5 Last-Minute Camping Adventure Tips

Tent in the moonlight
July 10, 2015
The Adventure graphic

The Adventure...

One of these days we may get around to finding a solution to … you know………………. procrastination.

Until that day, many a Procrastinators Anonymous member will suffer from that eternal summer problem…an overwhelming, last-second urge for a night under the stars and no campsite reservations to be had. Wait (you know you’re good at that!) just a moment more, unhappy camper! Sure, it’s prime camping season, but don’t put your tent and sleeping bags back on the shelf just yet. We’re here to help!

Granted, waiting until the last minute is going limit your options. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are completely out of the running for an outdoors adventure. A little travel savvy and a LOT of flexibility can not only net you a great getaway, but can take you to places you may otherwise have never discovered! To help you get started, we’ve compiled some tips and destination suggestions for scoring a sweet place to play at the 11th hour. Ready? Set? Fingers crossed? Let’s go!
Travel Tips graphic

Travel Tips


5. Get Online & Start Looking…now!

Spend some time perusing our online reservation system. Washington State Parks online booking is easy to use, and with just a little browsing there’s a good chance you can still find a reservation if you start AT LEAST a few days in advance. On the left-hand part of your screen are tabs for choosing your preferred dates, type of site you are looking for (e.g., tent site, rustic cabin, etc…), preferred campground (TIP: You may want to leave this choice open to all parks during last-minute searches), and type of equipment you wish to camp with (TIP Less is more—vacation houses, yurts, cabins and sites with hook-ups for RVs or trailers are most often at a premium—tent campsites are more plentiful). Browse parks on the right side of the screen. Use the “On a Map” feature to look for parks with openings in a particular region. The “In a List” tab instantly pulls up an alphabetical list of parks and lets you know their site availability for your date range. “On a Calendar” shows you open days and sites for a particular park. This park list provides a quick reference for what parks are open when and whether or not they can be reserved.

4. Go During the Week


Campground Reservation screen shot
Even the most popular parks often clear out during the week days.  If you have time to go camping mid-week, do it!  Not only will you have a better chance of finding a spot, you will have fewer people to share it with.

3. Try the Shotgun Approach


Stonhenge replica

Instead of setting your sights on a single destination, why not choose a whole region to visit? Here’s an example: You are hoping to camp at Maryhill State Park in the Columbia River Gorge. Unfortunately, all the sites are taken on your chosen days. Don’t despair! Search the map function in online reservations and find a nearby park with open sites, such as Brooks Memorial or Columbia Hills State Historical Park. Then, you can visit Maryhill during the day to swim, play and enjoy the nearby attractions such as the Maryhill Museum of Art, which has great summer arts and theater programs for all ages and the full-scale partial replica of Stonehenge just outside the park. At night, stop in to Goldendale Observatory State Park and enjoy summer astronomy programs and an intimate view of the heavens from the dome!

And don’t forget—your 
Discover Pass is good for access to not only state parks, but Department of Natural Resources and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife lands. That’s literally MILLIONS of acres of public lands to choose from. Check them out!!

2. Get Far Out! but Have a Backup Plan


Curlew Lake State Park
Many times (but not always), heading out to a park that is further from the beaten path means scoring a site in a park with lots of wow-factor and, even better, open places to camp. Take Curlew Lake State Park. Nestled into a forested valley on the banks of a pristine lake, this park is not only gorgeous, you can swim and boat here. Fish for trout, bass and the lake’s most sought-after resident, tiger muskie! And, say staff, the park’s more remote locale means you’ll likely get into one of Curlew’s signature grass lawn sites!

During the day, you can go to little-known but cool historical state park heritage sites such as Ranald McDonald’s Gravesite or the limestone caverns of Gardner Cave at Crawford State Park Heritage Site. Or use online maps (on the state parks website and those onGoogle) to create your own destination camping vacation. That means not only alternative campsites but potentially “roughing it” in a local hotel in case you can’t find a spot—make sure there are some nearby so you don’t get in a pinch!

1. There’s Always Next Year

…Or even the fall! At the end of the day, the best cure for procrastination is to get a jump on it! Many parks are absolutely prime in autumn, which is just around the corner. By then our statewide fire ban may have lifted as well, and what is more inviting than a campfire on a cool evening? Make your reservations now for some wonderful parks! With a little advance planing you’ll have the pick of the litter! Or, why not start plotting next year’s vacation? Remember, you can make reservations up to nine months in advance of your camp date!! So while you are online looking for some fun right now, put in a place marker for next year. You’ll be glad you did!

Need a few more tips to try?
Check out this great article from KPLU and give these a whirl!

Have you ever scored a great a last-minute camp trip at a Washington State Park? Got tips?
Tell us about it and share your pictures here!
Lake Chelan in Fall