under construction – such a nice spot to stretch our legs. The refuge is also included in the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass (carry it with you rather than leaving it in your car), which we are really making use of this year.
Like most state park cabins, these are equipped with a bunk bed that has a twin bed on top (with a nice railing – Julia started sleeping in it at age 3) and a queen bed on the bottom, as well as a futon. They also have a table with chairs and a covered porch (good for cooking on a propane stove if it’s wet out). We have stayed in C6 and C8 – I like the cabins near the trail that goes under Highway 101 because it makes it easier for us to walk to the water, but there is some highway noise as a result. Some cabins are slightly closer to the restrooms, but they’re also close to the main campground road, so there’s more traffic that makes me nervous with little kids moving around.
Beware the 2-night minimum stay in cabins (and all “roofed shelters” like yurts etc). It has gotten stricter every year, so that it now applies to weekends year-round and any time between May 15 – September 15.
Things To Do
There are a couple of trails that depart from right next to the campground. There aren’t significant changes in elevation (they are loop trails that are between 2-3 miles) and there are some bridges and boardwalks to enjoy along the way.
The biggest highlight, though, is the trail to the beach area that starts on the East side of the Highway. You walk on 101 for a bit and can see spawning salmon in October. Then the trail continues through a small meadow and parking lot, down a gravel trail, and out to a viewing platform and the beach. It’s not a traditional beach with lots of sand, but more like a wetland area.
The beach is available to dig for clams or harvest oysters. We haven’t dug yet, but have seen people out with their buckets. Make sure to check the Parks website for alerts – sometimes the season is closed early due to overharvesting.
If you have painfully early risers like we do, take the trail out in the morning to watch the sunrise and have a picnic breakfast. You’ll have the place to yourself and we have seen herds of elk (they make the most interesting sounds!) and different species of birds every time we’ve visited. Watch out for elk droppings throughout the meadow (and on your way to the restroom from your camp site).
This state park is right on the edge of Olympic National Park, so it’s a good gateway for any hikes on the east side of the peninsula. I have Rocky Brook Falls, Murhut Falls and Lena Lake marked for future trips, but we haven’t stayed long enough to do them yet.
If you don’t feel like cooking all your meals (or if one of your party develops a man cold and couldn’t possibly rise from bed with the children), we love the Halfway House Restaurant that’s just right up the road. The staff are really friendly and have even given us a free side of fruit in the past when the kids get hangry before their breakfast is ready. They do food to go, too, so you can call in an order to bring back to your campsite if you go while we’re still navigating COVID-19.
With campsites fairly close together, I’m not sure Dosewallips would be my first choice for a summer camping trip when I expect it would be busier. However, in the early fall the leaves change colors, the sun rises later (so you have a chance to see it at a halfway reasonable hour), the salmon run, and the elk meander through the meadows, making it a magical place to cabin camp with little ones.