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: 8 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 campground 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; 137 sites for spontaneous campers. [Also read this report from a family’s trip to Cape Disappointment.]
Curlew Lake State Park: Just 25 miles from the Canadian border, out-of-the-way lakeside park has 82 sites; most campsites must be reserved. (As of August 5, 2023 this park is closed due to an unexpected water supply shortage. Rangers expect the campsite to be back up and running on August 11, 2023)
Jarrell Cove State Park: Access this forested campground on Harstine Island (in South Puget Sound) by boat or car; 19 campsites are available for reservation. (Use caution due to muddy soil levels)
Lewis and Clark State Park: Two first-come, first-served sites, and Jackson House State Park Heritage Site just 2 miles to the north. (As of August 10 the wading pool is closed)
Schafer State Park: A short hop east of Interstate 5 in Elma on the East Fork Satsop River; 14 no-reservation sites.
The following campgrounds are all first-come first-served. For more information about camping in Olympic National Park check here.
(Hurricane Ridge closed August 15-17 due to debris removal)
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 (Temporarily closed): 105 sites in the old-growth forest near Hurricane Ridge.
Hoh: 72 sites by the Hoh River. Sites are first-come, first-served outside of the reservation period.
Kalaloch: 170 sites by Kalaloch with views of the Pacific Ocean. First come, first served in the off-season.
Mora: 94 sites in a forest along the coast, two miles from Rialto Beach. First come, first-served in off-season.
North Fork: 9 sites in rainforest
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. Sites are first-come, first-served outside of the reservation period.
Mount Rainier National Park has two campgrounds that are first-come first served. More on camping in Mount Rainier National Park here.
2023 update: Cougar Rock, Ohanapecosh, and White River Campgrounds are open.
Mowich Lake: 13 tent sites in the northwest section of the park
Due to a fire many of the roads are closed. Please see this website for more details.
North Cascades National Park has six campgrounds available for first-come, first-served in the winter season. Most of the campgrounds are available for reservations during the summer season. 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.
Gorge Lake: Eight sites on the bank of Gorge Lake.
Purple Point: Six tent-only sites near Lake Chelan. The remote location is only accessible by walking, boat, or plane.
Harlequin: 7 tent-only sites by the Stehekin River. The remote location is only accessible by walking, boat, or plane.
Lakeview: Nine tent-only sites located by Lake Chelan. The remote location is only accessible by walking, boat, or plane.
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 are here.
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: This campground is located in a beautiful forest setting offering 40 miles of combined four-wheel drive and motorcycle/quad trails of varying difficulty.
San Juan: Tiny campground near the north fork of the Skykomish River. Open from July 7 to Sept. 15.
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.
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.