Rapids, waterfalls, sapphire lakes, craggy peaks, moss-hung rain forests, lonely seacoasts — Olympic National Park’s 1,442 square miles offer a constellation of landscapes that no other national park can match. Ninety-five percent is wilderness, accessible only on foot or horseback, but spur roads still deliver car-campers to 16 campgrounds with 910 sites. The rain — 134 inches annually in the Hoh Rain Forest — goes on vacation itself in July, August, and September, but wait if you can: The best camping is in early fall, after summer’s crowds evaporate.
• Kalaloch. Try to nab D25, a corner site with a stunning 160° view of Pacific surf and sunset. No neighbors here — adjacent sites have been closed by bluff erosion. 169 reservable sites Jun 23–Sep 4; $18. 800/365-2267.
• Deer Park. Just below Blue Mountain’s 6,007-foot summit, the remote camp offers rim-of-the-world views of craggy peaks and clouds skulking in the valleys below. To reach it, head up the mountain’s narrow gravel road. 14 sites spring–summer; $10. No RVs or trailers; no running water. 360/565-3130.
• Hoh. Moss and really-big-tree enthusiasts will love this rain-forest area. There’s also a resident herd of Roosevelt elk. 88 sites year-round; $12. 360/565-3130.
• Mora. Not quite as in demand as Kalaloch, campsites here lack immediate ocean views. But the otherworldly natural “litter” of Rialto Beach — craggy sea stacks and monster driftwood — is just 2 miles west. 95 sites year-round; $12. 360/565-3130.
• Sol Duc. Hiking 2.5 miles from the campground gets you to awesome Sol Duc Falls; making a loop scores a warm soak in the Sol Duc Hot Springs pools ($11, $8 ages 4–12). 82 sites year-round; $14. 360/565-3130.
• Staircase. A riverside campground in a beautiful old-growth forest near the Staircase Rapids of the North Fork Skokomish. 56 sites year-round; $12. No running water in winter. 360/565-3130.
Outside the park
A surprising abundance of campgrounds — operated by the U.S. Forest Service, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, and private landowners — relieves the pressure on park sites. Remarkably, the Washington DNR sites are all free. Visit www.nwsource.com/outdoors for a comprehensive list and ratings of Olympic Peninsula campgrounds.
• Falls Creek, Gatton Creek, and Willaby. Three Forest Service campgrounds huddle in a majestic old-growth forest by Lake Quinault. $12–$15. Falls Creek (May 29–Sep 4) has 31 sites. Gatton Creek (May 29–Sep 4) has 5 sites; no running water. Willaby (May 29–Oct 31) has 34 sites. Quinault Tribe permit (fee varies; available at Quinault Mercantile, 360/288-2620) needed for hiking, boating, and fishing; boat ramps at Willaby and Falls Creek. 360/288-2525.
• Lyre River. A quiet campground operated by the Washington DNR; adjacent to a lovely small river. 9 sites year-round; free. 360/374-6131.
What camp hosts say
• Arrive on a Thursday (or earlier) to improve your odds of finding a weekend spot. All park campgrounds are first come, first served except Kalaloch.
• None of the park’s campgrounds offers showers, so take advantage of private concessions just outside park boundaries.
• Bring firewood. The National Park Service urges campers to bring their own so dead wood can recycle itself as nutrition for the forest.
• Steer clear of campgrounds near U.S. 101. Heavy logging trucks ply the highway, so stay off the beaten path if you crave forest silence.
Info: Seven-day pass $15 per vehicle. www.nps.gov/olym or 360/565-3130.
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