Our Family’s Favorite Washington Campgrounds

Originally published in March 2021. Last updated in October 2021 to include Summer 2021 trip updates

We weren’t huge campers before kids, but perks like tons of outdoor time and dirt to dig in have made us fans of camping with little ones (except camping sleep, that’s still terrible). We typically camp two weekends a month during the summer and once or twice during the spring and fall shoulder seasons (although usually in a cabin).

Different phases of parenthood bring peaks and valleys to camping — we haven’t really camped with newborns, for example, and have enjoyed cabin camping in the shoulder season or when I’ve camped on my own with the kids. I’ve written before about our camping plans, but got some requests for campground recommendations that I wanted to compile into one post.

Here’s a fairly comprehensive list of campgrounds we’ve stayed at over the years, generally organized by region. State Parks need to be booked at Washington GoingtoCamp (9 months in advance), whereas national forest/national parks are booked at Recreation.Gov (6 months in advance). I’m a planner and haven’t stayed anywhere with first-come, first-serve camping before because the amount of effort to pack up and potentially not have a spot is too high for me.

Be sure to let me know if there’s a campground missing that we should look into next year

Whidbey/Camano/Orcas Islands

Deception Pass State Park (N. Whidbey Island)

Season stayed: Summer 2020
Site: C4 (Cabin); Quarry Pond Campground
Drive time from Seattle: 1.5 hours
Would we stay again?: Yes
General thoughts: Sites are small and cabin keypad access can be tricky (make sure to go to the park entrance on the other side of the highway for your code; it won’t be in your confirmation e-mail or onsite), but you can’t beat the location for access to the great hikes and beach around Deception Pass. I camped here solo with the kids and wrote a blog post here.

Exploring the Rosario Beach tidepools at Deception Pass State Park

Camano Island State Park (Camano Island)

Season stayed: Summer 2020, Summer 2021
Site: 62, 13
Drive time from Seattle: Just over 1 hour
Would we stay again?: Yes
General thoughts: The first site we stayed in was quite small and surrounded by blackberry bushes, but we booked late because of the pandemic and it was fine for last-minute camping. Campsites around the outside of the upper and lower campgrounds generally have more space. In 2021, we stayed in the lower loop and had water views at site 13. That said, it was still a small spot and it was close to the road to the beach, so we heard the fisherpeople headed out to the water in their noisy trucks at 5 a.m. There is great beach access via a short trail, especially from the lower campground, as well as family-friendly trails throughout the park and nearby Cama Beach State Park. See blog post here for more details.

Small but functional campsite at Camano Island State Park

Cama Beach State Park (Camano Island)

Season stayed: Winter 2020
Site: C40 (Deluxe Cabin)
Drive time from Seattle: Just over 1 hour
Would we stay again?: Yes
General thoughts: While trekking kids and gear down to the beach from an uphill parking lot is tough, it was worth it for the car-free waterfront area. There are several trails in the park that are family-friendly in addition to a small playground, outdoor giant chess set and a seasonally open general store. During pre-pandemic times, the Center for Wooden Boats often hosts events that are fun for kids (like boat building and crafts). The Cama Beach cabins finally transitioned to the online reservation system in the last year or two (you used to have to call and wait on hold forever). See my Seattle’s Child article here for more details.

Moran State Park (Orcas Island)

Season stayed: Spring 2018
Site: 79
Drive time from Seattle: 3 hours (assuming you time the ferry perfectly)
Would we stay again?: Yes, but not during the pandemic (rural community with low access to medical facilities and a long ferry ride and drive with limited restroom access).
General thoughts: The San Juans require some time investment (a 2 hr drive from N. Seattle + a 1 hr ferry that should be reserved in advance), but we loved this campground when we only had one kid to schlep (Julia is a better car traveler than James). There’s a small lake where you can play by the beach, buy ice cream from a little stand and rent canoes and kayaks. The loop trail around the lake is also family-friendly and pretty, plus you can scout out other campgrounds. Mt. Constitution is a beautiful hike with a lookout (which might be closed due to COVID, but a quick search didn’t specify) and you can drive all or part of the way up to adjust the hike length for little legs. Blog post here for more details.

Enjoying a pre-COVID ice cream cone by the lake at Moran State Park

Highway 2

Wallace Falls State Park (Gold Bar)

Season stayed: Fall 2015 (I was pregnant with Julia), Fall 2017
Site: C1 and C2 (cabins)
Drive time from Seattle: 1 hour
Would we stay again?: Yes
General thoughts: The cabins at Wallace Falls are great with much more privacy than at other state parks. The restrooms were also extremely clean when we visited. The parking area is small though and while there are spots dedicated to cabin campers, I could see summer visitors ignoring them. There aren’t as many trails in the immediate vicinity (besides the obvious Wallace Falls) as other parks, so that’s a limiting factor. The nearby town of Gold Bar has several restaurants if you don’t feel like cooking — I really miss the previous owners of the Gold Bar Cafe who made amazing Mi Quang Pho (it was good enough for me to drive out from Seattle once or twice while pregnant).

