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A Guide to Washington State Parks Camping

Washington has some of the most breathtaking scenery in all of the United States, and the perfect way to experience it is by visiting–and camping at–one of the state’s parks. From high desert landscapes to rocky seashores and snow-capped mountains to dense forests, you’re sure to find a Washington state parks camping spot that awes and inspires.

Read more to learn the basics about camping in Washington state parks, as well as some tips to ensure you have the best trip possible!

View of Mount Rainier in Washington State. Washington State parks camping.

Making Washington State Parks Camping Reservations

Find a park

The sheer number of state parks in Washington can be overwhelming! Start your search with a general area in mind. The distance you’re willing to travel may be the first factor to narrow down your choices.

Next, take a look at the official Washington State Parks webpage. It’s an invaluable resource for planning your state park camping adventure! The main page features a “Find a Park” link that can help you narrow down your search by region.

Once you have a working list of possibilities, consult a website like Tripadvisor, where you can see some of the features of the parks on your list and read helpful reviews from past visitors.

Make a list of your top 3-5 Washington state parks before you begin the reservation process. Consider what kind of camping you want to do, as well. Do you want a basic tent site? A place with space for your RV? A yurt or cabin?

In addition to having a list of parks picked out, it’s a good idea to get an idea of what sites in each park you might like to camp in. Consult a park map and have a few options ready to go before you book.

View of a waterfall in Palouse Falls State Park.
Palouse Falls State Park.

Reserve and pay

Washington state parks allow visitors to book online or by phone (booking online means you pay less in fees, so it’s a more budget-friendly way to go if you can do it).

You can make reservations up to 9 months in advance, and the best sites fill up fast. Try to plan your trip as far in advance as possible. If you can’t get into a Washington state park campsite but you found a park you’re dying to visit, try finding a nearby campground on a booking site like Campspot.

In Washington, state parks on the central reservation system are open for booking between May 15 and September 15 each year; however, several parks have extended, or even year-round, booking windows. You can see which sites are open for which windows on the state parks webpage.

You must pay in full to book your reservation at a Washington state park. If you need to mail your payment in, make the reservation no less than 28 days before your requested arrival date. The state reservation center must receive your full payment within 7 days of when the reservation is processed.

Drop-ins are welcome at Washington state parks on a first-come, first-served basis.

View of lush green forest with a creek running down a hill in Washington State.

Passes and permits

One nice thing about camping at Washington state parks is that you don’t need a separate permit for the state park in which you are camping. If you do choose to venture to another state park during your trip, you’ll need to purchase a pass for that park. Most parks allow you to buy the pass at the gate when you arrive.

Washington also offers some nice discounts for folks, as well. Washington residents who are disabled (including, but not limited to, veterans), certified foster parents, seniors with limited income can all qualify for discounts on passes to Washington state parks.

For many of these discounts, visitors will still need to pay a small reservation fee when booking a campsite. Be sure to have proof of eligibility ready to show park staff when you check in.

Changes and Cancellations

Read about each park’s change and cancellation rules before you make your reservation. Life happens and plans can change; it’s best to know what to expect if you do need to make a change to a reservation.

You will forfeit your reservation if you have not checked into your site by 1 p.m. the day following your scheduled arrival. If you think this may be an issue for you, simply call the park and ask them to hold your spot, giving staff an estimate of your new arrival time or day.

What to Do When You Arrive

A brown and white campground sign.

When you get to your park destination, check in at the front office or kiosk and make any needed changes to your reservation departure date, as needed. Provide proof of eligibility for any discounts, and show your pass and picture ID.

Washington state parks do charge for extra vehicles. If you have any, you will pay for them when you check-in.

Things to Do at Washington State Parks

View of mountains in Washington State.

Now comes the fun part! There’s so much to do while camping at Washington state parks, and such beautiful scenery, that you can have an equally awesome time doing nothing.

Although some activities are only appropriate for certain parks, there are several activities that you can do at any Washington state park.


Geocaching is a fun activity for all ages and abilities. Using a global positioning system (GPS) or smartphone, players seek out hidden caches (called geocaches) shared by other users online. When players find the sought-after landmark or hidden treasure, they sign a logbook at the site and can even post about their search online. Ginkgo Petrified Forest has some of the best geocaching in the state!

If you plan to geocache, check the park’s rules on where it’s allowed and what kinds of treasures you can leave behind.

Hiking, Metal Detecting, Wildlife Viewing, and Mountain Biking

A hiking trail in Washington State.

Regardless of the state park you end up in, you’ll find trails of all difficulties where you can catch a glimpse of the area’s wildlife.

Camano Island State Park just outside Seattle features an easy, 2.6-mile roundtrip hike with striking views of Puget Sound and Mt. Rainier. For more difficult trails, try Deception Pass State Park, where you’ll be rewarded with coastal, lake, or waterfall views. If you’re headed to the southeastern part of the state, Fields Spring State Park is a nice place to take in views of the Wallowa Mountains.

