Located on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, the Elkhorn Dispersed Camping Area is a wonderful, free camping area to base yourself when exploring the surrounding wilderness. Easily accessed from Seattle, Elkhorn offers the unique experience of a hike in campsite with a remoteness you won’t find at many other camping options in the area.
We’ve got all the intel you need to plan your next camping trip at the Elkhorn Dispersed camping area in the guide below.
Elkhorn Dispersed Camping Area Guide
- Elkhorn Dispersed Camping
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Location & Overview
The Elkhorn Dispersed Camping Area is actually the site of a former developed USFS campground in Olympic National Forest. The main road leading to the campground was washed out, resulting in the abandonment of the original Elkhorn Campground.
Today, you’ll find that the forest is slowly reclaiming the campground with moss covered picnic tables and ever encroaching flora. All of this makes for a unique place to dispersed camp, as there won’t be any cars driving past your site in the middle of the night.
However, as you can probably infer, you’ll have to walk in along the now closed road for just over 2 miles with all of your gear before you reach the camping area. The trip isn’t too bad, but you will definitely want to plan accordingly.
The map below shows you the general location of the Elkhorn Dispersed Camping Area:
As you can see, the area is located immediately adjacent to the Dosewallips River, with a few of the sites having frontage right on the water.
To reach the camping area you’ll need to head west on Dosewallips Road from Highway 101, which is just north of the town of Brennon. From here, travel just over nine miles to an unmaintained parking area. This is marked on many maps as the Tunnel Creek trailhead.
From here, your 2.5 mile slog begins. You’ll mostly be following the old road, but you will have to tackle a short section of switchbacks which climbs above the area where the road has washed out. As always, exercise caution here as this is not a maintained trail.
Once back on the road, it’s a straight shot to the Elkhorn dispersed camping area.
What are the dispersed campsites like at Elkhorn?
The campsites at Elkhorn dispersed camping area are all former developed campsites, so you’ll find picnic tables and fire rings. However, the condition of these isn’t always in the best shape, with many well-worn and covered with moss.
The nice thing about camping here is there is a clear delineation of each campsite, which makes it easier to claim your site. There are no longer any restroom facilities so please either pack out your waste, or properly bury it. If do you bury it, please be at least 100′ away from the river.
It may be obvious, but there are also no trash facilities at Elkhorn, so you’ll need to pack everything out with you. Given the remote nature of these campsites, it is essential to practice Leave No Trace principles and leave your campsite better than you found it.
For a more in-depth look at the campsites at Elkhorn Dispersed Camping Area, check out the videos below:
Elkhorn Dispersed Camping – Rules & Regulations
Located within Olympic National Forest, Elkhorn dispersed camping area follows all of the broader dispersed camping regulations you’ll find throughout the National Forest system. You can read the full list on the Olympic NF website, but we’ve highlighted the key considerations below:
- Camping is limited to 14 consecutive days within any 30-day period
- Use a campsite that has already been established.
- Camp away from recreation sites, trailheads, and water (not possible at Elkhorn)
- Be sure to check the latest campfire & forest restrictions. DO NOT have a fire if there are restrictions in place!
- Properly dispose of human/pet waste
Other helpful dispersed camping rules that broadly apply include:
- Keep your campsite small.
- Use existing fire rings when available.
- Place tents/park where vegetation is absent.
- Practice Leave No Trace principles – more on that below!
If you’re looking for additional information on dispersed camping in the region, check out our complete guide to dispersed camping in Washington.
Download Our FREE Dispersed Camping Cheat Sheet
Our free printable cheat sheet outlines how to find the perfect dispersed campsite for your next trip.
Leave No Trace Dispersed Camping
One of the most important considerations when dispersed camping is to follow Leave No Trace principles. The wilderness here is fragile and it is our responsibility to minimize our impact and keep these areas open to future campers.
Here are the seven principles of Leave No Trace camping:
- Plan Ahead & Prepare: Have an idea of where you’d like to camp and always be sure you are camping in an area that permits dispersed camping.
- Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces: Never camp on fragile ground or create a new campsite.
- Dispose of waste properly: Pack out all of your trash and bury human waste away from water sources. Ideally, carry out human waste or use a portable toilet.
- Leave what you find: Never take anything from your campsite. Other than trash of course!
- Minimize campfire impacts: Never create new fire rings and only have fires if permitted.
- Respect Wildlife: Properly store food at all times and be aware of the area’s wildlife.
- Be considerate of Other Visitors: Pack out your trash, don’t be loud, and leave your campsite in better condition than you found it.
You can read more about the seven principles of Leave No Trace camping here.
Cell Service, Amenities, & More
The Elkhorn dispersed camping area is set back in true wilderness, so don’t expect to get cell service or to have access to any amenities. The lone exception is that each campsite tends to have an old fire ring and picnic table, although the condition of each of these can vary quite a bit.
There is no water source either, although you can filter from the river.
The closest town with services is at the base of Dosewallips Road in Brinnon. There isn’t much here, but you will find a well-stocked gas station that carries many camping essentials.
What to Bring
You shouldn’t expect any amenities when dispersed camping at Elkhorn so you’ll need to come prepared to be self-sufficient.
While we’re sure you’ll already have the essentials like a great tent, sleeping bags, and camp chairs, below are some of our essential items :
- Heavy duty wagon: This makes all the difference when you’re hauling your gear the 2+ miles from the parking area!
- Coleman Camping Stove – This classic piece of gear is perfect for cooking up deluxe campsite dinners.
- Portable water container – There isn’t a great water source on Owners River Road, so a good portable water container is a must.
- Cooler – Keeping food and drinks cool is critical when camping. We can’t recommend Yeti enough!
- Map – We prefer downloadable GPS maps via the Gaia GPS app. You can get 20% off your annual membership here.
Our dispersed camping checklist has everything you need.
Want to know the essentials for your next camping trip?
Our dispersed camping checklist has all the camping essentials plus specific items for dispersed camping.
Find Your Next Dispersed Campsite
Our online video course will teach you everything you need to know to find your next free, dispersed campsite.
Learn how to find the best campsite locations BEFORE you head out. No more showing up to crowded sites with all the spots taken!
In this course, we’ll show you how to research free, public campsites, read USFS maps, locate public land, and plan your next dispersed camping trip.
- How to find areas that allow free, dispersed camping
- How to use public maps to narrow down your search
- How to use online apps to identify where camping is permitted and view the surrounding terrain
- How to view your exact location in relation to camping opportunities when you’re out looking for a site – even without cell phone service!
- Confidently plan your next camping trip
Have a great trip!
That’s it! We hope we’ve provided all of the information you need to plan a great dispersed camping trip at the Elkhorn Dispersed Camping Area.
Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions and be sure to tell us about your trip!