Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Campgrounds: Curlew Lake, one of several Washington State Parks with first-come first-served sites

Curlew Lake State Park, one of a number of beautiful Washington places where you can camp without a reservation. (Washington State Parks photo)

No reservation? No problem. Here’s where to get a last-minute campsite

State parks, national parks, and national forests all have sites available.

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

State Parks

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 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