Wallace Falls – a great day trip or cabin stay!

Beckler River (Skykomish)

Season stayed: Summer 2020
Site: 22
Drive time from Seattle: 1.5 hours
Would we stay again?: Probably not
General thoughts: The sites at this campground are pretty large and private and the camp host is delightful and does her best to keep everything clean. That said, there were some unanticipated problems with this campground that make me hesitant to go back. The biggest one is that the neighbors like to have their happy hour shooting parties, so you should expect loud gunfire particularly on weekends. There was also no running water while we were there due to a pipe damaged the previous year that hadn’t been fixed, and the river had changed course so it wasn’t safe to play in. If you go in with these expectations, you’ll be fine, but I’m a camping wimp and I like things like running water and natural noise. This campground is near some cool hikes, like the Wellington Ghost Town trail. More details are in this blog post.

Back side of our large campsite at Beckler River (no gunfire in the mornings!)

Mt. Rainier & Mt. St. Helens

Cougar Rock (Paradise Area)

Season stayed: Summer 2018
Site: D001
Drive time from Seattle: 2 hours
Would we stay again?: Yes
General thoughts: The best times to stay in Mt Rainier National Park are both the most popular (July/August when it’s not too cold and there are wildflowers) and the most uncertain due to our wildfire season. When we went, wildfires were just ending and it was really cloudy and slightly rainy, but there was a statewide burn ban. Luckily, the burn ban doesn’t apply to federal land and we were able to have a small fire for warmth, although we didn’t keep it particularly long. This campground has an amphitheater (the program when we stayed was a special edition that was held elsewhere), so there should be fun evening programs outside of the pandemic. It’s also pretty close to the Paradise Inn if you wanted to avoid cooking (we visited pre-pandemic, so I can’t speak to openings).

Nisqually Vista Trail – an easy Mt Rainier hike when staying at Cougar Rock campground

Ohanapecosh (Southeast Rainier)

Season stayed: Summer 2021
Site: D21, A27
Drive time from Seattle: 3 hours
Would we stay again?: Yes
General thoughts: We oopsed on this one in 2021! We’d canceled reservations a couple of years in a row (once due to wildfire smoke and the other because Peter was recovering from an unexpected surgery) and accidentally mixed up our 2020 confirmation e-mail with our 2021 email. Luckily, the nice women who showed up on our second night let us stay and went to the other spot. A27 was great and had some huckleberry bushes and a slight hill down into the camp area that was fun for the kids on their bikes. Restrooms were nearby and fairly clean. Keep in mind that bears frequent the area and you’ll have to dump your dishwater in the toilet and lock all food in your car or bear box. This campground is great for access to the Grove of the Patriarchs and Silver Falls trails. It’s about 30-40 minutes to Naches Peak Loop and an hour to the Sunrise park entrance for the trails there.

Beaver Bay Campground (South Mt. St. Helens area)

Season stayed: Summer 2018
Site: A33
Drive time from Seattle: 3 hours
Would we stay again?: Yes, although a couple of the highlights are closed right now due to COVID-19 and construction.
General thoughts: This is a campground owned by PacificCorp (energy company), so it’s the only spot on this list that you can’t book through Washington State Parks or Recreation.gov. The Mt. St. Helens Learning Center is 2 hours away (you have to drive out to the main highway), but I picked this campground to stay near Ape Cave (closed due to COVID-19 at the time of writing). The “cave” is actually the 3rd longest lava tube in North America and is an awesome spot to visit in the heat of summer because it stays quite cool year round. The lower cave route is great for young families, while older kids (not ours, yet) will enjoy the upper route, which requires you to climb an 8-ft rock wall. We also loved the Trail of Two Forests and Lava Canyon (suspension bridge closed as of writing due to cable damage) where you can see how the lava from the 1989 eruption reshaped the area. We had rain on one of our days, so we just drove roughly an hour to Portland where there was better weather and we could enjoy some city sights.

Ape Cave near Beaver Bay Campground – closed during COVID, but save for the future!

Olympic Peninsula

Salt Creek Recreation Area (Port Angeles)

Season stayed: Summer 2018, Summer 2021
Site: 18, 53
Drive time from Seattle: 3 hours
Would we stay again?: Yes, but with older kids and not in the RV area
General thoughts: We booked spot 18 fairly last minute a few years ago (book through Clallam County; reservations open January 1 for the calendar year). I had read about the tidepools and wanted to visit, but the only site available was in the middle of the RV area. Since hotels nearby were really expensive, I figured we could stand anything for a night. Wrong. The RV spaces are really close together with no privacy whatsoever. We were surrounded by big groups (a basketball rolled into the side of our tent, guitar playing till midnight) and a foghorn sounded throughout the night. I ended up sleeping in the passenger seat of the car holding Julia on my lap and was freezing because I couldn’t get my sleeping bag comfortable.

