A remote and wild adventure in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) is the stuff of dreams. Imagine camping on a Pacific Ocean beach, within view of a dense pine forest … the sight of whales in the distance.
Magical, right? But where, exactly, is the Pacific Northwest? And why should this camping destination be at or near the top of your travel bucket list?
The geographic region that makes up the PNW (also sometimes called “Cascadia”) does not have specific boundaries, but it typically refers to the region bordering the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Rocky Mountains to the east. When one speaks of the PNW, they are usually referring to the upper-west North American states of Washington, Oregon, Western Idaho, and some parts of northern California.
What to Know Before you Visit the Pacific Northwest
Even campers who get out regularly might be intimidated by the PNW’s vast landscape of dense forest, towering mountains, and rocky coastline. The wild — often gray — Pacific shorelines can look a bit like something from another world.
Whether you’re planning your first trek to this corner of the United States or preparing for a second or third camping trip to the PNW that’s more “rugged” or removed than previous stays, there are a few things to keep in mind.
First, determine what kind of camping experience you want to have. This sprawling, natural area has tons of options, including free camping, “front country” camping, and even glamping.
“Free camping” or “dispersed camping” basically means driving down a remote forest road until you find a quiet place to set up camp. When you’re outdoors, it’s always important to practice Leave No Trace, but when you are free camping, it is even more crucial to follow this principle. At these sites, you must be prepared to pack your own water, know how to (correctly) dispose of wastewater, and even have a plan for going to the bathroom.
“Front country” campgrounds in the PNW will usually have bathrooms, running water, and a payment system for reservations. This is a great option for families or even just for campers who take day trips and want a somewhat secure spot to leave their things.
And then “glamping” is camping … in style. Some great glamping spots in the Pacific Northwest let campers rent cabins, yurts, beautiful canvas tents, or even school buses or tree houses as a home base from which to explore.
There are many ways to explore the Pacific Northwest — or enjoy a totally new PNW experience — for the first time. Just bear in mind a few basics, then get exploring.
Mind the weather
Don’t forget it rains a lot in the Pacific Northwest, so you’ll want to pack essential rain gear (and a sense of adventure). Come prepared with a high-quality waterproof jacket and pair of waterproof pants, as well as waterproof boots and/or shoes. Then, don’t forget about layers. The right materials and a few strategic pieces will ensure moisture is wicked away from your skin during long hikes, and extra clothing items will dry quickly by the fire.
Also, if you’re tent camping, you’ll want to set up camp at the site’s highest elevation and elevate yourself above the ground while sleeping. Bring a tarp (or two) to quickly cover any items you don’t want to get soaked.
Still interested in spending time in this wild and beautiful part of the country? You should be! There’s so much to do, explore, and take in here.
If you’re looking to get off the grid a bit in the PNW, take a look into some of the following campsites and destinations.
Wondering What to Visit in the Pacific Northwest? Start Here
1. Fort Stevens State Park, Oregon
Fort Stevens State Park in Oregon was once a military installation, dating back to the Civil War and well into World War II. It was used to guard the mouth of the Columbia River. It is also a unique hiking and camping spot in that it features the wreckage of the Peter Iredale on its beach — a four-masted steel bark ship that became stranded ashore in 1906.
The Fort Stevens campground is quite large and features camping, beach-combing, a freshwater lake, a hiking trail, lots of different kinds of wildlife, and a disc golf course.
There’s plenty for visitors to see and do here. Fort Stevens also marks the northernmost trailhead for the Oregon Coast Trail. The 362-mile coastline trail crosses sandy beaches and forest paths and passes through nearly 30 coastal towns. This is a place where you can truly choose your own adventure, whether in town or the wilds or Oregon … or, ideally, a little bit of both.
2. Diamond Lake, Oregon
Camping near a lake is a serene way to start and end the day. Diamond Lake is the largest lake in Oregon’s Umpqua National Forest and is a great destination if you’re looking to dip your toes in PNW waters.
This camping and recreation area has an interesting and convenient location between the Cascade Shield volcanoes of Mount Thielsen and Mount Bailey. The Cascade volcanic arc is a series of volcanoes within the Cascade range that formed through shifts and changes in the earth’s tectonic plates, which created a string of volcanoes from northern California up through Oregon and Washington and into Canada.
Diamond Lake is a beloved place among hikers, skiers, snowmobilers, and watersports enthusiasts, some of whom camp at Diamond Lake while making day trips to Crater Lake or neighboring trails.
Here campers can choose to stay at several lodges, motels, cabins, and RV accommodations. Many sites provide easy access to hiking trails, and there is an 11-mile bike path that circles the lake.
After all the hiking, biking, and water fun, why not top off the day with a soak in hot springs? The Umpqua Hot Springs is about a thirty-minute drive from Diamond Lake. If it’s your first time visiting a hot spring, or even if it’s not, it’s always a good idea to read up on hot spring etiquette before wading into the waters.
3. Marcus Island Campground, Evans, Washington
Marcus Island Campground near Evans, Washington, is a well-loved camping spot that is quiet, scenic, and valued for its peaceful, widely spaced sites, dense evergreen forest, and shoreline on three sides in the summer.
Even the drive to this peaceful place is gorgeous. Pitch your tent alongside Lake Roosevelt and start your day with a cup of coffee and a bit of kayaking. Or, fish for a few of the 30 species of fish that live here, like rainbow trout, white sturgeon, lake whitefish, or kokanee. Later, prepare that delicious and fortifying fish over an open fire and enjoy an incredible sunset.
