Washington State features an incredible diversity of natural areas and wilderness. From the temperate rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula, to the soaring heights on Mt. Rainier, to the wide river valleys of eastern Washington, there is a near endless expanse to explore. All of this public land also provides an incredible opportunity for free, dispersed camping in Washington.
Whether you’re looking to set-up camp in the Cascades, deep in the Olympic National Forest, or at Sullivan Lake on the eastern side of the state, there is a great option for you.
We’ve created this Washington dispersed camping guide to help you navigate through the various regulations and rules and find your perfect campsite.
Let’s get started.
Washington Dispersed Camping Guide
- The Basics
- The 10 Best Dispersed Camping Areas in Washington
- Olympic Peninsula – Forest Road 29
- Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest – Mountain Loop Highway
- Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest – Tinkham Road
- Colville National Forest – Sullivan Creek Dispersed Sites
- Gifford-Pinchot National Forest – Mount Adams
- Mount Rainier Area
- Barker Canyon
- Caliche Lake
- Cascade Range – Lower Sandy/Baker Lake
- Fishtrap Recreation Area
The following sections contains all the critical information you need to plan a Washington dispersed camping trip. Everything from where you can camp, how to find potential campsites, what to bring, and more.
This is the essential information before you head out!
Where is dispersed camping allowed in Washington?
The first, and most crucial, step is planning a dispersed camping trip in Washington is to understand exactly where dispersed camping is permitted. In Washington State there are a handful of federal and state agencies that allow free, dispersed camping on the land they oversee. These include the following:
US Forest Service Dispersed Camping in Washington (USFS)
The USFS manages a huge amount of land in Washington, located in seven distinct national forests. The vast majority of dispersed camping in Washington will be located in one of these national forests, so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations for each. These 7 National Forests are listed below along with a link to the dispersed camping guidelines for that area:
- Colville National Forest
- Gifford Pinchot National Forest
- Kaniksu National Forest
- Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
- Okanogan–Wenatchee National Forest
- Olympic National Forest
- Umatilla National Forest
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is another public land owner in Washington that permits dispersed camping. The BLM managed land in Washington State is primarily on the eastern side of Washington, in the Columbia Basin, and in the wilderness near Spokane. There is a single BLM district office in Washington, located in Spokane:
Dispersed camping is permitted on BLM land in Washington, though you’ll be best served by checking with the District Office above for specific regulations. You can find a good overview of BLM dispersed camping rules here.
The next public agency in Washington worth mentioning in any free and dispersed camping guide is the Washington Department of Natural Resources. The DNR manages 80 campgrounds throughout the state that are primarily first-come, first-served. The great thing about these campgrounds is that there is no fee besides getting an annual Washington ‘Discover Pass‘. An annual pass currently costs just $35, so if you’re planning on a lot of camping trips and interested in the DNR campgrounds this is a great value.
One final and lessor known agency that allows free, dispersed camping in Washington is the Army Corps of Engineers. Centered around the Columbia River valley, these camping areas are often simple parking lots near boat launches. However, you’ll generally have access to vault toilets and other basic amenities here.
Planning a Pacific Northwest trip? Be sure to check out our Oregon dispersed camping guide as well!
How to find dispersed camping in Washington
In general, with a little knowledge of where to look and experience navigating forest service roads, it should be relatively straightforward to find dispersed camping in Washington. There are also several websites and apps that make it a bit easier by providing recommendations and user reviews for dispersed camping. These include:
- Freecampsites.net – Our go to resource for finding free camping
- The Dyrt – An app that let’s you filter for free and dispersed campsites
- Campendium – A website and app that allows you to see user reviews for campsites and campgrounds across the country.
While these apps and websites are a good starting place for finding dispersed camping in Washington, we always recommend reaching out to the Ranger District or BLM office in the area where you are hoping to dispersed camp. These offices will be able to provide you with the most up-to-date dispersed camping information, make recommendations, and give you all the intel you’ll need.
Finally, we also recommend familiarizing yourself with USFS Motor Vehicle Use Maps for the national forests in Washington. These maps generally show which forest service roads permit dispersed camping, often notated by two dots on either side of the road.
