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No Reservations, No Problem: A Panic-Free Guide to Camping on the Fly

Best no-reservation family campgrounds around Washington State

Lauren Braden

Published on: August 08, 2023

No Reservations, No Problem: A Panic-Free Guide to Camping on the Fly

Camping at Staircase Campground. Credit: pfly/Flickr CC

Staircase Campground in Olympic National Park

Find it: Staircase Campground is located near Lake Cushman, west of Hood Canal and situated on the east side of Olympic National Park.

Details: This campground offers 49 sites (some right on the river) set in the rain forest along the Skokomish River. There are potable water spigots and flush toilets. This old-growth ecosystem offers a multi-layered outdoor laboratory for budding naturalists. Summer ranger programs will get you started identifying ferns, mosses, birds and critters, then strike out on your own for some scientific observation along the North Fork Skokomish River Trail or the shorter Rapids Loop and Shady Lane trails. (Open year round, online reservations are accepted for the peak summer season, July 5 - August 31.)

Plan B: Head back to the shores of Hood Canal for Seal Rock Campground (Olympic National Forest), where 41 non-reservable campsites are popular with local shellfish foragers.

Pro tips for last-minute camping at no-reservation campgrounds:

When to go: For the best availability, plan your camping trip early in the week (most campgrounds clear out on Sundays by noon) or mid-week. Weekends are the riskiest choice; no-reservations campgrounds may fill up by early Friday afternoon on summer weekends, so plan to arrive at your destination campground before noon on a Friday to snag a campsite. For the most popular campgrounds, especially those in state parks and national parks, your safer choice is to start your weekend camping trip on a Thursday.

Pack early: You’ll probably want to leave the house at the crack of dawn to grab your campsite. For all of the outdoor fun, camping is a heck of a lot of work, even more so with kids in tow and without concrete reservations. Ease the stress of packing by having everything ready and in the car at least by the night before your departure. Make sure the car has a full tank of gas and you’ve planned out your route. Pack snacks and fun books or games for the kids so you won’t have to make many pit stops.

Have a plan B: When you opt for no-reservations camping, you swap predictability for flexibility, so there’s a risk of being turned away at a chock-full campground. If your preferred campground is full when you arrive, you’ll want to have a few other nearby campgrounds in mind or even a cheap motel.

More family camping ideas:

Editor’s notes: This article was originally published several years ago and updated for 2023. Image credit for this page: pfly/Flickr CC

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