Back-Country Camping in the Pacific Northwest
August 5, 2014 10:21 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations on where to do some back-country/wilderness camping in the Seattle/Portland area from around Aug. 31 through Sept. 3. Details inside.

My wife and I are interested doing some back-country (i.e. not an established campground) camping somewhere in the Seattle/Portland vicinity starting on August 31. I realize that is Labor Day weekend, but I am hoping to find a secluded area that won't be too crowded that we can backpack into and stay for a few days (i.e. not hike and set up camp somewhere new every day).

My understanding is that there are some sites that have a limited quota and you have to make a reservation in advance, but that other sites you can get a permit the day before or day of and there is no quota on how many people can be in that area.

We will be starting in Seattle on Aug. 31, so we are hoping to go somewhere not too far from there. Olympic National Park looks especially enticing, so recommendations on where to camp there would be appreciated. Or would it be more advantageous to go somewhere else since ONP will be too crowded?

Other criteria that would be a plus are breathtaking scenery, mountainous lakes, hot springs, access to good day hikes, solitude, and not too far of a hike from the trail head (less than 5 miles)

I saw this previous question, but that question focused on drive-up camping, and I am interested in back-country camping. Thanks!
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
We camped on Shi Shi beach, it was maybe a couple mile hike in? But then once you set up camp, you can hike up and down the beach. It's really amazing.

We also camped near the Olympic Hot Springs, close to Port Angeles, which was another couple miles from the parking area.

If I had to do one of those two again, I would choose Shi Shi Beach. A house near the trailhead allows overnight parking for a fee, and it was suggested we utilize them to avoid vandalism.
posted by czytm at 11:25 AM on August 5, 2014

I don't know much about camping at ONP, but I do have another suggestion if you decide to go elsewhere:

I just did a day hike at the West Fork Foss River and Lakes in the Central Cascades this past Sunday, about a 1.5-hour drive from Seattle. It was breathtaking! Waterfalls, rivers, alpine lakes (warm enough to jump in!), wildflowers, we saw it all! No hot springs though.

It's 7.5 miles to get to Big Heart Lake, but Trout Lake, Malachite Lake, Little Heart Lake and Copper Lake are all encountered on the way if you don't want to hike out that far, and they are all beautiful. If you're camping for a few nights, you can do short day hikes to Big Heart Lake and others without having to carry your gear. As far as I know, these are first-come, first-serve spots; I don't know about the permit situation, because we didn't camp overnight, but I imagine it's not a difficult process to get one. It's good to keep in mind that the farther out you go, the more secluded it shall be. It was not crowded by any means when I went, and it was a sunny weekend in August.

The description in the link above is a bit outdated, as I found every foot of the trail to be in great condition. Hope you have a great trip, wherever you go!
posted by sweetpotato at 11:29 AM on August 5, 2014

The Find A Campground map on (crowdsourced) The Muddy Camper seems to be pretty useful, and does include first-come first-served campgrounds. They are established campgrounds, though, and it does look like there are a lot more Oregon campgrounds listed than Washington sites, though, so YMMV.
posted by Kpele at 11:29 AM on August 5, 2014

Hike up the Dosewallips -- the road has been washed out since 2002 and there are no crowds up there. If you don't feel like going too far in you can stay at Elkhead (formerly a drive-in campground with way too many spots) with great day hikes to Lake Constance (if you can get a reservation there, do it!) and the Dose Forks, or you could go all the way up to Diamond Meadows on the Quinault. Amazing hiking there, especially in late summer (bring your bug spray!).

If you're set on hot springs, the Olympic Hot Springs road is closed for restoration and you can get up to the springs and campgrounds there through Appleton Pass & Boulder Creek (via Aurora Ridge, which would be quite a long hike, or through Sol Duc). No reservations are necessary there either. All the hot springs are up in that part of the park and it's generally a more crowded area.

You probably already have this, but details on wilderness permits & a PDF map (red campsites have quotas, brown campsites are the day-of/day-before no quota sites you mentioned).
posted by j.edwards at 11:37 AM on August 5, 2014

My hiking/back-country experience is a little farther south than you want to go, but this may be handy...

A list of all of the hot springs in Oregon is at Soak Oregon.
posted by Leenie at 11:40 AM on August 5, 2014

How about Cape Alava? It's the westernmost point in the continental U.S. [PDF], all you need is a wilderness permit... and tons of bear canisters.

I went there a couple of Labor Day weekends ago and it was surprisingly sparsely populated, perhaps because it's a bit chilly up there at that time of year? You'll want to dress in layers and bring rain gear, for sure.

The day hike possibilities are limitless, especially at low tide, when you can walk out toward Ozette Island and check out all the crazy colored starfish and otherwise-hidden marine life. The scenery is totally wild and unique. No hot springs or lakes, but you do get to wake up and fall asleep to the thrum of the Pacific Ocean every day, which is quite a treat. Here's a preview of the hike!
posted by divined by radio at 11:48 AM on August 5, 2014

A couple of resources you may find useful as you plan your hike:
Washington Trails Association and Portland Hiker's Field Guide (which also covers western Washington). Both sites have "find a hike" resources with trail guides and also forums where people post trip reports so you can get an idea of current conditions.
posted by elmay at 1:50 PM on August 5, 2014

Along the lines of Shi Shi, the beach campgrounds west of Ozette Lake in the Olympics are great.
posted by benbenson at 6:59 PM on August 5, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions. I spent some time considering each one and ended up going to Staircase and camping at Spike Camp on the North Fork Skokomish River trail. Hope to go back to the park someday, as there's so much to explore.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 12:08 PM on September 8, 2014

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