- Old friends are best. John Selden
Camp on West Coast
Camping in California and the Pacific Northwest means sites with walking trails, lakes and state parks with dazzling views.
Here we’ve chosen the best campsites in the expansive West, and there’s not a mediocre one in the lot. From breathtaking mountains to bountiful lakes, there’s something here for everyone, and you’ll no doubt depart from any of them refreshed and properly acquainted with nature’s best.
Lower Falls campground, Skamania
This camp in the Gifford Pinchot national forest is set at 426m above sea level in the primary viewing area for six major waterfalls on the Lewis river. The spectacular Lewis river trail is available for hiking or horseback riding and has a wheelchair-accessible loop. Several other trails in the area branch off along backcountry streams, so there is plenty of variety for hikers. Note that above the falls, the water in the river looks safe, but it is not. In addition, the Lewis trail goes along cliffs, providing beautiful views but potentially dangerous hiking.
Salt Point State Park
Along the Sonoma Coast, Salt Point State Park boasts scenic, short hiking trails at Bluff Trail and Stump Beach Trail, Gerstle Cove Marine Reserve and, of all things, abalone diving (just not in the protected reserve). Though the two available campgrounds aren’t rich with amenities, the scenery alone rewards.
Mossyrock Park, Mossyrock
Mossyrock Park is on the south-west shore of Riffe Lake. It is an extremely popular campground, and for anglers it provides the best of both worlds: a boat launch on Riffe Lake and on the nearby Swofford pond, both of which offer great fishing options. Swofford pond is south of Mossyrock on Swofford Road, and no motorised boats are permitted. This campground provides access to a 0.5-mile loop nature trail. Bald eagles and osprey nest on the north side of the lake in the 14,000-acre Cowlitz Wildlife Area, making this a great campground for spotting wildlife.
Saddlebag Lake Campground
If it’s the sights of Yosemite you crave, but not the teeming hordes of tourists, then go to Saddlebag Lake. Located in the western portion of the iconic national park, it is a small campground with the expected scenic views. Just above the Tioga Pass, you’ll find numerous glacial lakes and plenty of wildlife. And if that’s not enough reason to pitch your tent for days, the abundant fishing opportunities should have you eating well during that time.
Pacific Beach state park, Pacific Beach
This is the only state park campground in Washington where you can see the ocean from your tent. Set on just 10 acres, within the town of Pacific Beach, it boasts 700m of beachfront. This spot is great for long beach walks, although it can be windy, especially in the spring and early summer. Note that rangers advise against swimming or body-surfing because of strong riptides. This campground is popular and often fills up quickly.
The fact that there are only four campsites at Laird Lake makes it attractive, far removed from the outdoorsy hordes you’d see elsewhere. Spread along the beautiful Elk River, the isolated campground provides the kind of privacy and quiet that every camper deserves to experience. The serenity is well worth the trip, as is the fishing. The lake is very regularly stocked with Rainbow Trout by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Nehalem Falls, Nehalem
This beautiful campground in Tillamook state forest, amid old-growth hemlock and spruce, is a two-minute walk fromlovely Nehalem Falls, making this one of the best west-coast spots for spectacular waterfall views. Note that swimming in the pool below the falls is hazardous and not advised – campers can take a half-mile loop trail that follows the Nehalem river for excellent fishing and swimming options.
Piñon Flats Campground
If the idea of camping out at sand dunes makes you sleepy, think again, Sandman. Piñon Flats at Great Sand Dunes National Park offers up access to the biggest sand dunes in the United States. They rise hundreds of feet and offer a fantastic, leg-burning climb. There are 30 square miles of dunes, and the backdrop are the captivating 14,000-foot Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Though there are no official campsites, you can pitch your tent nearly anywhere your heart desires.
Laird Lake campground, Medford
This secluded campground is at 487m above sea level, along the shore of pretty Laird Lake (1.8m at its deepest point). Some old-growth cedar logs are in the lake. Most campers have no idea such a place exists in the area, making this scenic spot very private. The spectacular view of the lake, along with the serene surroundings, makes this one of the best waterfront campgrounds in the Pacific Northwest. Note that there is no drinking water, and garbage must be taken out.