If you yearn to go camping, but every campground you usually haunt is all reserved, there’s hope.
Even if you don’t have a reservation, there are quite a few first-come, first-served campsites on public lands Washington, and Washington State Parks offers a few tricks for landing one.
Be prepared — and flexible: Pay attention to the amenities at the campground. You might need to pack water. Set out for your perfect spot but have a backup plan or two. Search the area around where you are headed for other campgrounds and places to stay. Even if it means a night in a motel, it’s still better than driving back home.
The early camper gets the site: Pack (and fill up the tank) the night before and be ready to go early in the morning to get a jump on the crowds.
Shoot for the middle: Showing up in the middle of the week or on the tail end of the weekend vastly improves your odds of getting a nice campsite. Bonus: fewer crowds.
Think outside the box: Try these lovely, semi-close but less used parks where you might get a spot without reserving a year ahead.
Want to know more about our state parks? There’s a guidebook.
More camping resources: New alert system makes finding a state park campsite easier | 5 close-to-Seattle campgrounds that are great but not as busy | Campgrounds to reserve early — with backup plans in case you didn’t
Where the parks are
Here are the parks where all camping is first-come, first served :
Joemma Beach State Park: 19 primitive tent sites.
Mount Spokane State Park: eight standard sites and more than 12,000 acres to explore.
Obstruction Pass State Park: Small Orcas Island park with 10 primitive sites; take your car on the ferry or arrive by boat or kayak.
Sucia Island Marine State Park: Horseshoe-shaped island in the San Juan Archipelago; 60 standard sites accessible only by watercraft.
Wallace Falls State Park: You will need to set out early to score one of the two prime sites at this park in Snohomish county.
And these parks have a combination of reservation and first-come, first-served sites:
Blake Island Marine State Park: Close to Seattle but you’ll need a boat or water taxi; 44 sites.
Cape Disappointment State Park: On the Long Beach Peninsula; 5 sites for spontaneous campers. [Also read this report from a family’s recent trip to Cape Disappointment.]
Curlew Lake State Park: Just 25 miles from the Canadian border, out-of-the-way lakeside park has 29 sites for last-minute campers.
Jarrell Cove State Park: Access this forested campground on Harstine Island (in South Puget Sound) by boat or car; 14 sites for campers without reservations.
Lewis and Clark State Park: Nine first-come, first-served sites, and Jackson House State Park Heritage Site just 2 miles to the north.
Schafer State Park: A short hop east of Interstate 5 in Elma on the East Fork Satsop River; 19 no-reservation sites.
Olympic National Park
The following campgrounds are all first-come first-served. For more information about camping in Olympic National park check here.
(2022 update: Fairholme, Kalaloch, Mora and the Hoh Rain Forest campgrounds accept reservations in the summer.)
Deer Park: 14 sites in a spectacular mountain meadow at the end of a winding dirt road.
Fairholme: 88 sites on Lake Crescent.
Graves Creek: 30 sites in the Quinault Rain Forest.
Heart O’ the Hills: 105 sites in old growth forest near Hurricane Ridge.
North Fork: 10 sites in rain forest
Ozette: 15 sites by Lake Ozette
Queets: 20 sites by the Queets River
South Beach: 55 sites on a bluff overlooking the Pacific
Staircase: 49 sites near the Skokomish River
Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier National Park has two campgrounds that are first-come first served. More on camping in Mount Rainier National Park here.
2022 update: Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh Campgrounds are estimated to open May 28. White River Campground is estimated to open June 24.
White River: 112 sites on the road to Sunrise.
Mowich Lake: 10 sites in the northwest section of the park
North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park has two campgrounds available for spontaneous car-campers. Drive-in campgrounds along Highway 20 are on a reservation system through recreation.gov. More on North Cascades National Park camping here.
Goodell Creek Main Campground: 19 sites near the Skagit River.
Colonial Creek Campground North Loop: 42 sites by Lake Diablo.
Olympic National Forest
All 17 campgrounds in Olympic National Forest are first-come, first served, and most have amenities such as drinking water. Fan favorites: Willaby, on Lake Quinault, and Seal Rock, on the Hood Canal. Details on Olympic National Forest camping here.
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Most campgrounds in Mount Baker/Snoqualmie National Forest are reservation only. (Details on Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest camping here.)
There are two first-come first-served campgrounds.
Evans Creek: 41 sites near a popular off-road vehicle park and the northwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park.
San Juan: Tiny campground near the north fork of the Skykomish River.
Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
Although a few popular campgrounds in this area take reservations, most are first-come, first-served. One to keep in mind: Kachess Campground, located tantalizingly close to Seattle on Lake Kachess, has some first-come first serve sites. Details on Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest campgrounds here.
Gifford Pinchot National Forest
While the largest and most popular campgrounds in Gifford Pinchot National Forest are reservation only, there are a number of small, usually primitive first-come first-serve areas in more distant parts of the forest. Details here.
Originally published Aug. 5, 2020