In 2021, we stayed in the tent area, but our site was small and had lots of prickly plants that were tough to keep the kid away from. The fog horn was back, as were late night noisy campers.

So would I stay again? The tidepools are 100% what they’re cracked up to be (I even saw an octopus on our 2021 trip). The space is huge and the species are diverse. The campground also has a playground and some old forts to hike to and is fairly close to Port Angeles. I might wait till the kids are a little older and can stay up later while the rest of the campground is making noise.

Heading to the tidepools at Salt Creek Recreation Area

Fort Worden State Park (Port Townsend)

Season stayed: Summer 2018
Site: 79
Drive time from Seattle: 2 hours
Would we stay again?: Yes, although some amenities are less fun during COVID (like restaurant proximity)
General thoughts: We stayed in the forest campground (vs. the beach campground) to get shade and more privacy. It’s still within walking distance to restaurants and the beach. We had outdoor happy hour with family at Taps at the Guardhouse and then headed to the beach to play (the Port Townsend Marine Center is at the end of the pier). Since we only had one kid who was happy to ride in the carrier, we hiked the 6 miles round trip to Glass Beach with a picnic and enjoyed the tidepools. Families who want 4 walls can also rent former officers’ quarters (although they seem expensive for the quality) — we saw a wedding party during our visit and it seems like a great way to have the bridal party stay near each other. See blog post here for more details.

Hunting for sea glass and tidepool creatures at Glass Beach near Fort Worden

Fort Flagler State Park (Marrowstone Island)

Season stayed: Memorial Day 2021
Site: 19 (upper campground)
Drive time from Seattle: 2.5 hours
Would we stay again?: Yes
General thoughts: We had a fairly large spot with room for hammocks and an easy walk to water (slightly longer to the restroom). The upper campground loop has some hills, but was still fun for the kids to ride their bikes and we had plenty of shade. The lower campground has much less shade, but it’s closer to the playground. There’s also a cute little general store near the playground that sells coffee, soft serve ice cream and some essentials (although they opened at 10 a.m. when we stayed, so it’s more like a second-cup-of-coffee stop). Little J and I hiked the bluff trail between old fort buildings and it’s really beautiful and not challenging, plus the campground is pretty convenient to Finnriver Cidery, Chimacum and Port Townsend.

Peeking out of a building along the Fort Flagler State Park Bluff Trail

Dosewallips State Park (Hood Canal)

Season stayed: Fall 2017, Fall 2019, Fall 2020
Site: C6, C8, C9 (Cabins)
Drive time from Seattle: 2 hours
Would we stay again?: Yes (as evidenced by the repeat stays)
General thoughts: This is our favorite fall camping spot! It gets chilly and weather is unpredictable, so we book a cabin and occasionally get takeout (or dine-in, pre-COVID) at the Halfway House in nearby Brinnon. We always see salmon spawning and the resident herd of elk, plus we saw a large family of eagles on our last trip. There’s a short trail down to the water and a lookout tower, plus a few more hikes in the park and more nearby. We typically take a ferry and drive through Port Gamble on the way there and then drive through Olympia and stop at Billy Q. Nisqually Wildlife Refuge on the way back. Blog post here for more details. You could also continue down the peninsula to Long Beach, similar to our route as described here.

Dosewallips State Park – a fall family favorite since 2017

Penrose Point State Park (between Olympia and Bremerton)

Season stayed: Summer 2017
Site: 75
Drive time from Seattle: 1.5 hours
Would we stay again?: Yes
General thoughts: This campground was Julia’s first camping trip! We wanted something fairly close to home (about 1-1.5 hours from North Seattle) so we could bail if needed, and also a spot we could use bring our newly acquired kayak. The campsites aren’t super private, but the park is a real gem. There’s a calm, shallow space in Mayo Cove where we could spot sand dollars on the sea floor (we could have walked at hip depth or less at most points). When Julia woke up early, we walked to the beach on the other side of the cove (where 158th Ave SW dead ends into the water) and watched clams shoot water into the sky like a PNW version of the Bellagio fountains. Gig Harbor makes a great stop on the return trip to Seattle. I’ve found reservations easier to get at this park than some others.

Baby’s first camping trip – Penrose Point State Park

Grayland Beach State Park (Ocean Shores/Long Beach)

Season stayed: Summer 2014, Summer 2021
Site: 113, Y120
Drive time from Seattle: 2.5 hours
Would we stay again?: Yes
General thoughts: We stayed here pre-kids in a walk-in site. We booked on the late side because my sister-in-law invited my parents-in-law and us to join them . The walk-in site was actually pretty private and large (a bicyclist ended up joining us because there were no first-come, first-served spots available). My sister-in-law and brother-in-law stayed in a yurt with their kids and we returned to stay in a yurt this summer. There are two main sections of the campground – one is closer to the beach but much more open and the other is more forested and further from the beach, so you have to think about what’s important to you. You can drive on the beach here, which is pretty cool. We ate breakfast at the Hearty Galley in Westport, which has a fun pirate ship outside that the kids loved climbing on. They’re temporarily closed due to COVID, but check back for future trips! Also check out the Westport Winery for a Mermaid Museum and fun gardens to walk through.


