Washington

12 Free Camping Spots in Washington State

by Jacklyn Grambush
Updated September 29, 2022

free camping in washington state
Photo: David Lee

With the abundance of stunning outdoor spaces in Washington, it’s no wonder so many of them offer free camping.

Organizations such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Army Corps of Engineers all offer free campsites. Most National and State forests do, too! Some organizations like the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) don’t technically require a nightly fee, but a Discover Pass ($35 annual cost) or Vehicle Access Pass is required to camp at their sites.

Note that free camping typically means less amenities, such as no water or garbage service provided, so you’ll need to plan accordingly and pack out what you pack in.

People work hard to make experiencing the outdoors accessible, so please be respectful in return. Before you head out on your adventure, do your research to know the rules and restrictions in your area, adhere to limitations on how long you can stay, and Leave No Trace.

Then, enjoy these 12 places to camp for free across the gorgeous state of Washington.

1. Forest Road 29

 

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Why you should camp here: About as far northwest as you can get in the contiguous U.S., this spot on the Olympic Peninsula is about an hour from the Olympic mountains, the Hoh Rainforest, and the Pacific Ocean.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Late spring, Summer, Early fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV
  • RV hookups: No

Breaking off of the famously scenic U.S. Route 101 near Forks, Forest Road 29 heads toward Mount Olympus, then loops north back to Route 101. Make sure that you are within the boundaries of the Olympic National Forest before choosing a spot for dispersed camping.

Despite a lack of amenities such as bathrooms or water, this can be a very popular option, especially on the weekends during the summer. If the first place to pull off is all full, keep on driving – there are several options along the road. Keep in mind that, though many spots can accommodate larger trailers, they will be harder to maneuver the farther up the mountain you go.

Make sure to check out nearby trails; no matter where on Forest Road 29 you settle, there will be a ton of options.

Related Read: 7 Phenomenal National Parks in the Pacific Northwest

2. Middle Waddell Campground

free camping washington - Middle Waddell Campground
Photo: Jacob Kneeshaw

Why you should camp here: Enjoy access to 89 miles of a motorized trail system oriented toward Off-Road Vehicles (ORVs) that’s also shared with hikers and horseback riders.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV
  • RV hookups: No

Just over 20 minutes from the state capitol, Olympia, Middle Waddell Campground is found in the aptly named Capitol State Forest. Under the care of the Department of Natural Resources, this is a location where you’ll need one of the aforementioned approved passes.

No dispersed camping is allowed here, so stick to the 24 designated campsites — each with a campfire ring and picnic table. Keep in mind that this campground may not be the quietest since it is oriented specifically for Off-Road Vehicles.

Take advantage of the four toilets and nearby Waddell Creek, but stay alert for cougars and bears in the area. If you don’t get there soon enough to snag these first-come, first-serve spots, check the area for other free campsites as there are others nearby.

Related Read: A Winter Guide to Visiting Olympic National Park

3. Cowlitz Wildlife Area

 

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Why you should camp here: These more than 13,000 acres of wildlife are about equal distance between Mount Rainier to the north and Mount St. Helens to the south (about an hour away each).

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV
  • RV hookups: No

Owned by Tacoma Power and managed by the WDFW — don’t forget that Discover or Vehicle Access Pass! — this area includes many rivers (some dammed) and lakes across its wetlands, forest, and pasture.

Keep your eyes peeled — this area protects bald eagle and osprey foraging habitat. Bonus: there is no length limit for RVs.

Related Read: 11 Epic Glamping Spots in Washington State

4. Forest Road 23

 

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Why you should camp here: This dispersed camping option will provide a more remote experience with stunning views of Mt. Adams.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer
  • Campsite type: Tent, small RVs
  • RV hookups: No

Forest Road 23 will take you through the Cascades near Mount Adams and offer dispersed camping in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest. Enjoy this area during the summer as Babyshoe Pass is not maintained during the colder months when snow is common at this high elevation.

Even though Forest Road 23 is mostly paved (other than the 12 miles of gravel road near Babyshoe Pass), potholes and steep grades make this road best for only small RVs or trailers.

There are quite a few dispersed camping options, so if the first few are full, keep on going. Sites are spacious and often include an already-established fire pit but no other amenities. If need be, a small, free campground (Council Lake) is also nearby.

Regardless of where you choose to spend the night, trails and viewpoints will abound, including a Mt. Adams Viewpoint and a trailhead for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

5. Dillacort Canyon Unit

free camping washington - Dillacort Canyon
Photo: Dan Lewis

Why you should camp here: Take advantage of a wide range of outdoor activities, from hunting to hiking, near the Columbia River.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Late Spring, Summer, early Fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV
  • RV hookups: No

Located between Mount Adams and Mount Hood, don’t forget your Discover or Vehicle Access Pass to camp in this WDFW-managed Wildlife Area. About ten minutes away from the Columbia River (and Oregon), Dillacort Canyon Wildlife Area offers camping and hunting. It also provides access to Klickitat River for fishing as well as to Klickitat Trail for hiking or mountain biking.

The best camping can be found near Milepost 5 on the west side of Highway 142. Though few amenities are offered, there is a vault toilet nearby.

