No reservations: A State Parks guide for last-minute campers

Beacon-Rock-11-hikers-summit-highfive

Right on! Celebrate scoring that perfect last-minute campsite with a hike to a spectacular view, like these folks who trekked to the top of Beacon Rock.

Aug. 21, 2019

August is waning. Days are getting shorter. The back-to-school sales are on, and summer is rolling steadily toward fall. Are you yearning to squeeze a few fond camping memories out of the last golden days of the season?

Don’t shy away from that spontaneous camping trip! You’ll find first-come, first-served campsites at state parks across Washington.

Naturally, you need to employ a few tricks to increase your chances of scoring a sweet spot.

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Be prepared — and flexible: 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.

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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.

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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 camp site. BONUS: Fewer crowds overall.

Ok, all ready? Here are Washington state parks with first-come, first-served sites.

Parks with all first-come, first-served campsites

sucia island

If you have a boat, take a trip to Sucia Island Marine State Park where you'll fine an abundance of beauty and solitude.

Beacon Rock State ParkCamp and climb! Beacon Rock features 28 standard sites in a forested setting. A limited number of RV sites are available for rigs 20 feet or longer. By day, enjoy a brisk hike to the peak of the park’s namesake rock or the top of Hamilton Mountain for breathtaking views of the Columbia River Gorge.

Blake Island Marine State ParkYou will need a boat or water taxi to access this park’s 44 sites, but it’s worth it! Enjoy spectacular views of Mount Rainier and Puget Sound. Visit Tillicum Excursion for a one-of-a-kind Northwest Native American experience!

Joemma Beach State Park: Enjoy a rustic camping experience at this park’s 19 primitive tent sites. Bring a kayak, and go for a paddle on Case Inlet.

Mount Spokane State ParkThis park has eight standard sites to choose from but more than 12,000 acres to explore. Mount Spokane is a hiking and biking paradise with hundreds of miles of trails in a gorgeous alpine setting.

Obstruction Pass State ParkWant to camp on Orcas Island? This small park with 10 primitive sites is one of the few public beaches on the island. You can get there by car via a ferry or arrive by boat or kayak.

Palouse Falls State Park: Let a waterfall sing you to sleep! A night under the stars awaits at Palouse Falls’ 11 primitive sites. NOTE: Drinking water is only available through October. Check the park’s website page for up-to-date information on the availability of water.

Sucia Island Marine State Park: You’ll find an abundance of beauty and solitude on this horseshoe-shaped island in the San Juan Archipelago. This park’s 60 standard sites are only accessible by watercraft, and the island is considered a world-class boating destination.

Wallace Falls State Park: You will need to set out early to score one of the two sites at this park in Snohomish county. Both sites are very private and include fire rings and a picnic table. By day, hike the 12 miles of trails to the park’s famed waterfalls.

Parks with designated first-come, first-served sites

Note: These parks also have reservation-only campsites. Be sure to check at welcome station to find out which are first come, first serve.

reading and fishing at Curlew Lake

Find some peace and solitude — and a very nice campsite — on the shore of Curlew Lake.

Cape Disappointment State Park: You’ll find plenty to do and see at this coastal camping park on the Long Beach Peninsula. Nineteen sites are available for spontaneous campers. Hang out by the campfire by night and visit North Head Lighthouse and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center by day.

✔  Curlew Lake State ParkReady to REALLY get away from it all? Just 25 miles from the Canadian border, this park is a true destination. Bring that rod and reel or even a boat to this angler’s paradise. This out-of-the-way lakeside park has 29 sites set aside for last-minute campers.

✔  Jarrell Cove State Park: A classic Northwest campground on the peaceful shore of Jarrell Cove in south Puget Sound. Access this beautiful, forested campground on Harstine Island by boat or car. Fourteen sites are available for campers without reservations.

✔  Lewis and Clark State Park: Lush and verdant, Lewis and Clark is a camper’s dream. Pick from one of nine first-come, first-served sites and enjoy the cool, calm of this Civilian Conservation Corp-built park. Like history? While you are there, visit Jackson House State Park Heritage Site just 2 miles to the north.

✔  Schafer State Park: Easy does it! A stay at Schafer combines that off-the-beaten-path feel with easy access, making it a perfect low-hassle getaway. Nineteen first-come, first-served sites await just a short hop east of Interstate 5 in Elma. Swim, fish and camp at this forested park on the banks of the East Fork Satsop River.

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