Travelogue: Dosewallips and Long Beach

Every fall, we head to Dosewallips State Park to catch the salmon spawning and elk grazing in the meadows from the comfort of a cabin (more on previous years’ trips here). This year, we also added on a stay in Long Beach to replace a Washington coast getaway that we had to cancel earlier this year due to the pandemic.

This year a herd of elk made themselves right at home next to our cabin

I loved the completely different environments — forest and wildlife at Dosewallips and then a moody beach (with a whole day of sunshine for our e-bike rental) in Long Beach.

Hiking at Murhut Falls

We had cooking facilities in both spots (our camp stove at the cabin and a small but workable kitchen at Boardwalk Cottages), but picked up a take-out lunch in town and a few ice cream treats.

It was so nice to be able to take advantage of the outdoor activities available in both places – hiking, biking, beach time and cranberry picking kept us busy but socially distant from other folks.

Riding e-bikes on the Long Beach Discovery Trail
Cranberry picking at Cranguyma Farms

For more about our trip, check out my new article in Seattle’s Child.


Washington Family Camping List – 2020

With the current coronavirus pandemic going on, it seems like everything we look forward to over is getting cancelled: vacations, summer camp, and most of the activities I track in my “Seattle Summer Bucket List” Google Sheet (I stopped editing it for this year because it got depressing). We are currently in the fortunate position of being an employed household with food and childcare (aka me), but these major departures from the norm without an end in sight are still challenging. It motivated me to step up our camping game for the summer. I had already scheduled some trips back in December when they started to open up, but I’ve sprinkled in a few more to give us changes in scenery.

Here’s our camping list for the summer with what I’m most looking forward to about it, organized by month. An asterisk * denotes a spot that’s new for us.


Grayland Beach State Park – we haven’t been to this state park since before we had kids, but I have fond memories of camping here with my in-laws and niece and nephew, driving out onto the beach, and eating at a cool restaurant nearby with a pirate ship in front. We’re staying in a yurt since it’s still early in the season.

Edit: this trip ended up cancelled due to COVID-19 (at the time, all roofed accommodations were closed)

Beckler River Campground* – this is a favorite campground of my brother-in-law and sister-in-law and we’re supposed to overlap with them. I’m excited to try a new spot with water nearby for the kids to throw rocks and dip their toes. The Wellington Ghost Town Trail and the Great Northern Cascade Railway mini trains are nearby (although unfortunately I don’t think the trains will be open for this trip).

Edit: see blog post here for trip report


Camano Island State Park* – we were supposed to be finally be in Banff in the summer this week, but I don’t think we’ll get to stay, so I booked a short mid-week stay at Camano Island. We’ve been to the Cama Beach State Park before for the Center for Wooden Boats activities and the cabins there looked fun, but very close together, so the campground here looked like a better choice for social distancing. I’ve been trying to book places near water so that we can try to take our kayak out with the kids, or spend time on the beach digging and splashing.

Edit: see blog post here for trip report

Penrose Point State Park – Penrose Point was Julia’s first camping trip at 17 months, and James will be just slightly younger. It’s not as challenging to get reservations there and it’s fairly close to Seattle. On our last trip, we loved the rocky beach as a jumping off point for our kayak, and we could see sand dollars in the shallow water. Julia and I also got up early and walked down to a different part of the beach to see clams squirting like the Bellagio fountain in Vegas. The route back to Seattle can easily go through Gig Harbor, which is a great place to kayak (we saw a couple of harbor seals on our last trip).

Edit: cancelled due to an unexpected (non-COVID!) hospital stay for Peter

Exploring the tree roots at Penrose Point State Park


Deception Pass* – we added this cabin camping bonus trip on when roofed accommodations opened back up at the state parks. I just looked for anything available in August and booked a Sunday-Tuesday stay in a cabin.

Edit: see blog post here for trip report

Ohanapecosh (Mt. Rainier)* – August tends to be wildfire season in Seattle, so camping is sometimes iffy. A couple of years ago, however, we were able to camp and have a little fire at the Cougar Rock campground (there was a state burn ban, but campfires were allowed in the National Parks and it was a cold and misty night) and it was far enough away from the smoke to be relaxing. I’m looking forward to hiking in wildflowers and seeing the beautiful old growth trees on the Grove of the Patriarchs trail.