Links to some relevant MVUMs for Washington dispersed camping are linked below:
- Colville National Forest MVUM
- Gifford Pinchot National Forest MVUM
- Kaniksu National Forest MVUM
- Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest MVUM
- Okanogan–Wenatchee National Forest MVUM
- Olympic National Forest MVUM
- Umatilla National Forest MVUM
In addition, this helpful guide to Motor Vehicle Use Maps in Oregon and Washington National Forests is a great resource.
We often have a motor vehicle use map open in one tab and Google Maps satellite view in the other to help find dispersed campsites. You can cross reference the two and often see areas that have established campsites in Google Maps.
Dispersed Camping Rules & Regulations
One of our favorite things about dispersed camping in Washington is the lack of permits, reservations, and other requirements you’ll often find at developed campgrounds. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t important rules you should always following when dispersed camping.
It is best to check current regulations with the relevant USFS or BLM office, but you should plan on adhering to the following as outlined by the USFS:
- Do not camp in areas near trailheads, picnic areas, or developed campgrounds.
- Keep your campsite small.
- Use existing sites and fire rings when available.
- Pick a site where vegetation is absent.
- Do not camp within 200 feet of a water source.
- Dispersed camping is generally limited to 14 days within any continuous 30 day period.
- Only have a campfire if it is permitted, and always be sure it is completely extinguished.
- Practice Leave No Trace principles – more on that below!
Leave No Trace Principles & Washington Dispersed Camping
One of the most important considerations when dispersed camping is to follow Leave No Trace principles. This will minimize your impact and ensure your campsite can be enjoyed by future visitors. 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.
The Best Dispersed Camping in Washington State
Now that you’ve got some good background on dispersed camping in Washington we’ve put together the following list of the 10 best dispersed camping areas in Washington. In addition, the map below gives an overview of each area with a detailed description in the section below. Enjoy!
Olympic Peninsula – Forest Road 29
The most popular dispersed camping in Olympic National Forest is along Forest Service Road 29 in the northwest section of the national forest. The road here has several dozen pull outs that make the perfect dispersed campsite and many can accommodate larger RVs and trailers.
The area linked on the map above is the largest and most popular camping area and is a good first option. Should you find it full, simply continue along the road looking for good campsites to pull off at.
This dispersed camping area is close to the Olympic Discovery Trailhead, which meanders along the Sol Duc River.
In addition to Forest Road 29, there are plenty of other options for dispersed camping in Olympic National Forest. For more ideas, check out our Olympic National Forest camping guide.
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest – Mountain Loop Highway
Water: No, but may be possible to pull from the river.
The Mountain Loop Highway in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is a winding gravel road that has some of the best dispersed camping in Washington. Most sites here are just small pull offs from the road, but you’ll find a few that are tucked further back and have great river access. The Mountain Loop Highway connects Granite Falls with Darrington and has a number of developed campgrounds in addition to dispersed sites.
Generally speaking, the best camping can be found on the eastern end of the loop where you’ll be the furthest from a town. Although these aren’t the quietest sites given their proximity to the highway, you’ll enjoy beautiful surroundings and stunning views.
The Mountain Loop Highway is a very popular area for dispersed camping, so please make sure you leave your campsite in better condition than you found it and always practice Leave No Trace camping.
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest – Tinkham Road
Tinkham Road in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest has some nice dispersed campsites within close proximity to Seattle. There are also several developed campgrounds scattered in this area and more dispersed camping north of Lake Cle Elum, just east of here. Several of the easiest pull offs have been closed in recent years, so we recommend reaching out to the Snoqualmie Ranger District North Bend Office for the most up to date information.
Tinkham Road is known for having some very deep and difficult potholes, so be sure to take is slow and pay attention to the road. Those in larger rigs may want to look elsewhere, as it can be hard to navigate back to where the best sites are located.
Given the areas close proximity to Seattle, you’ll need to arrive early to secure a campsite during the busy summer months. Also, please be sure to pack out all of your trash to ensure this area remains open to camping for years to come.
Restrooms: Vault toilet available
An excellent dispersed camping option located in far northeast Washington State is the Sullivan Creek Dispersed Sites in Colville National Forest. Although not traditional dispersed camping, these sites offer privacy, are free of charge, and have access to some basic amenities such as vault toilets and fire rings. The campsites are located along Sullivan Creek Road and grouped together in a few clusters.
