Resources to help locate campgrounds in the PNW
June 28, 2013 4:27 PM   Subscribe

You are driving through the PNW. Suddenly, you become [tired/inspired by the scenery]. You wish to find a place to camp in your vicinity. >OPEN GLOVEBOX >LOOK MAGIC CAMPING MAP

A thing that sounds like a fun thing for my wife and I to do this summer is to meander down the west coast until we get to san francisco. We would like to camp most of the time.
We will be driving from edmonton, stopping in vancouver first, and we can probably make the vancouver-SF-home portion take around three weeks. I realize that california might not be technically in the PNW but there are redwoods so come on.

What I am having trouble finding is maybe something that doesn't exist: a map of all camping options in a given area. Or maybe a website? [I will be bringing a kindle 3G which does well with simpler websites] Are there just the state parks, or are there more options?

If there were a paper map, I would buy it. If there were a collection of online maps, I would print them out. I would like to have options available in case the place we get to is full. If this is something GPS things do, I could borrow one for the summer.

We will be driving [no route planned but maybe just follow the coast?] but hike-in sites are preferable, if that makes any difference in finding campsites.
posted by Acari to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Check the Oregon state parks website. We drove the coast and there were a ton of parks with camping, showers, etc. Oregon is great.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:35 PM on June 28, 2013

Your glovebox should have a NW Forest Pass if you want to do much on federal lands in the PACNW. Then I'd probably peruse the following to align with the use pass:
posted by iamabot at 4:39 PM on June 28, 2013

Free or .net
posted by squirbel at 4:40 PM on June 28, 2013

Now I'm intrigued by the Pocket Ranger app... but better to print out some paper.

For Washington State, start with the regional maps:

And do some poking about to determine what's closest to your meandering route.

Or get your hands on Marge and Ted Mueller's book:

Marge and Ted are the patron saints of Washington State campers and boaters.

Washington State Parks have an annual parking pass called a Discovery Pass; you'll want one. Buy it at any sporting goods store, or make a pilgrimage to the giant Cabela's up in Skagit County.
posted by Kakkerlak at 4:41 PM on June 28, 2013

When I was doing this in the pre-web times I got AAA's Camp Books which were free with my AAA membership and had guides to campgrounds with little maps of different regions. I liked them because they included the fancy KOA type things as well as free or cheap local campgrounds which were basically a place you could drive into with pit toilets. I'm not sure if they still have these, it looks like they may have merged with Woodalls and they may sell them now, but I'd take a look.
posted by jessamyn at 4:47 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

AAA used to produce "campbooks" which are like their travel guides for given regions and list all the amenities of every campground in a given area. Like jessamyn, I haven't been able to find any internet record of the actual publications. According to this, AAA no longer publishes them.
posted by LionIndex at 4:50 PM on June 28, 2013

I prefer Trails Illustrated maps for finding campsites/nature stuff, but since they're waterproof/tearproof they're a bit pricey. However, you can also get access to all of them on and then make custom printouts, but you need a pro account.
posted by feloniousmonk at 4:58 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

we used Woodalls back in the pre-Internet days.
posted by COD at 5:02 PM on June 28, 2013

Are there just the state parks, or are there more options?

So many options.

National forests have designated campgrounds, but also allow for "dispersed camping". This is camping outside of campgrounds on NF land. You'll need to find a ranger station or a MVUM off the internet for the area you are in. Aside from particular restrictions that are designated for the forest or area, you can camp anywhere and for free. The maps are free and you can download them off the internet before your trip. if you have a smart phone with GPS, I highly recommend using them with pdfmaps. Amazingly useful app for this sort of thing

Many state forests have similar rules, but it can really vary. BLM land also allows dispersed camping, however, it is often not as scenic or easy to get to.

Delorme Gazetteers also list some sites and for many states they have "recreational" gazetteers that will feature campgrounds/fishing holes/parks and so on.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:02 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can Yelp or Google map "camp" or "campsite" and find them just fine. Yelp has almost every single campsite in Northern California; it's how I find them.
posted by amaire at 5:24 PM on June 28, 2013

If you're traveling with a smartphone, I highly recommend They have a web site and great mobile apps - we use the Camp & RV app on iPhone and love it, a lifesaver on our most recent journey. You can zoom into a map of where you're at or specify the location you're headed to, filter for specific features, etc. The maps inside the app were actually far more accurate than our GPS, Apple Maps, *and* Google Maps--we used them to navigate to a few campsites for which the GPS/Apple/Google Maps had wrong directions.

