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Old 01-21-2023, 05:15 PM   #1
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Default National forest camping

We are planning a trip to the west coast end of July as it's the only time we can get off. All of the National Forest parks in Washington around Olympia National Park are all first come first served. How do you know if there are sites? How busy are these parks will there be sites? Unfortunately, it is also a weekend that we will be in the area.
Reservable sites in the national park are only reservable 2 weeks in advance.
This is really hard to plan a trip
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Old 01-21-2023, 10:51 PM   #2
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well, it's a crap shoot. but there are plenty of state parks as well- and a walmart or casino as a last resort.


we found a ( paybox) place with no water and only vault toilets- even it was full on a weekend, but during the week we had it pretty much to ourselves.


carry plenty of small bills for a paybox campground, carry enough water in case there is none


the popular campgrounds will be stacked up high and with constant 100% occupancy, the greens are tramped down and there is litter here and there


even if the sign says "full" stop and ask, there are cancellations. some families will reserve for a week when they only want the week end- the rangers know about "no-shows".


at first come campgrounds many will be pulling out at 8am if they have a drive- be ready to move in early in those cases.
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Old 01-21-2023, 11:50 PM   #3
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We stopped going on vacation during the "high season" 20 years ago. Just not worth the hassle and stress. And now, the reservation systems just make it even worse because people make reservations, then don't bother to show up. Campsites sit empty with loads of people wanting to use them. It's a mess.
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Old 01-22-2023, 09:53 AM   #4
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Unfortunately, some of us working poor have no choice when we can take a vacation.
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Old 01-22-2023, 12:44 PM   #5
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Most of our camping is boondocking or pubic dry camping. We do not try relocating on Fridays, Saturdays and avoid Thursdays.
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Old 01-22-2023, 03:35 PM   #6
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Many, though not all, National Forest campgrounds can be reserved via recreation.gov. Have you looked there yet?
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Old 01-22-2023, 03:55 PM   #7
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I have gotten to the point where I plan our trips to busier areas far in advance and try to have reservations for every night. Sometimes this means just getting a hotel room for some nights. I hate the feeling of not knowing where I will be staying each night, scrambling to find a place at the last minute or, even worse, getting kicked out of a boondocking place in the middle of the night. I don't like planning far in advance but it is better than the alternative.
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Old 01-22-2023, 07:55 PM   #8
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Many, though not all, National Forest campgrounds can be reserved via recreation.gov. Have you looked there yet?
Yeah, the campgrounds we were thinking of are all first come first served.
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Old 01-22-2023, 07:56 PM   #9
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I have gotten to the point where I plan our trips to busier areas far in advance and try to have reservations for every night. Sometimes this means just getting a hotel room for some nights. I hate the feeling of not knowing where I will be staying each night, scrambling to find a place at the last minute or, even worse, getting kicked out of a boondocking place in the middle of the night. I don't like planning far in advance but it is better than the alternative.
That's what we are trying to do but people are booking 14 or more days 6 months out so it doesn't leave much left.
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Old 01-22-2023, 08:17 PM   #10
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It used to be that most of the National sparks and National Forests had at least 1/3 of their sites first come, first served. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. However many National Forests still are first come, first served or at least have some sites that are. If you go on the individual websites for a National Forest they are pretty good at telling you whether it has high, medium or low use. That will at least give you a ballpark. In my experience, showing up at a National Forest site on Thursday, that is not high use, gives you a decent chance to get a site for the weekend. Sunday thru Wednesday probably will not be a problem except for holiday weeks. Obviously before school lets out for the summer and after the kids go back to school are less crowded and often the nicest weather.
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Old 01-22-2023, 10:34 PM   #11
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One day last summer we were staying at a pretty busy National Park campground with a reservation we had made far ahead. I walked from our campsite on a hike at 7AM one morning. Half the sites at the campground were first come, first serve. When I walked past the entrance to the campground, there were already about 50 RV's in line waiting for someone to vacate their campsite so they could try to get one. One guy told me he had been in line since 4 AM and was probably going to be sitting there for several more hours with no promise of getting a site. Nice way to spend a vacation day.
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Old 01-22-2023, 10:43 PM   #12
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One day last summer we were staying at a pretty busy National Park campground with a reservation we had made far ahead. I walked from our campsite on a hike at 7AM one morning. Half the sites at the campground were first come, first serve. When I walked past the entrance to the campground, there were already about 50 RV's in line waiting for someone to vacate their campsite so they could try to get one. One guy told me he had been in line since 4 AM and was probably going to be sitting there for several more hours with no promise of getting a site. Nice way to spend a vacation day.
If youíre retired and it gets you two weeks at Glacier NP for two weeks @ $12 per night- maybe not such a bad trade off. Been there, done that.
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Old 01-23-2023, 04:27 PM   #13
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... I hate the feeling of not knowing where I will be staying each night, scrambling to find a place at the last minute or, even worse, getting kicked out of a boondocking place in the middle of the night. I don't like planning far in advance but it is better than the alternative.
But isn't that part of the adventure?