Nearby recreational opportunities include boating on Sullivan Lake and many excellent hiking trails.
Although a less visited dispersed camping area in Washington, Sullivan Lake is still quite popular. If you’re planning to camp over a summer weekend, we recommend getting there as early as you can to secure a site.
Gifford-Pinchot National Forest – Mount Adams/FS-23
Located in Gifford-Pinchot National Forest on the flanks of Mt. Adams is the Forest Service Road 23 dispersed camping area. This road leads up to Babyshoe Pass and also accesses some excellent free developed campgrounds at Council Lake. However, for those looking for a dispersed site, camping is permitted at multiple pull outs along FS-23, mostly south of the pass.
These sites aren’t the most private, but they do give great access to the Mt. Adams area including the Williams Mine trailhead.
There are no facilities for these dispersed sites, although it may be possible to treat water from one of the nearby creeks. Even so, we recommend bringing all the water you’ll need and of course practicing leave no trace principles.
Mount Rainier Area
One of the most spectacular dispersed camping options near in Washington is located near Mt. Rainier along Forest Road 52. This dispersed camping area is just southwest of the national park and situated adjacent to the beautiful Nisqually River. There are good sites almost the entire length of the road as it parallels the river.
You’re also just eight miles from the Nisqually Entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park, making this an excellent overnight option. The crowds can get heavy along FR52 during the summer months to be sure to arrive early if you want to secure one of the prime spots.
There are no services along FR52, so please come prepared to be self-sufficient. That includes packing out human waste and all trash and always practicing Leave No Trace principles.
For more ideas in the area, check out our Mt. Rainier dispersed camping guide.
Restrooms: No, but pit toilet is available at the boat launch.
Barker Canyon is a popular spot for dispersed camping in Washington on the shores of Banks Lake. There is a boat launch here, and adjacent to that are several excellent dispersed sites with beautiful views of the lake as well as easy access for more cars. Campers here will enjoy some wonderful views as well as easy access to the town of Grand Coulee for camping supplies.
On the opposite side of the lake is Steamboat Rock State Park which has a developed campground as well as several hiking trails.
Dispersed campers can access the pit toilet at the boat launch, but will want to bring their own water supply when camping here. The sites are generally very quiet, so please be considerate of other campers and try to keep noise to a minimum!
A convenient dispersed campsite in central Washington is Caliche Lake, just off I-90 near the Columbia River. This isn’t the most glamourous dispersed site in Washington, but it does provide easy camping right off the highway and can accommodate a variety of camping set ups. For rock climbers, you’ll be close to Frenchman Coulee with its excellent climbing routes.
The camping area is located just south of interstate 90 past the small town of George.
There are no services at Caliche Lake, so please be sure to pack out all of your own waste and bring everything you need to be a self-sufficient camper.
Cascade Range – Lower Sandy/Baker Lake
Mt. Baker National Forest in northern Washington has some excellent dispersed camping, including right on the shores of Baker Lake. Known as the Lower Sandy dispersed sites, these campsites sit right on the shores of the lake. There are tons of forest service roads in this area, so you shouldn’t have any issue finding good campsites.
This is an excellent base camp for exploring the Mt. Baker area including doing some kayaking on Baker Lake or traversing the Baker Lake Trail.
Camping in this area is very popular and there are also several developed sites in close proximity to Lower Sandy. You’ll be best served by arriving early on summer weekends, as many of the best dispersed sites in the area fill up quickly.
Located on the eastern side of the state, Fishtrap Recreation Area offers easy and accessible dispersed camping on BLM land. The camping here is generally located in large gravel pull offs from the various roads in the area, but you’ll get a nice flat site and not have to worry about rough roads. Several of the parking lots have vault toilets, a nice amenity for a dispersed campsite!
For those interested in exploring the area, the Fishtrap Loop trail provides good access to the 9,000+ acre recreation area. The trail is easily accessed from any of the parking/camping areas.
Outside of the vault toilets, there are no services at Fishtrap so you’ll need to come prepared with all of your own water and everything else you need to be self-sufficient.
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 in Washington.
Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions and be sure to tell us about your trip!