Edit: cancelled due to recovery time for Peter’s hospital stay (non-COVID)

Grove of the Patriarchs Trail in Mt. Rainier National Park


Salt Creek Recreation Area – the tidepools here are phenomenal, and there’s a nice playground (for when we can use playgrounds again… #thankscovid) but you have to be careful about reserving. We camped here a couple of years ago and even 5 months out, I could only get an RV site for our tent camp set-up. This meant that we were sandwiched between loud groups in RVs with no privacy or space and fog horns sounding at regular intervals through the night (also, I was about 2 months pregnant and nauseous). I was better about setting my reminder this year, but even on the day reservations opened (January 1), I had trouble finding a summer weekend in the tent camping area. I’m excited to try this spot out again because we saw so many different kinds of amazing tidal creatures.

Note: don’t make my mistake the first time we went here and accidentally reserve at Saltwater State Park (close, but not quite). It meant I had to cancel and rebook, losing all my fee payments in the process.

On our way to the tidepools at Salt Creek Recreation Area

Kalaloch Lodge* – Okay, this isn’t exactly camping (we’re staying in a cabin that has a kitchenette), but since we’ll already be half way out onto the Olympic Peninsula, we decided to reschedule our March trip and spend a couple of days on the far west part of the peninsula where we can hopefully see Ruby Beach and the Hoh Rainforest.


Dosewallips State Park – this is our last fall without a school-aged child (sobbing over here), so I’m excited to visit our October standard. We love this time of year at this particular state park. We can see elk in the meadow, fall leaf colors, salmon spawn in the creek, and herons and other birds soar over the wetlands near the beach. I wrote more about our love of this park here.

Headed to the lookout tower at Dosewallips State Park


I’m still really disappointed about all the plans that have been cancelled, but I’m trying to look at the positives – we’ll have more outdoor time as a family exploring nature in some of our old favorite spots, and some new spots that we might not otherwise have visited. Any favorites we should add to our list for next year?

Cabin Camping at Dosewallips State Park

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!

Dashing through the leaves by the Port Gamble playground – October 2019

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.

Looking for tiny frogs at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge – October 2019


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.

Testing out the top bunk in the cabins
Pre-dinner entertainment at our cabin site – a picnic blanket and beach ball were gold!

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.

Exploring the beautiful (but short!) wooded trails in Dosewallips – October 2017

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.

Plenty of stumps and logs to climb on the way to the beach
The lookout tower is a big hit with kids and offers gorgeous views

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).

A herd of elk grazing in the meadow on our early walk to the beach
Sunrise snack near the waterfront
A fall sunrise at Dosewallips is my personal version of paradise


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.

2018 Camping Reservation Time!

We’ve lived in Seattle for over 4 years now and have been admittedly really terrible at taking advantage of the rich camping resources in the Pacific Northwest. I love being organized, but most of my organizational skills (read: energy) go into planning our one major international vacation per year, which has historically left little advance planning time for camping. Combine that with the fact that campgrounds in our area usually book up 6 months in advance and we usually end up sticking around town or taking day trips rather than staying overnight. I also found it overwhelming to think about camping with a baby when Julia was little (all the extra stuff, the distance from a large store to acquire anything we’d missed, etc). We finally made it out with her late summer/early fall last year and she had so much fun. I resolved to do better this year – making myself a list in October/November, setting a calendar reminder, and then booking a few extra spots as they opened. All of the campgrounds for this year are new to us, but I’ll include the ones we enjoyed last year, too.

All of the campgrounds for this year are new to us, but I’ll include the ones we enjoyed last year, too.

2018 Camping List

Moran State Park

We’ve only been to the San Juans once while we’ve lived here. I kept reading about how beautiful the campgrounds are, but it seemed like a waste to just do 1 night after all the effort to get there, so I booked a 3 day weekend and set yet another calendar reminder to pre-book our ferry reservations. We’re tentatively planning to bring our kayak on this trip, since our last San Juan visit included a beautiful short kayak trip.

Fort Worden State Park

Peter’s family had a reunion here several years ago and everyone raved about staying near Port Townsend. We have loved our day trips to the area and I’m looking forward to staying near the beach (we’re in the Upper Forest Campground, though, because I desperately need shade when possible), checking out the fort and the lighthouse, and probably skipping the camp stove in favor of eating out with the money we’ll be saving by camping instead of staying in a hotel. Maybe we’ll check out the Marine Science Center, too.

Sequim Bay State Park

A couple of summers ago, we were lucky enough to have friends who rented a house a block from the beach in Sequim and invited us to join them for a night. We loved the area and I’m really looking forward to going back for a camping trip. This will be another opportunity to strap the kayak to the Subaru since there’s supposed to be a great calm bay. I would also love to check out the lavender fields nearby.