Cabin Camping with Kids: Deception Pass State Park

Many of our friends swear by Deception Pass State Park, but I somehow never managed to make a reservation in time for previous summers. When WA State Parks re-opened “roofed accommodations” this year, I immediately hopped onto the reservation site to see if any cabins were available and snagged aspot for a couple of nights. It ended up being just me and the kids because Peter was still recovering from a collapsed lung, so I made it as easy as possible for myself. I packed a lot of “no cook” meals (yogurt, banana zucchini bread, cut vegetables and fruit, cheese, etc) and planned to do take-out for dinner. That strategy ended up working out really well, and I would definitely do another easy solo trip like this, although I’m not sure I’m up to tent camping by myself with young kids yet.


Where: Deception Pass State Park; about 2 hours from Seattle through Anacortes, or between 1.5-3 hrs on the ferry.
When: Early August 2020
Site #: C4, Quarry Pond Campground

Beach and Trail Access

We enjoyed visiting Rosario Head (the north side of the park) – the hike could be up to 1.5 mi round trip if you started in the Bowman Bay area, but we parked by Rosario Beach and the loop around the viewpoint was quite short and easy for little legs. You also get to view a beautiful Samish tribe story pole depicting Ko Kwal Al-Woot, also known as the Maiden of Deception Pass. The story boards are quite weather worn, so you can read the story here.

Rosario Beach has some small, but lovely tidepools just past the picnic area. There is a rope trail to follow so that people’s feet don’t trample the sea creatures. Small anemones abound, but peer under the taller rocky outcroppings for sea stars, red sea cucumbers, and larger anemones.

Exploring tidepools at Rosario Beach
Sea stars, red sea cucumbers and anemones all on one rock!

We also really liked a section of Hoypus Point (right up the road from the Quarry Pond Campground). I believe there are multiple access points, but for a paved trail that’s great for views of the Deception Pass Bridge and kids on bikes/in jogging strollers, we parked near the Cornet Bay Boat Ramp and Julia rode her bike until she got tired. It wasn’t highly trafficked and the ground was flat, so it was a perfect spot to go with little ones.

Cruising down the Hoypus Point trail on her bike
View of Deception Pass bridge from the Hoypus Point trail

Proximity to Amenities

Like many of the state parks on Whidbey Island, you can get to grocery stores, restaurants and coffee shops within 20-30 minutes. For this kind of easy camping trip, I really appreciated letting the kids play as long as possible before tearing them away for dinner.

On the first night, we got take-out pizza from our favorite Coupeville spot, the Oystercatcher. There are some picnic tables right by the wharf and we got to have a waterfront view while eating our fennel salami pizza and pimento cheese with grilled bread. We grabbed ice cream from Kapaw’s Iskreme just before they closed and enjoyed a leisurely walk on the wharf before heading back to the cabin.

Enjoying a picnic from Oystercatcher in Coupeville
Racing on the Coupeville Wharf

For night two, we ate at the Shrimp Shack just north of Deception Pass. I felt a little less comfortable there in light of the COVID pandemic – there wasn’t a picnic area nearby, so we ate at the outdoor tables and I wasn’t impressed with the mask wearing of the employees or fellow customers (not covering noses, etc) and the handwashing station wasn’t working. They were cleaning tables regularly with bleach, however, but I rushed the kids through dinner with the promise of watermelon back at the campsite.

Campground Quality and Layout

Check-in was a comedy of errors – there was no information other than “Register at the kiosk” in my confirmation e-mails, so we looked at the Quarry Pond kiosk, which only had fee envelopes for last minute camping. It turned out our cabin had a numerical key pad for access, but the key code wasn’t in my e-mail or posted on the door clip. I called reservations, but they couldn’t help other than to tell me to check those spots. We went back to the main park entrance and waited in a long line of cars that were hoping to catch sunset at the park and finally got a keycode. The process took about an hour and the kids were troopers, but it was definitely a reminder that our parks are underfunded and overworked.

The cabin itself was spotless and smelled very freshly cleaned. We’ve stayed in a lot of state park cabins and this one seemed newer (i.e., quiet mini split for heat/AC and the aforementioned key pad). The site was pretty small and there was barely enough space to park our Outback, but since we weren’t planning on building a fire, there was enough space for the kids and the restroom was within close walking distance. Julia enjoyed riding her bike down the hill in front of the site and could do a loop around our section without going out of sight for long.

Gently sloping hill in front of our cabin – perfect for bike riding

Regarding accessibility – while our cabin had a few stairs to get in, there was a handicap accessible cabin up the road that had a ramp.