Most Washington state parks allow metal detecting. Beacon Rock and Mount Spokane are two popular places for this activity.

Several parks, like Olallie State Park and Riverside State Park, also offer scenic and challenging mountain biking trails.

Lakes, Beaches, and Ocean

Head to a Washington state park on the western side of the state if you’re looking for breathtaking coastal views. There, in addition to scenic hikes, you’ll find activities like tidepooling, fishing, diving, and shellfish and seaweed harvesting at Fort Flagler, Fort Ebey, or Fort Worden, or windsurfing, boating, kayaking, and fishing at Shine Tidelands or Larrabee.

Washington also boasts some beautiful lakeside state parks, like Lake Chelan,where you can also enjoy boating, fishing, scuba, kayaking, canoeing, and swimming.

A dock with a chair looking out on a lake in Washington State.

Interpretive Centers

With exhibits to read, watch, touch, and hear, state park visitor centers have something for everyone in your camping party. Visit the interpretive center at Cape Disappointment, where visitors learn about Lewis and Clark from atop a cliff overlooking the Graveyard of the Pacific, where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean and countless ships have wrecked.

Paragliding and Hang Gliding

For experienced paragliders and hang gliders with their own gear, Fort Flagler, Fort Ebey, and Steptoe Butte state parks offer amazing views. (You can paraglide at all three, but only Steptoe Butte allows hang gliding.) Note that you must have a permit for these activities.

All-Terrain Vehicles

If you find yourself on the northeast side of the state near Spokane and you like to go off-road on a dirt bike or other vehicle, Riverside State Park offers a 600-acre area for you to enjoy.

Rock Climbing

Around a dozen Washington state parks boast challenging areas to rock climb, either within the park or nearby. One of the best spots for climbing is Peshastin Pinnacles State Park in the Wenatchee Valley, which is famous for its 200-foot sandstone spires and sweeping views.

What to Bring

Regardless of where you are in the state, be prepared for anything! The weather across Washington can change in the blink of an eye. Pack layers (particularly one or two that are waterproof), as temperatures may soar during the day but crash overnight. Bug spray and sunscreen are also a must.

With all the amazing scenery you’re sure to see at any campground in the state, you will want to make sure you have a pair of binoculars and a camera on hand!

A camera placed on a log in a wooded setting.

Check out this family camping checklist for a guide on what to bring to your Washington state park camping adventure!

Special Considerations


There are some safety tips to remember when camping in Washington state parks.


The kinds of dangerous wildlife you might encounter in a Washington state park depends on the region. Consult the guides on the Washington Parks and Wildlife website.

On the flipside, be sure to protect the wildlife, as well! Refrain from feeding or trying to touch any of the wildlife you come across.

On the Water

View of a boat in Puget Sound at Tolmie State Park.
Tolmie State Park.

General boating safety measures should be taken if you plan to hit the water in a Washington state park. Be sure to read the guidelines if boating is on your to-do list! If you’re playing in or on the water, always have the appropriate safety equipment–US Coast Guard-approved life vests, flotation devices, and the like) on hand.


What’s a camp without a campfire? Consult the website of your specific campground to check for burn bans and regulations. Some parks in Washington allow wood, charcoal, gas, and propane, but not all, and not all the time.

Hiking and Biking

Use common sense when hiking or biking in a Washington state park. Don’t hike alone, but if you must, let someone know where you plan to go and when you plan to return.


Meals at a state park in Washington require some planning and we’ve got a Camping Food section to help you there. Check your state park campground before you go to see what–if any–amenities are available for prepping and cooking food.


Most Washington state parks offer shower facilities, for a price. Showers are 50 cents per three minutes. You can purchase tokens at some state parks while others require you to use quarters.


Check your specific park for rules on dogs and other pets, but, in general, well-behaved dogs are welcome across the state parks in Washington.

A dog wrapped in a blanket by a campfire.

The state even has a BARK Ranger program (BARK stands for “Bag your pet’s waste, Always leash your pet, Respect wildlife, Know where you can go”) that rewards good boys and girls–and their owners–for good behavior! If you and your pet are seen practicing the BARK Ranger principles, park staff will reward you with a BARK Ranger dog collar tag.


You can learn about campsites with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility features on each campsite’s webpage. However, as a timesaver, if you need an ADA-accessible site, Washington State Park Service has a handy webpage where you can search for campsites with ADA features.


Washington has widely expanded high-speed Wi-Fi in its state parks. If being connected is a priority for your group, be sure to check with your park of choice to make sure its Wi-Fi fits your needs. Currently, Potholes State Park and Pacific Beach State Park both have their own Wi-Fi (read: best) service.

Washington State Parks Camping for the Win!

Two wooden chairs on the shore of a lake in Washington State.

With so many different experiences to choose from, there’s something to awe and inspire everyone on a Washington state parks camping trip!

Want to expand your search beyond Washington state parks? Check out our other State Camping Guides for ideas!