Nothing’s quite as sweet as camping with good friends and lots of children. But here it is, the middle of the Northwest's rainy season, and camping’s still a far-off dream — right?
It doesn’t have to be! The Puget Sound area has a wealth of resources for group getaways available year-round — and many offer the walls, ceilings and heated bathrooms that make camping in the rainy and snowy seasons possible. State-owned environmental learning centers (ELCs) and vacation houses can be rented in 10 parks across Washington — at very reasonable prices. They generally offer wonderful (albeit spare) communal gathering spaces complete with fully outfitted kitchens and all the accoutrements.
This means you can still give your kids the great outdoors experience — without schlepping around pots, pans, coffee makers and cooking utensils. You’ll even be supplied with paper towels, toilet paper (a little better than the lumber-jack’s-revenge variety) and access to heated bathrooms and showers. I’ll be the first to admit that a bathroom with warm water and a functioning shower is a camping mama’s dream, especially in the cooler months.
Some of the most beautiful rustic spots in the Northwest can become home for an annual campout tradition. For instance, in the Blue Mountains of southeast Washington near Anatone, you’ll find Wohelo in Fields Spring State Park. Part of the park sits at a height of 4,500 feet atop Puffer Butte — and it is gorgeous. We’ve hiked with friends along the Grande Ronde River taking in views of three states.
Exact group accommodations vary, depending on where you go. At Wohelo, there is a fireplace, living room and dining room, open sleeping loft for 20, fully equipped kitchen, restrooms and showers. You’ll need to bring your own food (this is a good time to share cooking duties with friends), sleeping bags and bedding for the beds and cots, as well as your own kitchen linens, bathing and dishwashing supplies. Bring first aid equipment, too. Plus, don’t forget to pack all your winter equipment for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. When we were there, Wohelo had a groomed sledding and tubing trail adjacent to the lodge.
Action-packed days, bracing air and gorgeous vistas — along with a warm bathroom to comfortably pad off to in the middle of the night — are compelling reasons to plan an off-season group getaway. You may wind up like us — making plans for our next great escape on the day we leave.
Some Places to Try
Where: Nestled in a forested mountain setting in the Upper Satus River near Goldendale.
Accommodations: Seven cabins sleep 10 each; comfortable log lodge with fireplace and beds for two; fully equipped kitchen, meeting room and dining area; restrooms and showers nearby.
Activities: Hiking on nine miles of trails; fishing on Little Klickitat River; volleyball and softball fields; Goldendale Observatory located 13 miles south of the center, Maryhill Museum and Stonehenge replica located 25 miles south of the center.
Camp Moran at Moran State Park
Where:Situated near Mount Constitution in the San Juans, on Orcas Island.
Accommodations: Rustic main lodge with wood-burning stove and commercial-sized kitchen; three duplexes sleep 28 each with attached restrooms and showers; one cabin sleeps four with attached restroom and shower; two A-frames sleep eight each; four cabins sleep 10 each; restrooms and showers nearby.
Activities: 30 miles of hiking trails, including a trail to top of Mount Constitution; private beach and dock for fishing; outdoor amphitheater with fire circle and covered shelter with gas barbecue; volleyball and basketball areas. Moran Outdoor School Programs are offered during spring and fall.
Cornet Bay at Deception Pass State Park
Where: Set on a saltwater bay with freshwater lakes nearby, near Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island.
Accommodations: Lodge and recreation hall with fully equipped kitchen; 14 cabins sleep 10 each; one cabin sleeps four and one cabin sleeps nine; duplex sleeps 28; amphitheater for group gatherings; restrooms and showers nearby. ADA access.
Activities: Fishing on lakes; kayaking and canoeing; hiking; horseshoes; golf course and rifle range nearby; interpretive center; lighthouse and gun batteries at Fort Casey State Park located 15 miles away.
Where: Set on a high bluff above Puget Sound, near Port Hadlock.
Accommodations: Three separate arrangements: Camp Hoskins, occupancy of 180; Camp Richmond, occupancy of 52; and Camp Wilson, occupancy of 15 to 37. Camp Hoskins has three dorms, kitchen, dining hall, restrooms and showers and theater. Camp Richmond features a dorm, kitchen, dining area, restrooms and showers. Camp Wilson offers bunks, small kitchen, restroom and showers. Fort Flagler's Recreation Hall also is available for meetings and includes a small kitchen, restrooms and space for up to 100 guests.
Activities: Fishing and clamming; hiking on beach and trails; historical museum; softball, volleyball and basketball areas; day trips to nearby Fort Worden State Park.