The campground layout wasn’t ideal – the road winds through all the campsites before the cabins at the very end. I really prefer the loops that adjoin a main road so you can get to your site quickly (like Dosewallips State Park). From what I saw, there was only one bathroom, so you could have to walk quite a ways to access it depending on your site location. I did like the cute little namesake pond – there were some benches nearby where we could sit and a few trees to temporarily hang our hammock since our site was so small.

Pretty little waterfront area at Quarry Pond Campground

One critique we had heard from others was that the naval jet flyovers from Oak Harbor can be loud and extended. We saw a couple of jets while we were at the beach, but never heard anything long and it was in the middle of the day, so it didn’t bother our sleep.


I loved the relative ease of enjoying the variety Deception Pass had to offer – tidepools/beach, trails, and access to other parks on Whidbey Island within a short drive. Staying in a cabin and leveraging restaurants allowed us an easy getaway since I could avoid cooking, so it felt more doable as a solo parent than a tent camping trip.

I would probably take the northern route onto Whidbey Island for this trip. We arrived on a Sunday and attempted the ferry, but the line was so long that we would likely have waited 1.5-2 hours just to board, with another 45 minutes of driving after the ferry ride. I ended up turning around and driving the “long” way around because it felt more reliable since the park is at the northern part of the island. There was some traffic going over the Deception Pass bridge, but it gave us a chance to admire the view, so I can’t complain.

We stayed for two nights and never even entered the main part of the park, so I would love to come back and explore some more. There are also some slightly larger cabins that I’d like to try, perhaps for a fall/early spring escape before our Pacific Northwest weather warms up.

Camping With Kids: Camano Island State Park

We booked one of the few remaining campsites at Camano Island State Park when it became clear that Summer 2020 was not going to look normal. A visit to nearby Cama Beach State Park the year before (where there is a Center for Wooden Boats and a number of “neighborly,” but beach side cabins) made this a clear contender because we wouldn’t need to rely on a ferry or drive long distances, but would still have the beach nearby.


Where: Camano Island State Park, about 75 minutes from North Seattle
When: Mid-July 2020
Site #: 62


Distance from Seattle/Amenities

I’m not a backwoodsy camper and James doesn’t particularly love long car rides/his car seat, so campgrounds that aren’t too far from Seattle and have amenities nearby work better for our family. The drive is less than 90 minutes from where we live in North Seattle and no ferries are needed, so it’s a perfect social distancing spot that I would even consider for a day trip. Elger Bay Grocery & Gifts is a couple of miles away and sells gas, basic groceries, some ice cream by the scoop and simple food like pizza, burgers, etc. A bit further from the park (good for a stop on the way home) is Camano Scoopz in the Camano Commons marketplace. We loved the huge portions of their maple walnut and chocolate ice creams.

Beach Access

There are two beaches in this state park – South Beach (nearer to the campgrounds) and North Beach (nearer to the park entrance).

South Beach has the boat launch, smaller rocks/pebbles on the beach, a longer shoreline, bigger parking lot and modernized restrooms (single stall, aerated, etc). There are also a number of picnic tables that are distanced from each other right next to the beach. This is where I would go for kids to play or launch a kayak. We stayed Monday-Wednesday so it wasn’t crowded, but I could see it feeling that way on a weekend.

Picnic tables right next to South Beach

North Beach is (or was during our stay) considerably quieter with a shaded lawn area for picnic tables near the parking lot. You have to descend some long-ish stairs to get to the beach and it’s rockier than South Beach, so you wouldn’t want to launch a kayak here or bring your elderly grandmother, but you will have fewer people around to compete with for space.

Playing on the rocky North Beach

Wildlife Viewing

On our first day, we saw a pair of bald eagles perched atop beach-side trees watching for prey. The second day, a harbor seal happily followed us around on our kayak (from about a 50-75 foot distance, but still fun) and a bald eagle flew about 20 feet directly over us. That same seal was out the following morning (we generally had better luck with seal sightings before noon) and huge purple jellyfish were beached where we could examine their tentacles and interesting frilly insides from a couple of feet away. Bunnies and lots of birds also kept us company.

One of several large (about 3-4 ft diameter) beached jellyfish

Kid-Friendly Trails

James is not a great sleeper at home, let alone when camping. We often find ourselves needing a short hike to get him to nap, but it’s nice when the other parent can take Julia off for some quality time (ahem, keep her noise away from the sleeping toddler).

The Marsh Trail/South Rim Trail combo was excellent for this – it’s only about a mile from South Beach to North Beach, but it follows the bluff and gives beautiful peekaboo views of the water and the Olympics (watch for harbor seals in the water!). Other than the hike up to the bluff from the beach, the trail is pretty flat and has several benches you can pause on. You can tack on more mileage by exploring various offshoots. You could normally use the trail to access South Beach via a short hike from the lower loop campground, but this section was inexplicably closed while we were there so we had to hike along the road.

