Seattle's Child

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last-minute campsite

Want to take the kids camping? Here’s how to get a spot at the last minute

Planning ahead is always good. But what if you didn't? Here's help.

Need a last-minute campsite? With warm days and long summer evenings, many a Seattle parent’s thoughts turn to getting out of town, and spending a weekend somewhere quieter and wilder. Trouble is, all the most popular campgrounds were reserved months ago. Luckily, there are several fine campgrounds where it is possible to make a reservation with those glorious July and August weekends only weeks away.

In general, campground reservations are a boon to working parents looking to camp on weekends. After spending a nightmarish Friday evening tangling with traffic just to get out of town, the last thing you need is to be confronted by a “campground full” sign at a first-come, first-served destination, and to have to press on through the night until you find a place with room for you. But for all the best-known campgrounds, the chance of a reservation passed months ago. Washington State Parks campgrounds take reservations up to nine months in advance. Want a choice spot at Fort Flagler? Mark your calendar. For popular campgrounds on federal lands, such as Ohanapecosh, the time to jump on a site is six months in advance.

Luckily, not all campgrounds are so popular. And some of the less popular ones are quite nice indeed. So for those of us whose lives do not allow a great deal of advance planning, there are good options. Here are five scenic spots close enough to Seattle for you to leave after work and arrive with enough time for a round of s’mores. Once there, you have the option of exploring some spectacular wilderness areas. Or, if you prefer, you can collapse in a camp chair while your children find things to do in the woods and the dirt. There’s always plenty to do in the woods and the dirt.

Try these options for a last-minute campsite:

Middle Fork Campground

Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Distance from Seattle: 46 miles

Nearest town: North Bend

Located along the middle fork of the Snoqualmie River, this shady, barrier-free campground has glimpses of tantalizing peaks beyond the trees and is convenient for some fine hiking. Reserve through


Silver Springs Campground

Distance from Seattle: 71 miles

Nearest town: Greenwater

Large, old-growth trees shade this campground along the White River. Nearby, you have Mount Rainier National Park, and the many trails of the Crystal Mountain basin.  Reserve through


Squire Creek County Park

Snohomish County

Distance from Seattle: 72 miles

Nearest town: Darrington

This forested, creekside park is in a spot that gives access to a host of wonderful trails along the Mountain Loop Highway, a backroad where you can find great alpine treks, pristine rivers and an actual ghost town. Reserve through Snohomish County Parks and Recreation.


Lewis and Clark State Park

Washington State Parks

Distance from Seattle: 102 miles

Nearest town: Toledo (Yes, there is a Toledo in Washington.)

This park boasts a magnificent stand of old-growth forest, and makes a good base for families exploring nearby Mount St. Helens. Reserve through Washington State Parks.


Silver Lake Park

Whatcom County

Distance from Seattle: 111 miles

Nearest town: Maple Falls

Continue east on Highway 542 and enter hiker heaven, a road strewn with trailheads leading to gorgeous mountain hikes. The road ends above the tree line, at a spectacular lookout called Artist Point. Or you could stay at the campground, swim in the beautiful lake, or rent boats from the day lodge. Reserve through Whatcom County Parks.

Other gems are out there. You can  search for available sites on a particular weekend using the reservation websites and Washington State Parks. (Washington State Parks is the easier of the two.)  Your camping adventure awaits.

Related to last-minute campsites:

In addition, Washington State Parks has recently published a guidebook listing all of its facilities and their amenities. It can be purchased online or at many parks.

Related: Read our recent outdoors coverage. How my family survived COVID camping (summer 2020) | A full-time RV mom shares 6 of her favorite tent or TV spotsFamily hiking 101: How to prepare, what to bring | Getting outdoors with a baby? Of course! | How a camper van changed this family’s life, for the better | Hiking, camping? No thanks

And also: 17 tips to make car camping comfortable and successful


Originally published June 2018