Related Read: 9 Best Pet-Friendly Cabin Rentals in Washington

6. Oak Creek Unit

free camping washington - oak creek
Photo: Tony Webster

Why you should camp here: Pick a season — any season — but especially fun is the annual winter elk feeding program.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Year-round
  • Campsite type: Tent, RVs
  • RV hookups: No

Part of the Oak Creek Wildlife Area managed by the WDFW (pass required), Oak Creek Unit offers hunting (deer, elk, bear, and big horn sheep), fishing (trout), and rock-climbing. Keep in mind however that rock climbing is not allowed during nesting season when golden eagles are present.

One of the more unique aspects of this area is the annual winter elk feeding program. During the snowy months in the Cascades, elk migrate to lower elevation for food. After coming into conflict feeding off agricultural land, the winter feeding program was created, providing food for elk, keeping them off agricultural land, and putting on a feeding show for visitors. January is the best time to see these incredible animals feeding; well over a thousand can be seen at a time.

If this isn’t enough to keep you busy, Mount Rainier is only an hour west and Yakima is a half hour east.

7. Evergreen Reservoir East

free camping washington - evergreen reservoir
Photo: Bryan Hermans

Why you should camp here: Enjoy the silence of Washington’s desert with water access for fishing.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV
  • RV hookups: No

As sparse as its surrounding desert landscape, Evergreen Reservoir East is a no-frills area to camp with restrooms and a concrete boat launch. It’s the perfect spot for peace and quiet while you fish in the Evergreen Reservoir.

Other activities nearby include golfing at the Colockum Ridge Golf Course or hiking any of the surrounding trails. As with other WDFW-managed, this spot does require either a Discover or Vehicle Access Pass.

Related Read: 13 Secluded Cabin Rentals in Washington for Private Getaways

8. Twentynine Pines Campground

free camping washington - twentynine pines campground
Photo: Desiree Richards

Why you should camp here: Check out Washington state’s first ever community forest and enjoy an impressive range of outdoor activities.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Year-round
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV
  • RV hookups: No

Found along Teanaway River, Twentynine Pines Campground is in Teanaway Community Forest, which is collaboratively managed by the DNR and WDFW (don’t forget one of the approved passes) and includes over fifty thousand acres of land.

The campground offers toilets as well as 59 campsites with fire rings and picnic tables.

Teanaway Community Forest is in the process of being built up to maintain and expand recreational activities. Visitors can hike, fish, hunt, horseback ride, snowmobile, mountain bike, drive ORVs, and boat. Unmaintained trails can be used at your own risk until trails are more established, however visitors may not create new trails.

9. Mountain Loop Scenic Byway

free camping washington - mountain loop scenic byway
Photo: Flickr

Why you should camp here: Choose dispersed camping along the Mountain Loop Scenic Byway for big views with fewer crowds — without having to drive far from Seattle.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, smaller RVs
  • RV hookups: No

With the remote, deep forest feel, it’s hard to imagine you’re just over an hour from bustling Seattle.

Meandering through Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in the Cascades, exploration is how you’ll find the best spot to settle in for the night. Make sure you’re within the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest boundaries and consider the gravel portion of road for the best places. Then, during the day, enjoy activities including fishing, climbing, hiking, horseback riding, and bicycling.

Related Read: The 10 Best Weekend Road Trips From Seattle, Washington

10. Crawfish Lake Campground

free camping washington - Crawfish Lake Campground
Photo: Jacob Kneeshaw

Why you should camp here: Head to Eastern Washington for this rare combo of serenity and amenities (even at a free campground).

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV (max length 24 feet)
  • RV hookups: No

With amenities like a picnic table and fire ring at each of the 19 sites, a boat launch, and even a couple toilets on site, Crawfish Lake Campground offers boating, fishing, and general tranquility. To help keep the experience magical, make sure food and wildlife attractants are properly stored.

Part of Colville National Forest, this campground on the north side of Crawfish Lake is managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS). Do keep in mind that the south half of the lake is on the Colville Reservation, so if you venture from the campground, you’ll want to make sure you have the correct permits before you fish from tribal lands.

11. Big Meadow Lake Campground

free camping washington - Big Meadow Lake Campground
Photo: David Eidy

Why you should camp here: Deeper in the Colville National Forest, this campground offers a quiet lake getaway up in the northeast corner of Washington state.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer, early Fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, RVs (maximum length 30 feet)
  • RV hookups: No

With a boat launch, fishing dock, and 16 campsites all walking distance from the lake, Big Meadow Lake Campground is a great spot for boating and fishing.

Rainbow trout are most common here in the 4.1-acre wide, 15 feet deep lake. Trails offer a stroll around the lake, a journey to a lookout tower, or a way to Hess Homestead Cabin, which is available with a picnic table and fire ring for day use only.

If that doesn’t float your boat, this makes a great stop on your way to the International Selkirk Loop: a 280-mile scenic drive around the Selkirk Mountains in Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia.

Related Read: 16 Best Hikes Near Spokane, Washington

12. Godman Campground

free camping washington - Godman Campground
Photo: Jordan LaCroix

Why you should camp here: Tucked away in Umatilla National Forest in the southeast corner of the state, this lightly used campground brings you closer to wilderness.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, RVs, Horse camping
  • RV hookups: No

With a vault toilet, picnic tables, and fire pits, Godman provides the basics so that visitors have somewhere to rest after playing outside; hunting (deer and elk), fishing, bicycling, hiking, and horse riding are all to be enjoyed here.

Along with trails to stunning viewpoints, Godman Trailhead is also nearby, providing access to the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness. Peace and quiet will be easy to find as motorized equipment is not allowed.

If you’re looking for a break from wilderness, you’re also about an hour and a half from Washington’s Walla Walla Wine Country.

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