Situated among the sprawling Cascade Range slopes, Gifford Pinchot National Forest is considered one of the largest and most beloved national forests you’ll ever visit. Planning a Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping trip should be a bucket list item for all campers, both local and from afar!
Read on for a camping guide that will help prepare you for everything during your Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping trip…from choosing a spot to camp to what to bring and where to find it, and so much more.
What Is Gifford Pinchot National Forest?
Located in the southern Washington State area, Gifford Pinchot National Forest comprises over a million acres of stunning American wilderness. This sweeping national forest encompasses many well-known areas, spanning along the western and southern slopes of the Cascade Range.
Within its borders, you’ll find glaciers, mountain meadows, ancient forests, and volcanoes aplenty–including Mount Adams, which is the second tallest volcano in Washington State (second only to Mount Rainier). Within many of these regions are various Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping opportunities–both cultivated and dispersed.
As a note of particular interest for many visitors, the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is also located within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
When is the Best Time to Visit Gifford Pinchot National Forest?
Because Gifford Pinchot National Forest offers quite a number of camping options throughout the year, from rugged to far more comfortable, you can enjoy a camping experience here at just about any time.
Springtime and fall are sure to be among the most eye-catching seasons. With the old-growth forest in bloom or in the process of going dormant, you will definitely want your camera on hand to capture the new buds or fiery foliage.
Summertime brings plenty of opportunities for a worry-free Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping adventure. Depending on where you land in this vast national forest, temperatures tend to be tolerable all season. The summer is a great time to explore all the park has to offer, indulge in water recreation, and more.
For campers who don’t mind braving the elements, a winter trip for some Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping holds high appeal. This is when the national forest shines in terms of winter sports, where you can enjoy snowshoeing, skiing, and more. You may also catch a glimpse of rarer wildlife if you visit this national forest in the colder months.
Whatever time of year you choose to visit, you’re sure to find something to love about camping in Gifford Pinchot National Forest!
Where to Stay at Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Best Camping Spots
Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping opportunities are many and varied. Ultimately, choosing the right campsite comes down to what kind of camping you prefer!
The Cowlitz Valley area boasts numerous Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping options. There are over 15 different campgrounds in the Valley region, some with rustic accommodations, others with more amenities. In addition to single-use, there are some Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping options in the Cowlitz Valley that are made for group camps as well.
The same holds true for the Mount Adams area. Here you will find another boon of Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping opportunities, including a large number of horse camps. Many of the campgrounds in the Mount Adams area also have access to water and gorgeous waterfall views as well.
Finally, the Mount St. Helens area also provides some popular cultivated Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping options. The options in this region are fewer, with just two horse camps–Kalama and Green River–as well as the Sunset Falls Campground and Day Use area.
For folks who prefer an even more rustic experience with their Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping adventure, there are options for dispersed camping (camping outside of campgrounds) throughout the national forest.
Dispersed camping can be done within certain guidelines. To name a few, campers should not camp any nearer than 100 feet from water and should avoid fragile meadows and delicate soil, as well as any restricted areas. Campers are also required to pick up after themselves.
Another option for Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping is the more glamorous cabin rental option. There are two historic cabins in the Mount Adams region of this national forest, available year-round. There are also two recreational rentals available in the Wind River historic district.
Booking, Fees, and What to Bring
Many of the campground sites you might choose for your Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping trip are first come, first served. However, there are some that can be reserved ahead of time by visiting the Recreation.gov website. In most cases, Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping fees do apply and will be charged at the current rate when you book a campsite.
Although your gear will depend on the space you have and the sort of Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping adventure you’d like to cultivate, you should check all gear–both new and old–before you start your camping trip.
Make sure there are no tears, rips, or other compromises, or any mold or mildew, present on any of your camping gear. Depending on the season of your visit, you will also want to ensure your camping gear is suitable for the hotter or colder weather.
Other essentials you will want to ensure you have on hand for your Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping trip include a well-stocked first aid kit, a good stock of food and water, and sun and insect protection of your choice.
For safety reasons, particularly when hiking or participating in dispersed Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping opportunities, it’s essential to have scent-proof storage and some wild animal repellent as well. There is plenty of gorgeous wildlife in this national forest who are best observed from afar, not rooting among your things.
Some other items you will want to bring on your Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping adventure include season-appropriate attire. Think sturdy boots and waterproof socks for hiking and traversing the streams, as well as swimming attire for the various lakes and rivers that cut through the national forest. Water safety gear should also be on your list, especially when boating.
Hunters and anglers will want to ensure they have the appropriate permits and gear that is cleaned, safe, and ready to go.
Things to Do at Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Gifford Pinchot National Forest boasts over a whopping 1,500 miles of hiking opportunities! These range from backpacking options to day hiking, and the trails vary vastly in terms of overall challenge. So, no matter your endurance levels, preferred speed, etc., you’re sure to find a hiking option that you love in this national forest.
With over a thousand miles of rivers and streams and more than 100 lakes within its sprawling acreage, Gifford Pinchot National Forest is a fantastic area for all sorts of fishing. From salmon to trout and more, it’s easy to find great fishing opportunities just about anywhere you would camp.
Please be aware that all residents and non-residents of Washington State over the age of 15 must have a valid fishing permit to fish during their Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping trip.
Kayaking, canoeing, boating, and swimming are available in various parts of this national forest. Always be mindful of weather and water conditions before you go in, and be sure to bring appropriate swimwear and safety gear.
Among these fantastic recreations, there are still more things to enjoy during your Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping trip! These include horseback riding, bicycling, hunting, and nature viewing.
There is also a bevy of winter recreational activities, including sledding, tubing, skiing, mushing, and snowmobiling.
Wrapping Up the Gifford Pinchot National Forest Camping Guide
Excited to kick off your Gifford Pinchot National Forest camping excursion? Before you set out for this vast national forest, be sure to check out our Camping Gear guide! This will help ensure you’re properly outfitted with the best gear for a memorable camping experience.
- About the Author
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Renee Dugan is a lifelong writer, professional editor, and lover of the great outdoors.
A Midwest girl born and raised, Renee has always enjoyed the deep, life-giving inspiration that connection with nature brings.
In addition to channeling the awe of outdoor life into her prolific novel-writing career, she currently enjoys sharing it with her son and spreading knowledge of safe, fun outdoor life with Beyond the Tent readers and anyone she can help face-to-face.
Renee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org