Washington Trails Association
Trails for everyone, forever
From simple tent sites to luxurious vacation rentals, we help you find the perfect basecamp for your weekend hiking adventures. By Jessi Loerch
Washington is full of beautiful areas to explore — from sandy beaches to sagebrush-scented shrub-steppe to rocky mountain peaks. These places reward deep exploration. But even with all of the gorgeous natural areas in our state, it can sometimes be hard to figure out where to settle for a weekend or a week. It’s worth the effort, however, to get to know a new place and enjoy the many benefits of extended time in nature.
To help you get started, we’ve collected some information on places across the state that can serve as a basecamp for your next adventure, from simple tent sites to luxurious vacation rentals.
We hope you’ll use it as inspiration to go exploring. And, if your explorations include hikes, we’d love to hear about them in trip reports!
Airbnb offers a variety of places to stay, including single rooms or whole houses. They have a filter for “unique stays” that includes camping or glamping options such as yurts and tents. You’ll also find a filter for nature stays that include treehouses or small structures where the natural environment is more the star of the show than the building. Airbnb also offers experiences, so you can use their site to look for nearby activities.
VRBO offers full properties, but not any shared spaces. They have a number of filters that would appeal to those looking to enjoy nature as a key part of their vacation. They also allow you to filter for places that allow free cancellations within certain windows of time.
Hipcamp offers camping sites on private property. It’s like Airbnb or VRBO, only for folks who want to sleep under the stars or in a tent or camper. They also offer simple accommodations like yurts and small cabins. If glamping is your thing, you’ll also find plenty of options here. For some sites, you’ll park near where you stay, while some require a walk. Hipcamp also includes information about sites on public lands, but you can’t reserve them through Hipcamp.
In Washington state, we are lucky to have many options on public lands for campgrounds, cabins, yurts and more. They’re popular, however, and it can be hard to get a reservation. Some campgrounds are first come, first serve, which may work particularly well for folks who can travel on non-weekend days. Here are some options for public campgrounds or other basecamps in Washington.
Federal lands: For campgrounds, cabins and fire lookouts in national parks and on Forest Service lands, look at recreation.gov for reservations. Reservation windows vary, but are often up to 6 months in advance. You can also find more information on campgrounds, cabins and lookouts on the relevant national park or national forest website.
State parks: Get information and make reservations at parks.wa.gov/223/Reservations. State parks offers campgrounds as well as cabins, yurts and other accommodations. The standard reservation season is from May 15 through Sept. 15, although some parks allow reservations for a longer period, or all year. You can make reservations up to 9 months in advance. You can reserve a site as late as 8 p.m. the day before arrival.
County parks: Check your county’s website for information on local camping options.
Department of Natural Resources lands: DNR campgrounds, with just a couple of exceptions, are all first come, first serve. They don’t charge a nightly fee, but you need a Discover Pass. Get details at dnr.wa.gov/campsites.
Dispersed camping is allowed in certain locations in national forests and on Department of Natural Resources and Bureau of Land Management lands. To find out where you can participate in dispersed camping, it is best to contact the land manager directly. In the case of national forest land, contact the nearest Forest Service office.
We chatted with local guidebook authors about their tips for finding a great base camp, and here’s what three of them had to say.
Nancy (nancyblakey.com, @shoretomountains) is the author of the new book “The Mountains Are Calling: Year-Round Adventures in the Olympics and West Cascades.”
Nancy suggests starting off all trip planning by thinking about your interests and the interests of anyone who’s coming with you. Nancy likes to theme her camping weekends around waterfalls or berries, for instance.
If you’re going to be camping with folks who haven’t camped before, she emphasizes that it’s important to camp as comfortably as you can — your new campers will probably enjoy somewhere that’s easily accessible, with flushing toilets and running water. Yurts or cabins could even be nice, they are small steps toward camping.
Nancy likes to start her research for trips with a lot of time at wta.org. “When I researched for the book, I used it constantly,” she said.
If she’s heading to an area that’s brand-new to her, she also likes to do an image search online. Often, the images that catch her eye lead her to great resources that give her more information. Once she heads out for her adventures, where cell service is often limited, she brings along guidebooks and paper maps.
Lastly, Nancy likes to encourage folks to do a bit of research on the Indigenous history of the land they will be visiting. A historical perspective expands the experience.
“They are often erased from the history and I think that’s such an important piece of the information to understand,” she said.
Molly (mollyhashimoto.com) is an artist, author and teacher. She has an upcoming book, “Trees of the West: An Artist’s Guide,” which will be published this fall. She’s also the author of books that focus on art with a Northwest perspective, including “Colors of the West” and “Birds of the West.”
Molly has always been an avid day hiker, and she enjoys how staying at a base camp lets her explore an area more thoroughly. After a day of hiking, she loves to return to wherever she’s staying, review her photos, and write, draw or paint using her day’s hike as inspiration.
She’s fond of the North Cascades Institute (ncascades.org), which offers classes as well as lodging at its Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake. Molly teaches watercolor classes at the center. NCI also has Base Camp, which includes lodging and meals and optional activities. A few times a year, family getaways are also planned.
Molly also loves Wellspring (wellspringspa.com), a spa and retreat near Mount Rainier that makes a great basecamp. Molly visited while researching her book “Mount Rainier National Park: An Artist’s Tour.” She says it’s a great place to easily explore Longmire, Paradise, Stevens Canyon and Ohanapecosh.
Jim (promountainsports.com) is the author of “Classic Cascade Climbs: Select Routes in Washington State.” He recommends beginning the search for any basecamp with solid research. Pull out the maps, take a look at WTA trip reports or the Hiking Guide, talk to your friends and read articles about areas that interest you. Consider what you want in your trip — are you looking for a wilderness experience? Then you’re going to want to consider backpacking or camping in a remote area. If you’re looking to do more relaxing, a cabin might be more your speed. If you want to make it luxurious, consider staying at a winery.
Once you’ve narrowed in on a basic area where you want to go, Jim recommends checking in with the local tourism bureau. Tourism bureaus will be able to answer a lot of your questions and, if you visit in person, can help you out with paper maps.