For another short hike (0.5 mi loop), visit the Al Emerson Trail. It’s a flat loop with about 20 or so signs along the way that tell you about different trees and bushes you might see. It was part of my nap hike with James, but I would love to take Julia back to sample the huckleberries and blackberries along the trail and learn about the different trees.


Campsite Size and Layout

All campsites are not created equal. Unlike some campgrounds that have a main road with small loop offshoots, both the upper and lower campgrounds have long windy roads that loop around themselves. In practical terms, this means you have to drive through most of the campground to get in/out (more traffic) and some campsites have the road on two sides.

Many sites (like ours; site 62) are quite small without trees and are surrounded by blackberry bushes, which limits shade and privacy as well as the ease with which young kids can comfortably play in the campsite. Also, the size of the campsite directly impacts how close you have to sit to your campfire. The combination of close quarters and variable breeze direction meant that our campfire smoke was pretty much in our faces the whole time. That said, we did like that we were at the end of a one-way road where it intersected with another one, so we could watch for oncoming cars fairly easily and get the kids out of the way. For next year, I’ll look into sites with water views in the lower campground so that we can relax and check out the mountains when the kids go to bed.

We might have had better luck getting a campsite, but this was a trip I only booked a month or two in advance during a pandemic, so I felt lucky to grab anything even on a weekday.

Site 62 (corner) – small and no meaningful shade, but a great obstacle course spot!


With a walkable beach, easy trails, nearby stores in case of forgotten staples, and a relatively short drive from Seattle, this will definitely be a repeat stop for our family next year. I’m also really glad we brought the kayak – during this weird time where folks being too close makes me anxious, so it was a wonderful way to experience nature with guaranteed social distancing.

Camping With Kids: Beckler River

Beckler River Campground in the Stevens Pass area is one of my brother-in-law’s favorite spots, and we had planned a trip to overlap a night with the back in December when we were blissfully unaware that a pandemic was brewing.

As the state parks in Washington started to open up for camping, I eagerly checked the US Forest Service website (which reflects the lack of funding for natural resources in America, just saying) almost daily to see if we’d be able to keep our first tent camping reservation of 2020. My spreadsheets of packing lists and meal planning were ready, and 3 days beforehand, we got the green light.

This was James’ first tent camping trip and I had really been looking forward to it because camping is going to be our only real opportunity to travel for the foreseeable future. Traveling with kids is always hard, but often rewarding, and this trip was an indicator that camping amplifies the “kid factor.”



This campground is only about 90 minute drive or less from Seattle down a pretty easy stretch of Highway 2, but it also gets you closer to hikes that might be tough for just a day trip with small children who hate the car.

En route, you pass Wallace Falls State Park in the Gold Bar area. We used this as a stopping point when James wouldn’t nap in the car – it took us a little less than 2 hours to do the 3.6 miles round trip to Lower Falls with Julia, with James napping for half of that. It’s a lovely hike, but the sunny weather brought out the crowds. People mostly distanced, but bring your mask and hand sanitizer because there were a couple of large groups ignoring all the rules.

Hiking to Lower Wallace Falls

Past the campground, we love the Wellington Ghost Town trail (about 35 minutes east of the campground; restrooms temporarily closed so prepare accordingly). The backstory is sad – in the early 20th century, two trains were stuck in the snow-covered pass when an avalanche pushed them down into a gulch, killing 96 people. However, the hike is really unique and has signs posted along the way so you can read about the history. It’s amazing to think about how much more difficult and dangerous relatively short trips were not that long ago. You also get to walk through the snow shed that was designed to help protect against avalanches, but wasn’t always used because of the troublesome coal exhaust. When we went, melting snow made beautiful waterfalls over the shed roof and elsewhere on the trail. At the time, there were lots of cut logs in the parking lot that made a great obstacle course.

Wellington Ghost Town Trail
Climbing a natural obstacle course by the Wellington Ghost Town trail

Campsite Quality

Most sites in the relatively small campground had tent pads that were well set back from the road and groomed (slightly raised and well-defined with a clear dirt area). The level of privacy was pretty good and many of the sites were quite large, giving kids room to run around relatively safely. Because the campground is smaller with low traffic, the main loop was also a great place for kids to ride their bikes. It made for some nice socially distant encouragement between the more experienced riders and Julia, who had just learned how to start herself on this trip.

Easy loop for bike-riding

Camp Host

We’ve camped some places and never seen the camp hosts, but the camp host here was a hardworking woman who provided lots of information. I saw her cleaning the pit toilets multiple times daily in a face mask with her electric bike and trailer. That’s tough in the best of times, but without running water (see below), it’s even harder.



