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.


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?