Though, getting rousted in the middle of the night isn't fun. We were Lowes docking once and the cops highly suggested we leave at about 2 am. They were in full deployment searching for a ne'er-do-well. We absconded directly.
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Old 01-23-2023, 08:03 PM   #14
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But isn't that part of the adventure?
I think it absolutely is. As they say, the moment you're no longer on the plan is the moment the vacation starts. Rather than wasting time sitting in a line into that "great" campground, spend that time exploring some back roads. You'll discover an even better place to camp that you never knew about.

It's the surprises and the spontaneity that are the most memorable and the most enjoyable.
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Old 01-23-2023, 08:22 PM   #15
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National Forest were once first come first serve. My favorite campground is Trails End NF in Minnesota at the end of the 60 mile dead end Gunflint Trail which overlooks the BWCAW (Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness). Last year we had to make reservations. We wanted two nights so we had to take campground 7 and move to 8 the next night. We didn't mind as it was a slightly better site. Needless to say, no one ended up camping at 7.
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Old 01-23-2023, 09:12 PM   #16
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I think it absolutely is. As they say, the moment you're no longer on the plan is the moment the vacation starts. Rather than wasting time sitting in a line into that "great" campground, spend that time exploring some back roads. You'll discover an even better place to camp that you never knew about.

It's the surprises and the spontaneity that are the most memorable and the most enjoyable.
Agreed. On the 3 month summer trip last year We spent about 2 weeks mooch-docking with relation in MN and Sconi. The rest was virtually all on public land. Exceptions were a truck stop in Belle Fouche, SD, 2 Walmarts somewhere forgettable in OK and MS, a town campground in south GA(on the way out and back). Total cash outlay for camping the whole trip was $-0-. Spent most of the time in CO, a really fun place to kill some time on a motorcycle. Walden, Montrose, Buena Vista, and Pagosa Springs areas.

No issues finding a site, we moved in the middle of the week.

Utilized free dumps and water fills as needed, about every 3 weeks. At relatives, Walden, Montrose, Gunnison, Del Norte, and the free town park in GA.

Except for the outlays for ga$$$$oline, a quite pleasant and frugal summer.
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Old 01-24-2023, 01:59 AM   #17
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Total cash outlay for camping the whole trip was $-0-
Excellent! Yes we have started to really question staying in any "traditional" campground anymore. The Sate Parks are usually between $30 and $50 per night, but with a small Class B van we can stay almost anywhere. So what are we getting for our $50? Nothing that we really need. Most free dispersed campsites are nice and quiet and have a firepit to grill the steaks. That's all we need for the night.
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Old 01-24-2023, 02:22 AM   #18
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A suggestion, since you're heading west, lots and lots of small towns have campsites set up in the town park. Typically full hookups are available for $10-25/night and if it is full and don't need a hook up, just find a bit of room for your rig and stay. Typically you can find these campgrounds using iCamper or a similar app.
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Old 01-26-2023, 06:13 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by CanuckRV View Post
We are planning a trip to the west coast end of July as it's the only time we can get off. All of the National Forest parks in Washington around Olympia National Park are all first come first served. How do you know if there are sites? How busy are these parks will there be sites? Unfortunately, it is also a weekend that we will be in the area.
Reservable sites in the national park are only reservable 2 weeks in advance.
This is really hard to plan a trip
Have you checked Washington State Parks? There are several scattered around the Olympic Peninsula -- Dosewallips, Ft Worden, Ft Flagler, Sequim Bay, Hoh Rainforest inside the park, Kalaloch ... some others I can't think of. The two private campgrounds at Lake Quinault are nice but use a surge suppressor if you plug in. The Forest Service campgrounds at the lake can't handle a van. You will be able to drive into Graves Creek CG although it is 1st come 1st served. There's a private campground in Port Townsend but likely full. If you're brave and your brakes are good try Deer Park although it will probably be full on a weekend.
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Old 01-26-2023, 06:38 PM   #20
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1. Even the big National Park campgrounds have lots of cancellations or no-shows. It's worth checking when you get there.
2. The Northwest is loaded with National Forest and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) campgrounds that almost never fill up, and which don't take reservations. I always look up 2 or 3 alternate sites and have never gotten completely skunked.
3. These websites are extremely useful:
(a) Freecampsites.net US National Forests are by law multi-use, which means you can camp almost anywhere unless there is a fire or environmental closure. This site is crowd-sourced, and shows lots of unimproved but legal places to camp for free.
(b) Allstays.com A very complete listing of places to stay, including Federal, State, County, City and private campgrounds, as well as boondocking sites. The "Pro" version charges a small annual fee, but is much better than the free site.
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