One of the more frustrating aspects of this trip was the unexpected lack of running water. The website for the campground says drinking water is provided and there was no alert on the website or in any of the e-mails I received indicating otherwise. However, there’s only one water pump in the campground and we found out upon arrival that apparently someone broke it last season and it hasn’t been fixed yet (another example of poor parks funding I”m sure). Luckily, there’s a small gas station in nearby Skykomish that sells large containers of water (we went through about 2.5 gallons from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning for reference), but with a pandemic making it extra important to wash things, we were grateful for our large pump bottle of hand sanitizer and container of baby wipes, and the fact that we weren’t staying too long.

Don’t drink too much of that water, kid. It’s in short supply!


Wait, wasn’t this a pro? Yes, mostly. When we chatted with the camp host on arrival, she very sweetly asked if we were “familiar with the area” and then proceeded to tell us that the people who own the private land across the river from the campground love to shoot and there’s nothing the Forest Service can do about it. From about 4-6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, we got to listen to the sweet, sweet melody of random bursts of gunfire (not just hunting rifles, also what sounded like semi-automatic weapons). It was disturbing and upset our 4 year old. We were grateful they weren’t night owls, but ugh.

Other Factors

The campground has pit toilets and no other facilities. As mentioned above, they were quite clean for what they are. I would attribute this largely to the camp host’s diligent cleaning and also to everyone doing their part to limit the spread of COVID by leaving the doors open to promote airflow (this request, but not the lack of water, was mentioned in the pre-arrival e-mail).

My in-laws used to love this campground because it was right on the river and the kids loved to play on a little beach and throw rocks in the water. However, the camp host told us that the river was a) extra high for the year and b) had changed course over the winter so that it came right up to the banks. So, if you’re looking to enjoy more than the sound of the river (which is relaxing when not interrupted by bullets), you’ll have to drive up the road to somewhere with easier access, or perhaps wait until later in the season when the water starts to dry up.

Playing by the river in Index


The kids really seemed to love camping – playing in the dirt, going on hikes, riding a bike and enjoying relaxed camping rules (like homemade marshmallows and extra snacks). James was not a good sleeper, so that colors my overall view of the trip a bit. He woke up off and on throughout the night, but that kept me from ever really going back to sleep between midnight and when he was up for the day between 4:45 and 5:30 a.m.

Would I camp here again? Maybe. I might call the Skykomish Ranger Station in non-pandemic times to check on the status of running water, and perhaps stay at Money Creek Campground up the road if it’s not adjacent to neighbors who enjoy happy hour shooting sessions (seriously, that was tough for this city slicker).

Camping Meals – Family Favorites

Meal time in our household is usually an exercise in advance planning, but particularly when camping. Peter has a number of food allergies (corn, soy, sesame, peanuts, etc) that make it hard to buy convenience foods like dehydrated meals, “just-add X” meals, and pre-made mixes. While it’s an added challenge, it does mean that we tend to eat some really delicious dishes so I don’t get too upset about it.

Here are some of our favorites, organized by meal type. Most of them can be made gluten or dairy free as well.


Instant oatmeal with maple syrup and dried fruit – this is our most frequent camping breakfast because it’s easy and shelf stable. We add raisins, Trader Joe’s freeze-dried berries, or chopped dried apricots (and sometimes some nuts) and bring a small plastic squeeze bottle of maple syrup. It gets a little messy with the kids, but we keep baby wipes nearby for easy clean-up.

Pre-made french toast – bringing uncooked whole eggs along is challenging, so I like making french toast at home, freezing it in slices, and reheating it in a frying pan on our camp stove. Paired with some fruit and maple syrup, it’s a great way to feel like you made a fancy breakfast.

Breakfast burritos – pre-scrambled eggs, pre-cooked sausage and some chopped bell pepper or shredded spinach are much easier to eat in a tortilla (salsa optional). We don’t make this is as often because James has an egg allergy, but I love the high-protein boost for days of big hikes.

Banana pancakes – Mash two bananas together with a pre-scrambled egg (and possibly some oats) and you’ve got easy banana pancakes that are gluten free as well.


Lunch is my least favorite camping meal – we want to be out on adventures instead of cooking, but don’t necessarily want to eat sandwiches for every meal.

Pasta salad – our family likes a orzo salad (I’ve also made it with rotini) that includes feta, cherry tomatoes, black olives, basil or mint, red onion (pour the hot pasta over chopped onion to lightly soften it), olive oil and lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. I dress it very lightly if we’re going to eat it away from the campsite.

Quesadillas/Grilled cheese – I would make these with some spinach in the morning and pack them up for a hike. We usually have cherry tomatoes on the side since salsa can get messy and the kids don’t usually like it.

Antipasto – okay, I’m just using this as a fancy term for bread, cheese and sliced veggies. Our family usually brings some assortment of olives, prosciutto/salami, carrots, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, a hard cheese and bread (I made focaccia and brought it on a recent hiking trip and it was so good!).


My kids get plenty of pouches, goldfish and raisins on camping trips. Non-packaged snacks require the most pre-work, but I usually make one or more of the following to bring along and portion out:

Toasted Garbanzo Beans – toss with olive oil and spices (I like cumin and coriander, or a little chickpea miso with ginger) and roast until crispy (about 25-30 minutes).

