Planning your first – or 101st – family camping adventure? You can find it all within a half day’s drive of Seattle or Tacoma: mountain views, wooded streams, shining lakes, ocean tides – even desert sands. Here are my recommendations for five excellent campsites that are less than four hours from Seattle by car (and sometimes ferry).
1. Sequim Bay State Park, Olympic Peninsula
A year-round, 92-acre marine camping park with 4,909 feet of saltwater coast in the Sequim rain shadow, Sequim Bay State Park sits just inside Puget Sound on the Olympic Peninsula. The park has 49 tent spaces and 15 utility spaces, and there are two loops of forested, dry, camping sites, some very near the water. The calm bay and dry air make it popular with boaters. Other features include a tennis court, baseball field, horseshoe pits, beach combing, interpretive opportunities and the paved Olympic Discovery Trail. Ten minutes away, the city of Sequim has restaurants and shops and the Sequim Aquatic Center. The surrounding area has numerous attractions and recreational opportunities (see related story).
2. Seaquest State Park, Mt. St. Helen’s
This 475-acre, year-round camping park is a 2-plus hour drive from Seattle. near Mt. St. Helen’s. The beautifully forested Seaquest State Park claims over a mile of Silver Lake shoreline, a shallow wetland lake. Easy hikes on one mile of wetland trail and six miles of woodland trails offer views of wildlife, Silver Lake and the surrounding area. There are also children's play areas and playing fields. Seasonal fishing, boating and swimming are available nearby. There’s a small, but nice, Visitor’s Center for Mt. St. Helen within walking distance from the campground, and the larger Mt. St. Helen’s National Volcanic Monument Headquarters -- which features a film about the eruption and a paved hike that offers close-up views of the mountain -- is about 1.5 hours away by car. 3.
3. Eightmile Campground, near Leavenworth
Nestled in a forest canopy on the banks of Icicle Creek, the Eightmile Campground gives you access to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, as well as the town of Leavenworth with its Tyrolean-style architecture and touristy shops and restaurants (don’t miss the great burgers at Gustav’s). More of a wilderness experience, this campground can lead to all sorts of adventures, including hiking, mountain biking and even rock climbing!—The Icicle Creek Trail can be a bit tough for young kids — we encountered some snow near the top in June — but even going part way is fun. And, for various fees, you can participate in activities like river rafting and horseback riding — all within a short drive of the campground.
4. Mt. Rainier National Park, Ohanapecosh or White River Campgrounds
Reasonable close to home, Mt. Rainier National Park has it all: great views, and a variety of campgrounds and visitor centers. Almost any will do, though you CAN make reservations at Ohanapecosh. My daughter was thrilled to see the ethereal blue of a glacier close-up, and to get to play in the snow in the middle of summer! The surrounding towns offer a wide variety of events and attractions (see visitrainier.com) that can easily be accessed from your campgrounds. Special Junior Ranger programs are offered throughout the park on summer weekends (daily at Paradise in summer) and a Junior Ranger Activity Book is available year-round. For more information contact the Longmire Museum at 360-569-6575.
5. Owhi Campground, near Cle Elum
An attraction at the Owhi Campground is the 22 tent-only campsites. They are walk-in, but close enough to the parking area to be doable, even with small kids. Motorboats are prohibited on Cooper Lake, so the atmosphere is serene. We brought our canoe and spent a lot of time paddling around the lake, which is not ideal for swimming — but IS for fishing. My daughter was fascinated by the men in hip-waders casting their lines. We wish we had brought some gear! Plus, the town of Roslyn is close enough that you can take advantage of its restaurants, ice cream shop and bakery. And, if the parents are old enough to remember, they can visit sites from the TV show “Northern Exposure.”
For more tips on car camping, see the related article: "Car Camping with Kids: The Essential Guide."
Andrea Leigh Ptak is a Seattle-based freelance writer who has camped extensively with her family across the Western United States.