The Washington Outdoor Report - week of Oct. 31

The Camping Crunch

Fall camping at Confluence State Park. Courtesy J. Kruse

Crowded Camping


The Center for Western Priorities released a study this month titled, “The Camping Crunch”. The study looked at camping at reservable public lands such as national parks, national forest service campgrounds, Bureau of Land Management campgrounds and other lodging you can reserve online thru the website The study showed a 39 percent increase in reservations in the lower 48 states between 2014 and 2020 with reservations skyrocketing during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.


In Washington State, the most popular camping areas were:


  1. Kalaloch (Olympic National Park on the coast)

  2. Willaby Campground (Olympic National Forest at Lake Quinault)

  3. Colonial Creek South Campground (North Cascades National Park)

  4. Charbonneau Park (Army Corps of Engineers Park on the Snake River near Burbank)

  5. Eight Mile Campground (Wenatchee-Okanogan National Forest near Leavenworth)


If you are looking for uncrowded camping options the campgrounds with the least number of reserved sites through were:


  1. Cayuse Horse Camp (Wenatchee-Okanogan National Forest near Ronald)

  2. Gillette Campground (Colville National Forest near Lake Gillette)

  3. Lakeview Campground – Stehekin (North Cascades National Park)

  4. Lake Creek Campground – Entiat River (Wenatchee-Okanogan National Forest)

  5. Lake Gillette Campground (Colville National Forest on Lake Gillette)


To give you an idea of the difference between these reservable sites the campground at Kalaloch had 96 percent of its campsites reserved while the Cayuse Horse Camp, which is only open for campers with horses or other stock, was reserved 15 percent of the time. Overall, the number of campsites reserved thru in Washington State increased 20 percent between 2018 and 2020.


Aaron Weiss, Deputy Director for the Center of Western Priorities, says the study found in some cases campers are, “Loving our public lands to death”. Weiss explained that when reservable campgrounds fill up, as they often have in recent years, campers will gravitate towards nearby campgrounds with fewer facilities or dispersed camping areas with no facilities at all. Couple this with the fact many campers are new at this and don’t understand the ethics of “pack it out” or “leave no trace” and damage is definitely being done to our public lands. Weiss believes not only educating new campers, but increasing camping opportunities with more campgrounds and infrastructure are important goals for the federal government to address.


Tumwater Campground Update


Earlier this year we addressed the continuing closure of the Tumwater Campground near Leavenworth which has 86 campsites as well as a group site for 55 people and a picnic area. The campground closed in 2014 due to wildfires in the area. Three attempts since the middle of August for information about plans to reopen the campground (or not) have gone unanswered by officials at the Wenatchee-Okanogan National Forest.


State Parks Free Days


There are two more free days to recreate in Washington’s State Parks this year where no Discover Pass is required for day-use activities. Those days are Veterans Day, November 11th and Black Friday, November 26th. Entry is not only free at state parks, but also at Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Areas and Department of Natural Resource lands where a pass is required.


However, instead of waiting for free days to recreate on our state public lands, you should consider investing in an annual Discover Pass which only costs $35. You can purchase one online when you renew your vehicle registration tabs or buy one at a local sporting goods store. They also make great Christmas gifts too for anyone who loves to recreate outdoors.


State Parks Director Update


Joseph O’Sullivan, writing for the Seattle Times, found out a lot more information regarding the resignation of Washington State Parks Director Peter Mayer in October after just seven months on the job. It turns out multiple employees, to include six regional park managers, filed complaints about Mayer’s leadership style. Mayer allegedly used coarse language and belittled employees in public. Another complaint alleged Mayer tried to steer the agency towards a particular firm he had worked with previously for a $29,000 contract in violation of established bidding procedures.


Mayer denied the allegations to the Seattle Times about this but through a spokesperson, apologized for any offensive language. Although he has announced his resignation, Mayer remains on home assignment and will continued to be paid until the end of the year.

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