by Wendy Cluse
We are dusting off our camping gear and strategically planning out every trip we hope to squeeze in this year. Now, the nice thing about the Pacific Northwest is that it’s mild enough somewhere nearby to camp year round. But we’re not really those kind of campers. We don’t mind the cold but don’t want to freeze, we are avid tent-only campers so staying relatively dry is important, and we love the long days of summer. Which means now is a great time to pitch our tent and commune with nature.
We both grew up east of the Mississippi and camping was never a big thing for either of us as kids. Sleeping in a tent in the backyard was what was considered camping to us. We didn’t really have an interest in camping until we moved West. I 100% credit that to one thing: bugs. Or, lack thereof. If you’ve ever spent much time anywhere on the East Coast at dusk or later in the summertime, you know what I mean. Yes, the West has bugs. But not in the menacing, fly-up-your-nose kind of way (we lived on a marsh in North Carolina where the mosquitos were as big as hummingbirds. No joke). Sitting around a campfire in the Pacific Northwest after dark is blissful. Just like Sunset magazine.
Besides going DEET-less, we’ve grown to really appreciate what West Coast camping has to offer. Minimal distractions, fresh air, forest smells, and peaceful quiet. We love that we naturally wake up early with the sun and get to see some fantastic scenery during the golden hours of just after sunrise and just before sunset. Some of Lisa’s best nature photography has been taken on camping trips. We can experience the parks, mountains, and beaches we’re visiting at times other than high noon when trails are crowded and parking lots are full. We can go on much longer hikes and take our time, knowing we don’t have to squeeze it in between a 3-hour car trip there and back.
Why is now a good time to go camping in the PNW?
So we are officially in the camping calendar sweet spot. It’s warming up nicely but is still cool and crisp in the mornings. We won’t have to worry about the heat just yet — no one wants to be a sweaty mess if showers are not an option. The kids aren’t quite out of school yet, which means our chance of grabbing a camping spot is far greater than in June when everyone is in serious summer vacation mode and campgrounds get booked up months in advance. Plus, it is early enough in the season that wildfires are less likely to ruin your experience by either a) lowering the air quality to that of a smoker’s lounge, b) closing your campground completely, or c) forcing a ban on all campfires. If you can’t have a campfire, there’s no point in camping. QUICK PSA: always follow the rules regarding fire restrictions and precautions. Don’t be the jerk that starts the next Hell Fire.
Our favorite places to camp
There really are so many amazing places to camp, but here’s a short list of places we would go back to (or already have):
Cape Perpetua, OR (Rock Creek Campground)
This area of the Oregon Coast is stunning. And this little gem of a campground was a great find. It’s small, the campsites sit along a tiny stream, and the pit toilets were the cleanest I’d seen anywhere. Seriously.
Timothy Lake, OR
There are many amazing campgrounds surrounding this lake, but if you get lucky and snag a late cancellation of one of the few lakeside sites in the Gone Creek loop, you won’t be disappointed.
Mt. Rainier, WA (White River Campground)
The best jumping-off spot to hike Burroughs Mountain, the most amazing hike we’ve done yet. Plus Mt. Rainier is just incredible the whole way around, so camping or not, get there if you can.
This is a tiny gem of a park on the South Santiam River. The campground is adequate, but seeing the river at sunrise and sunset made us want to go back.
Lake Quinault, WA (Willaby Campground)
Right outside of Olympic National Park, this campground does not have one bad site. Some are along the lake, and others are tucked up in the trees. And we’ve yet to see it busy.
What makes for a good camping experience?
Everyone has their essentials that make their camping trip that much more comfortable and enjoyable. For us, we’re pretty simple and don’t like (read: don’t have) a lot of gear. As long as we bring an extra tarp for when it rains, our camping mats, and a deck of cards, we’re pretty much good. But adding a hammock to the pile has been the cherry on top. We now scour campsites solely on the presence of good hammock hanging trees. A great campfire is of course essential, not just for ambiance but because we don’t have a camp stove. Which leads us to another essential: campfire burritos. Make them ahead of time, wrap them in foil, and freeze them. They’ll keep your cooler cold all day and come dinnertime we just set them on the fire. Easy clean up, too. Of course, we would never forget the beer (or cider). And Lisa will always bring her camera.
We can’t wait to get out and sleep with the stars, wake with the piney morning air, and explore all the beauty that surrounds us here in the Pacific Northwest. We’ll be slightly dirty for a day or two, but it’s worth it.
All content copyright Lisa Goshe Photography, 2019