Where: Surrounded by old-growth Douglas fir trees; features five miles of equestrian trails, near Chehalis.
Accommodations: Lodge with fully equipped kitchen, wood stove, and bunkroom for 24; large area adjacent to lodge with room for ten RVs (no hookups) or tents increases occupancy up to 50 people; restrooms and showers.
Activities: Horseback riding on five miles of trail; hiking; biking; visiting historic Jackson House homestead; visiting nearby Mount St. Helen's and related interpretive center.
Where: Along the shores of Deep Lake near Tumwater, 10 miles south of Olympia.
Accommodations: Dining hall with fully equipped kitchen; 16 heated cabins with eight beds each; three staff cabins with six beds each; sheltered outdoor classroom; amphitheater for activities; restrooms and showers nearby. ADA access.
Activities: Hiking; canoeing or rowing on lake (eight canoes, two rowboats and boat launch available); swimming; walking on fitness trail; wildlife watching; volleyball; basketball (half-court); archery.
Ramblewood at Sequim Bay State Park
Where: Situated on the beautiful Olympic Peninsula, near Sequim.
Accommodations: Wood lodge with fully equipped kitchen and fireplace; sleeping loft for eight; four Adirondack (three-sided) sleeping shelters, each sleep eight; three heated cabins sleep eight or nine each; outdoor fire circle for activities.
Activities: Hiking; beachcombing; fishing and shellfish gathering; volleyball and baseball in fields across highway from camping area.
Puffer Butte and Wohelo at Fields Spring State Park
Where: Remotely located at an elevation of 4,500 feet in the Blue Mountains near Anatone.
Accommodations: A log lodge that is accessible to people with disabilities; the lodge has a fully equipped kitchen, gathering room with fireplace, nearby restrooms and showers; lodge sleeping accommodations for 24; six adjacent cabins accommodate up to 56 overnight guests; outdoor amphitheater with fire pit; picnic tables, ADA access.
Activities: Cross-country skiing; snow tubing; hiking; mountain biking; volleyball; softball; ping pong; horseshoe pits.
The following two ELC facilities are not available during the winter, but worth contacting for spring through fall
Where: Located on the Tucannon River in the Blue Mountains, near Pomeroy.
Accommodations: 1930s era dining hall with fully equipped modern kitchen, freezers and walk-in cooler; 17 cabins each sleep 11; three cabins sleep six each; one cabin sleeps four; cedar meeting hall with fireplace; several outdoor shelters; restrooms and showers nearby; ADA access.
Activities: Hiking forest and mountain trails; canoes available for use on Donnie Lake; archery (covered range); softball field; paved court for tennis and basketball; 25'x50' heated indoor swimming pool (visitors must supply certified lifeguard).
Camp Delany at Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park
Where: Near a pristine chain of lakes, freshwater marshes and magnificent basalt rock formations, not far from Coulee City.
Accommodations: Eight heated, air-conditioned cabins sleep 9 each, plus staff cabin sleeps four; commercial-style kitchen and dining area.
Activities: Hiking or bicycling on 15 miles of trails; fishing; boating (rentals available in park); golf and miniature golf; interpretive center at site of Dry Falls.
If you go ...
Plan ahead when calling for a reservation, since things book up months in advance. The reservation service suggests you provide a date and as many as four alternates for your getaway. Make sure everyone in your party knows the times you’re trying to reserve.
You can get a view of most lodges and ELCs online at the Washington State Parks Environmental Learning Centers. The affordable overnight rates are per person, regardless of age, and are usually in the (seemingly arbitrary) amounts of $10-$12 range, per night (before tax).
Reservations: Visit the state parks website or call 800-360-4240, 360-902-8600, or Washington Telecommunications Relay Service at 800-833-6388. Follow the directions on the message and you should receive a call back within 24 hours or less, unless you’re calling on a weekend.
Tips: Kids need to be able to run and let their imaginations take over. Make a pact to leave the electronic devices at home; they’ll quickly be forgotten with imaginations and flashlights at play. It doesn’t take long for games of Kick the Can and Green Ghost to take over. For the adults, the night sky is darker and filled with more vivid stars than we can see in Seattle. Crane your neck skyward and track the slow and deliberate trail of satellites; it’s the ultimate Game Boy!
Please note: If you have questions about any of the state parks, call the State Parks Information Center at 360-902-8844 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The reservation line does not provide assistance with trip planning.
Tracy Romoser is Seattle-based freelance writer, mother and avowed snow lover.
Editor's Note: This article, originally written in 2009, was updated by ParentMap staff in 2013.