Glaciers melt on the sides of Mount Rainier, and minutes later the milky water is running past White River Campground on the Sunrise side of the national park. Car camping at the 112-site campground is of the classic sort; kids gather to scramble over fallen trees and try in vain to dam the milky river with rocks, and rangers lead nighttime talks about tree rings and nurse logs. Loop C has a well-preserved 1920s patrol cabin, while Loop D has the campsite equivalent of a penthouse suite: sites directly on the White River. Hiking trails spiderweb from the campground into the park, including the epic 93-mile Wonderland Trail.
Everyone car camps in his or her own way. Some bring dogs, some bring bicycles. In one campsite it’s cold mac and cheese for dinner, while at the next they’re braising short ribs in a Dutch oven. Once night falls, the entire campground is clouded with wood smoke and the steady murmur of campfire chatter until, long after dark, the woods wind down with the growl of tent zippers and the hiss of water over the last embers.
Sunrise Rd, 5 miles from SR 410, Mount Rainier National Park, 360-569-6575; nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/camping.htm, $12
Johnny Creek: Icicle Road outside Leavenworth has more than half a dozen campgrounds, but this one boasts creekfront spots; try Ida Creek Campground for a second chance at a waterfront site if it’s full. Icicle Rd, 12.5 miles from Hwy 12, 509-548-2550; fs.usda.gov, $16–$19
Colonial Creek: The North Cascades are remote, but this campground is only a few miles from topaz-hued Ross Lake and the engineering-geek tours of the Seattle City Light dam. Sites in the south loop are on the shores of Diablo Lake. North Cascades Hwy, 25 miles from Marblemount, 360-854-7200; nps.gov/noca, $12
Hunters: Some 27 car campgrounds dot the shores of Eastern Washington’s multiarmed Lake Roosevelt, but Hunters has an ideal location just inside ponderosa pine country and just north of the dusty desert, Fort Spokane, and Grand Coulee Dam. 5168 Hunters Campground Rd, Hunters, 509-754-7893; nps.gov/laro, $5–$10