Salt Creek Recreation Area

I read about the tidepools at this spot on the Peninsula and got so excited about taking Julia, especially since she’ll be big enough to actually pet the anenomes gently (I’m thinking of the Finding Dory scene with the touch pool with the crazy kids hands grabbing the poor animals, so we’ll be practicing our gentle touching). I accidentally booked us at Saltwater State Park instead, so I ended up cancelling and rebooking, but was a little late in the game and there weren’t many spots left. I looked up AirBnBs in the area, but even though our relatively last minute (because 4 months out is last minute here) campsite will basically be a square of grass next to a bunch of RVs, it will still be less significantly less expensive than staying indoors and we’ll be close to the tidepools. For one night, I think I’ll be able to live without the giant outdoors that I love about camping.

Beaver Bay Campground

A friend on Facebook posted about these amazing looking Ape Caves in the Mt. St. Helens area and when I kept looking in the vicinity, there’s also a swinging bridge and a boardwalk on the Trail of Two Forests nearby (Julia loves running down a good boardwalk). That sounded like too good of an opportunity to pass up, so I found a campground about a 15 minute drive away and booked two nights. We’ve never been to Mt. St. Helens because a 3 hour drive each way seems like too much for a day trip, so it will be great to finally get to explore a bit.

Cougar Rock Campground

We did a (long) day trip down to Mt. Rainier National park last year with my parents to hike the Bench and Snow Lake trail and it was so beautiful with all the wildflowers and mix of open and shady trail areas. I can’t wait to go back in late August to try some new trails and be able to stay overnight so we can get in some extra hiking through the meadows.

2017 Camping List

Penrose Point State Park

We stayed here in late August last year with family (we were in site 75) and had a great time. We brought our kayak and went out in the very calm water where we could actually reach down and touch the sand dollars from the boat. The campsite was a good size and flat so Julia and the cousins could chase each other while the adults enjoyed a beer. We also loved stopping in Gig Harbor on our way home to kayak, where we saw starfish and several harbor seals.

Dosewallips State Park

We came in mid-October and were lucky enough to be here on one of the few sunny weekends that month (we also stopped in Port Gamble on our way over for lunch and loved exploring the town). We stayed in a cabin and were very grateful for the heat and the fact that we didn’t have to bring and pitch a tent, particularly because this area is very popular with the local elk who love to leave their droppings everywhere (no joke, I had to bring a flashlight everywhere at night to avoid stepping in them). It was a really magical weekend – we saw the end of the salmon life cycle in the Dosewallips River and walked out to the shoreline at the end of the afternoon to play in the dirt and on the cool lookout tower. While Julia fell asleep, Peter and I checked out the stars in the meadow, which were particularly bright that night. Julia was up early the next morning, so we walked back to the shore while Peter slept in. We were fortunate to see a herd of elk grazing and paused to take each other in before continuing on and enjoying the cold, crisp morning. It was just one of those moments where you hug your baby close and are so grateful for time with them, especially if it’s outdoors. Our cabin, C6, was a reasonably short walk to the bathroom and was pretty close to the trail towards the shore, so it was a good spot for us.

Wallace Falls State Park

We stayed in a cabin here in 2015 when I was pregnant with Julia and loved the area. It’s pretty residential, so it feels like you’re escaping the city without abandoning all the city comforts (there are power lines over the first part of the trail to the Falls, which was a little surprising when we first visited). The cabins are really nice and have a private little “yard-like” area around them, as well as a really clean restroom and showers. We stayed in cabin C1 on our first trip, and in C2 recently. On our return trip last fall, it was nice to have a space where Julia could run around while we made dinner without worrying that she was going to dart into the road. There was a also a group next to us that seemed to be a fun girls’ trip. In our experience, the groups are really polite and keep the noise to a minimum, so it wasn’t a problem to have them next door with Julia sleeping. Our most favorite part of the whole stay is always eating at Wallace Falls Cafe. The Mi Quang Pho is literally the best comfort food ever – the broth is so flavorful and the pork rib just melts in your mouth. On our last visit, they were unexpectedly closed at night, so we went to the La Hacienda, the Mexican restaurant up the street (also delicious, but just not the same as steaming pho). When we drove by in the morning just to check, they were open and even let us order pho for breakfast since we’d missed out the night before. Julia devoured the broth and the noodles and I might have to order her a bowl of her own next time.

More Resources

Here are some of the websites I consulted when doing my research last year:

Parent Map – Last Minute Camping
Red Tricycle – 7 Tent-Worthy Campsites
Cascadia Kids – Campgrounds with Playgrounds

Are you planning camping trips with your kids this year? Where are your favorite spots to take them?