Muffins – combinations like zucchini/cranberry, carrot/date, banana/carrot/lentil, blueberry/almond meal or morning glory are usually winners for us. I love anything from the blog Sally’s Baking Addiction.

Granola Bars – I don’t have a fancy recipe for these, although I got my inspiration from the Cotter Crunch blog and used it the first couple of times for approximate proportions. I combine dried fruit like apricots or dates with nuts (I love pistachios and pumpkin seeds), oats, flax seeds, maple syrup, coconut oil and spices (cinnamon, ginger and cardamom work well) and a little salt in a food processor. Sometimes some hot water is needed to help bind the ingredients together. Press the mixture into a wax paper lined pan (we use an 8×8 pan for thicker bars), drizzle melted dark chocolate over the top and chill in the fridge before cutting into bars. These are reasonably crumbly, but really delicious.


Dinner is my favorite camping meal – we’ve usually hiked or kayaked all day to work up an appetite and we have some time to let the kids explore the campsite while we work on dinner and sip some wine or beer.

Bacon-wrapped dates (appetizer) – this feels like “glamping” without the king size bed. Before our trip, I wrap dates in a half piece of bacon each and hold them in place with toothpicks. At the campsite, we roast them over the fire on a marshmallow stick and enjoy a tasty treat while dinner is baking in the coals (they’re also sweet enough for dessert). These could definitely be a main dish, maybe with a veggie foil packet and some cous cous.

Fajitas – we love fajitas, particularly as an option if rain is possible, or if the campsite has a grill for the meat. I marinate the meat (we prefer steak since corn/soy free chicken is hard to find) in lime juice, olive oil, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper mixed in a ziploc bag and bring it in our cooler for a relatively mess free option. We usually pre-chop the veggies and cook them (and the meat if needed) in a cast iron pan on our camp stove for even heating and a nice char. Tortillas can be quickly heated in the pan while the meat rests.

Risotto – sound like a weird choice for camping? I thought so at first, but we went camping during a burn ban in Washington and I wanted a one pot meal I could make on our camp stove. Boxed vegetable stock, arborio rice, frozen peas (also help to keep the cooler cold and it doesn’t matter if they defrost) and pre-grated parmesan make this a pretty easy dish.

Dumplings with cut veggies – I make the dumplings at home (ground pork and radicchio or mixed veggies are good fillings) and freeze them to be pan fried on the camp stove. I serve them with some sliced veggies and a little premixed dipping sauce (coconut aminos and rice vinegar).

Baked potato bar – The kids aren’t currently fans of russet potatoes, but they love sweet potatoes, so we wrap them in foil and serving them with sides of butter, cheese and some frozen broccoli that we cook on the stove (or wrap it in foil too and make it roasted broccoli).

Foil meals – A camping classic. I usually use salmon as the protein because it seems to cook at about the same rate as the vegetables (I like mine cooked through). The key to the best foil meal is to include some water-heavy vegetables like tomatoes, zucchini, onions and mushrooms, topped with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and some thyme or oregano. Adding some small potatoes makes them more filling. I usually pre-wrap the packets before we leave so they’re all ready to pop on the fire on our first night.

Pumpkin chili– I pre-make vegetarian chili with a can of pumpkin puree, a mix of beans, diced tomatoes, garlic, onion, bell pepper and spices and freeze it to be reheated at the campsite. Because it’s vegetarian and can be frozen, it’s a good option for later in a trip. You could also bring the ingredients along, but I prefer pre-mixing for ease.

Grilled meat with spinach rice – I pre-make the spinach rice ahead of time. I blend about 8 oz of fresh spinach with some cilantro, onions, garlic, lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and add it to vegetable stock in which I cook rice. The rice can be frozen or just refrigerated and reheated to serve with meat or shrimp that we grill on the campfire.

Moroccan skewers – while we mostly make these vegetarian to serve alongside something else (like hot dogs or shrimp, or even toasted cashews and pitas), we love prepping veggies in this flavorful Moroccan-style marinade from the blog Natasha’s Kitchen (not me!).

Foil-wrapped burritos – somewhat similar to a foil packet meal, but this one is a little easier to set up as a build-your-own bar. We pre-cook veggies (peppers, onions, broccoli/spinach, chopped tomatoes) and meat or beans and shred cheese. Then, everyone can add their desired toppings to a tortilla and wrap it up in foil to pop in the fire. There’s minimal risk of undercooking since you’re just warming up pre-cooked items and melting cheese.


We really only make s’mores or sometimes a dutch oven pineapple upside down cake (my last attempt at chocolate cake in orange peel failed miserably). This is an area where I could really use tips, but often the kids have to go to bed pretty soon after dinner and clean-up, so we just skip dessert at times.

Roasting marshmallows at Moran State Park

What are your favorite camping meals? Do you do most of the prep ahead of time, or make things at camp?