The app works offline, too (reviews don't work offline, but the camp site info is typically enough to make a decision); they also have a Camp & Tent app which excludes RV stuff and only shows tent camping-related info (BLM land is listed on both apps, too).
posted by jenh at 5:30 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

People have already beat me to most of the big resources, so I'll just say that three weeks seems long, unless you're spending multiple days at the campsites. I've done legs of that drive, and if you were trying to straight-up maximize speed, Vancouver to SF would take you maybe 3-5 days (depending on how much sleep you need.) I've not done much driving through Canada, so I can't speak to Vancouver-Edmonton routes, but I doubt that would add on more than a day or two each way. Stretching that into 3 weeks may mean a lot of camping. (Which is great, if that's what you're looking for!)

in miscellanea: if you're thinking of staying in or even just visiting many national parks in the US, the Parks Service offers a flat-rate ($80) unlimited pass (good for two people.) For two people, that becomes a deal after 4 or 5 parks.
posted by kagredon at 5:38 PM on June 28, 2013

we've had good results with a membership/app for this purpose.
posted by juliapangolin at 7:43 PM on June 28, 2013

I was in the CAA today and they gave me a Campbook that had campground listings for the entire western half of North America. It now lives under the back seat of my car. They definitely exist! (This was the BCAA in Vancouver). I think it was the "Woodall's campground guide". Though somewhat RV-centric.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:55 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can only suggest a first step:

Find someone to drop you and some watercraft (canoe or kayak-craft) at the north end of Ross Lake (in Manning Provincial Park) who will then leave your car at Colonial Creek Campground on Diablo Lake in Washington State. Travel south by said watercraft (arrange campsites in advance...there are several options). Stop along the way to hike Desolation Peak (scene of jack Kerouac's "Desolation Angels"), as well as to canoe up the magical Devil's Creek and maybe hike back up Devil's Dome. Arrange for portage down to Diablo Lake, fed by glacial silt, and proceed to Colonial Creek.

Uh, drive to Seattle and see a show.

Then: get lost on the Olympic Peninsula
posted by baseballpajamas at 8:12 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

We have a road atlas that stays in the car. It's all 50 states and we bought it probably ten years ago. When we were on a camping road trip a few years back we made a spur of the moment change of plans and then looked on our map for the little camping icons. Found 1 camp that was terrible (very open and windy and geared toward RVs) and then went to the next camp shown (also confirmed by the camp host) and it was great -- just a few miles on, shady and on a pretty creek. I imagine that it's not comprehensive and probably only covers bigger sites but worth having. And that reminds me, we should probably throw a more recent road atlas in the car. It has come in handy so many times.
posted by amanda at 8:35 PM on June 28, 2013

If you're including south-western British Columbia in your definition of PNW, the Backroads Mapbooks are indispensable for this sort of thing. Camp Free in B.C. is also very useful.
posted by Emanuel at 8:40 PM on June 28, 2013

In the pre-smartphone days, I roadtripped across the country with a big 50 state atlas. On the maps, there were little teepee icons on all the state campgrounds. When we got tired, we'd head to the nearest one and set up camp. It was really as simple as LOOK MAGIC CAMPING MAP.
posted by gnutron at 9:15 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

the website. Granted not all campgrounds use the service, but a whole bunch do. A search there for availability in Oregon shows 283 sites available.
posted by Gungho at 7:01 AM on June 29, 2013

This is the PNW campground bible as far as I'm concerned. I love his California book, too.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:14 AM on June 29, 2013

As Pogo_Fuzzybutt says, DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer.
posted by humboldt32 at 4:18 PM on June 29, 2013

Response by poster: Okay!
That was an overwhelming number of things!
I went and got the woodall's and an atlas from the ama, and we'll try to use yelp when the kindle is the only internet and alltrips if we use a computer.

Lots of these look even more amazing, but two maps and two websites is already way more than I need!
posted by Acari at 9:04 AM on July 2, 2013

Response by poster: Success!
Camping was found every night that we weren't in a big city, though sometimes it took visits to a few campsites to find ones that weren't full.

The campsites ranged from 'used to have a well' to 'fountain pop available' which kept us on our toes and randomly groomed. The campsites at the going to the sun road were full when we got there [before noon!] so we did a gentle ~45 minute walk to a backcountry site on lake mcdonald which was probably the best spot of the trip.

Each of the three things we used [woodall's, atlas, yelp] had different campsites so it was useful to check them all. There were also plenty of campsites we drove past which didn't show up on any of those things.

Taking a survey of the options in the morning and knowing that there were a bunch of dots to choose from 4 hours away gave a nice structure and lack of worry to the trip.
Thanks, everyone!
posted by Acari at 11:09 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

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