Section 1, Campgrounds
We set out after the July 4th holiday in 2013 for our third trip to Washington State from Iowa to explore areas not previously hiked. Summer weeks are the busy season and so detailing our campground experiences could help future travelers. We evolved to destination hikers during a road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway 30 years ago when we discovered we were more intrigued by the country we drove past than the next mile of asphalt. We try to spend as many days hiking as possible while minimizing driving and clusters of trailheads have campgrounds nearby while boondocking usually provides access to fewer trails.
We prefer not to have campground reservations so we can look at sites and pick one best suited for our tastes (quiet). We made reservations for one quarter of the nights and had no difficulty finding sites during the busy summer weeks for the remaining three quarters. Reservations worked well for campgrounds which were 100% reservable (Kalaloch in Olympic NP) and those NF campgrounds which were 75%+ reservable and included a stay over a weekend (Mt Baker Scenic Byway, Baker Lake). Non-reservable sites were generally available from mid-day Sunday to mid-day Thursday especially in the early afternoon (Altaire and Sol Duc in Olympic NP filled mid-morning everyday).
Our journey started with short driving days to allow hiking after getting a campsite. Kilen Woods SP in Minnesota was mostly empty (mid-week), near I-90, quiet, level, and partially shaded. Reuters NF campground north of Sundance Wyoming was mostly empty (mid-week), near I-90, quiet, small, on a hill side, shaded and at a cool altitude. We stayed with family in Helena Montana before completing our drive to Mt Rainier NP in one moderately long day. Silver Springs NF campground at the northeast corner of Mt Rainier NP was empty (mid-week), 80% reservable, near Mt Rainier NP, quiet, level, shaded, and cool. We reserved a river's edge site and stayed two nights since the river sites were very popular. White River NP campground below Sunrise in Mt Rainier was busy, large, on a hill side, shaded, cool, and could fill late afternoon during the mid-Sunday to mid Thursday period. We enjoyed an extended hiking visit at White River CG which is overloaded on weekends. We visited Cougar NP campground in Mt Rainier mid-week and found this 100% reservable campground had available sites between mid-Sunday and mid-Thursday before filling on weekends.
Moving on to Olympic NP had us staying at Kalaloch NP campground which was fully reserved all the time, foggy, drizzly, large, busy, level, shaded, and cool. The laws of nature require people from Iowa to visit the ocean at least once on a trip to Washington. Next, the non-reservable Hoh NP campground did not fill during the mid-Sunday to mid-Thursday period and was quiet, dry (thankfully), busy, large, level, partially shaded, and cool. We decided not to stay at non-reservable Sol Duc CG and Altaire CG because people were racing to get sites mid-morning and we wanted a quieter experience. Sol Duc NP CG was busy, full, on a hill side, large, shaded, and cool. Altaire NP CG was less busy but filling since people like the stream side camping, a little hilly, small, mostly shaded, and cool. The Elwa NP CG water system was out and so the campground was empty, small, flat, and partially shaded. We stayed for an extended period at the non-reservable Heart O' the Hills NP CG which was busy, on a hill side, large, shaded, and cool while only filling on weekends.
Moving on to Mt Baker Scenic Byway (WA 542), we camped at Silver Fir NF CG with a reservation since we planned to stay over a weekend. Silver Fir NF CG is 80% reservable, small, busy, quiet, level, shaded, and cool. The dispersed camping sites across the road from Silver Fir CG on the forest road leaving the snow park were nice, shaded, level, empty during the week, popular on weekends, and had lots of blood thirst mosquitoes. We moved on to Baker Lake and Panorama Point NF CG which was 80% reservable, small, flat, shaded, and busy with lots of fishing. We shortened our stay at Baker Lake after our neighboring campsites launched their fishing boats at 5 AM from their campsite moorings. We visited Park Creek NF CG which was not on the lake, did not have reservations and was empty, flat, small, shaded, and quiet. Our last campground before heading home was non-reservable Colonial Creek in the Ross Lake NRA near the North Cascades NP. Colonial Creek was very busy, large, almost full most nights, noisy on weekends, on a hill side, shaded. We visited Newhalem Creek NP CG which is half reservable, large, level, shaded, quieter than Colonial Creek, and only half full during the week while filling on weekends. The high country hiking trails are easier to reach from Colonial Creek while Newhalem Creek offers a better camping experience. Colonial Creek is also popular because it is lakeside with boating and canoeing.
In summary, Washington state is a better than average destination for summer camping without reservations. We would rank campground preferences by hiking availability and not camping experience and so enjoyed our stays everywhere but Baker Lake. Colonial Creek NRA CG was the only campground with noise after 10 PM on a weekend with all other campgrounds became quiet around 9 PM during the week. We did not take pictures of any campgrounds, sorry, but I have many trail pictures of the mountains.