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White River campground near Mount Rainier.

Image: Andrew Waits

Hot Springs on Tap

Three mineral pools pumped full of thermal waters make Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort Campground the warmest overnight spot in the chilly Olympic National Park, even though little sun makes it through each site’s mossy forest canopy. $24–$47,

Walk-up Wonderland

Mount Rainier’s other campgrounds book up with advance reservations, but we won’t take “full” for an answer. All 112 spots at White River Campground are first come, first served, and rangers handle entertainment duties with free weekly history presentations. $20,

A Battlement Playground

Old stone tunnels, mounted turrets, a lighthouse, and old barracks—Fort Casey State Park on Whidbey Island is basically a hands-on history funhouse, and camping overnight at one of 35 sites provides the perfect excuse for a midnight ghost hunt. $20–$45,

Still Waters

It’s not just that Moran State Park offers campers a lake. It’s that it has one with paddleboard, paddleboat, kayak, and canoe rentals, plus Lopez Creamery ice cream for sale across the street from woodsy campsites. Orcas Island’s view-riffic Mount Constitution just up the road is a mere bonus. $20–$45,

Secrets of the CCC

Thank the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal work relief program in the 1930s, for many of the trails, fire lookouts, and beautiful stone lodges in the nation’s parks. Thank Whidbey’s Deception Pass State Park for its stunning CCC-built bridge, quaint CCC museum, and rentable Ben Ure Cabin ($91), which sits on its own island. $20–$45, 

Level Playing Field 

Sporty Scenic Beach State Park outside Bremerton features two volleyball courts and horseshoe pits, plus a dog-friendly beach and shellfish harvesting grounds when populations are healthy. Paved trails through a scenic rhododendron garden offer wide accessibility. $20–$45,

Tour Guides with Style

As the only overnight option in the heart of North Cascade National Park, location is reason enough to love Colonial Creek Campground. Even better: The relatively secluded site boasts more than world-class views; rangers present regular history programs, and Diablo Lake boat tours begin just down the road—find out how Monkey Island got its name (yep, real monkeys). $16, 

Total Isolation

Sometimes the best amenity is nothing at all. While dispersed camping means setting up a tent on any spot of roadside—so no bathrooms, no water, no picnic tables—it’s free anywhere on national forest land not otherwise marked as off limits. Pull off on the Mountain Loop Highway east of Verlot for waterfront privacy or find your own secret spot on Washington’s more than nine million acres of national forest. 

A Roof and Everything

Overnight somewhere truly special, like a mountain-top cabin once used to spot forest fires. Amber Casali, Seattle author of the new Hiking Washington's Fire Lookouts, picks her favorite roofed escapes open to public camping.

Park Butte Lookout

Located in the North Cascades, the 1932 structure is available first-come, first served for campers. “You get an up close view of the south side of Mount Baker, people climbing it up the Easton Glacier,” says Casali. “There’s an unspoken understanding that if people arrive later and ask to join you in the lookout, you let them.”

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Park Butte

Heybrook Lookout

Ugh, strangers, am I right? After a decade of renovations this Highway 2 lookout is rented by reservation only, so expect privacy while you do your little turn on the catwalk—which, unusually, is located under instead of around the lookout proper. “Interesting tidbit: Its copper wiring was stolen, which set back restoration for a while. It needs it to be grounded in case of a lightning strike,” says Casali.

A visitor takes in the views at Heybrook.

Mount Pilchuck Lookout

Expect a crowd at the highest house off the Mountain Loop Highway, perched atop a summit of boulders. People even spread sleeping bags on the catwalk that surrounds it. Casali says: “It’s a really popular spot during the Perseid meteor shower in August, and it has that community feel to it.”

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Mount Pilchuck


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