Eleven miles south of the campground are the historic St. Paul’s Mission in Kettle Falls and the nearby (short-but-sweet) Sherman Drive scenic loop.
4. Copalis Beach, Washington
Glamping in the Pacific Northwest takes this already amazing place to a whole other level. There are several places in the Pacific Northwest where you can try on the glamorous camping experience for yourself.
One site is in Copalis Beach, Washington, at the Pacific Dunes Resort. Here you can enjoy the ocean breeze while being catered to inside a furnished canvas tent and provided with fresh linens throughout your stay.
You can also choose to pitch a tent or enjoy an RV stay at one of the nearby KOAs, where you’ll have access to all the incredible sites and experiences of the area.
During your visit, you might stroll to Copalis Beach for a little clam-digging before returning “home” to a campfire. After all, Copalis is “the home of the razor clam.” This variety of shellfish is highly sought after, and the Copalis community sits on the northern end of what many consider to be the biggest razor clam bed in the Pacific Northwest.
The next day try out surfing, boating, or horseback riding along the beach. At the end of a long, adventure-filled day, all that’s left to do is relax and get a good night’s sleep in the great outdoors of the PNW.
5. Cannon Beach, Oregon
Camping at Cannon Beach in Oregon is the perfect blend of Mother Nature’s rugged beauty and the relaxing aspects of the Pacific Ocean. Tucked on the northern part of the Oregon Coast, Cannon Beach sets the stage for an idyllic camping destination for families and solo explorers.
Perhaps one of the coolest draws about this PNW destination is that the hiking trails of Ecola State Park are stunning. Cannon Beach itself is home to the iconic location of Haystack Rock, as seen in the movie The Goonies.
If you’ve never experienced a campfire on a beach, it is a sensory experience and a bucket list memory for sure. Add to that waking up to the cathartic sound of the ocean’s crashing waves, and you have a trip you’ll never forget.
And if you’re looking for a bit of culture outside of your camping, then head to the nearby town for some cute art galleries, tasty food, and the area’s famous razor clamming.
You may even want to venture an hour south to Tillamook, the notable home of the Tillamook Cheese factory. But cheese isn’t the only thing they’ve got going here. Campers who visit this area enjoy the viewing markers that detail the history of several Lewis & Clark sites, old military bunkers, and even the sight of whales during much of the year. To top it off, an old lighthouse stands tall in the distance and can be seen clearly when the fog breaks.
6. Corvallis, Oregon
Explore the heart of the Willamette Valley with a camping trip in Corvallis, Oregon. Here, you get the perfect blend of the beauty of the Pacific Northwest mixed with local culture and the great outdoors.
Though Corvallis is known as a college town, what lies around it offers far more than studious students and the lifestyle they bring with them. The greenery here is a dream for camping enthusiasts.
Corvallis serves as the ideal home base for Mary’s River and the Willamette River, two bodies of water that create a haven for kayaking, fishing, or just relaxing on the river with a book.
The landscape that surrounds the area offers hills, forests, and farmland that offer no shortage of hikes to wow all of the senses and wildlife views to wow.
Imagine pitching your tent beneath a canopy of Douglas Firs and enjoying evening campfires with the local wildlife under a blanket of stars that are highly visible, thanks to the less severe light pollution in this part of the country.
When you’ve had enough of nature and want to experience some local culture, Corvallis is here to provide. Wineries and craft breweries are popular around here, as well as farmers’ markets and plenty of beautiful trails to hop on your bike and explore.
If you’re looking for a place that gives you nature, adventure, and local Oregon charm, Corvallis is the spot.
Lincoln City KOA Journey
Waldport / Newport KOA Journey
Albany / Corvallis KOA Journey
Oregon Dunes KOA Holiday
Sutherlin / Umpqua Valley KOA Holiday
Lemolo Lake / Crater Lake North KOA Holiday
Redmond / Central Oregon KOA Holiday
Cascade Locks / Portland East KOA Holiday
7. Kayak Point Beach, Washington
Kayak Point Beach in Snohomish County, Washington, would be another great “intro to the Pacific Northwest” destination. Some have called it a “tranquil Puget Sound experience.”
Set up your tent at the nearby Burlington/Anacortes KOA Holiday, then set your sights on trekking down to the ocean. This unforgettable saltwater beach stretches along the shorts of Port Susan — a habitat that’s rich in protected plant and animal life. Beyond the port lies thick evergreen forests that are perfect for all kinds of wilderness adventures.
At Kayak Point Park, visitors can fish from the pier, try windsurfing, hike, picnic, and launch boats. The pier, which extends 300 feet into Puget Sound, is also a great place to try out crabbing (an essential PNW activity). Watch crabbers bait their crab pots for Dungeness and Red Rock crabs.
Fishermen and women also cast their rods from the pier and shoreline for flounder, sole, cod, rockfish, and migrating sea perch.
Enjoying a fresh catch with a glass of white wine on the beach … what could be better?
8. Tahoe National Forest, California
On the outskirts of what is considered the Pacific Northwest sites Tahoe National Forest in Northern California.
This forest spans over 850,000 acres, which means there is nothing but space to create your own idea of camping in the paradise of nature. You’ve got rugged peaks, peaceful lakes, and lush greenery right at your feet. All you need is enough time to explore everything that’s on your list.
From the crystal clear waters of the famous Lake Tahoe to the massive Sierra Nevada mountains, the diverse environment of the area offers beauty you won’t find elsewhere. Whether you’re opting to camp in your tent or enjoy the comforts of an RV at a nearby KOA campsite, you will love your experience camping in this part of the country.
The outdoor activities encompass nearly everything that comes to mind when you hear the words “Pacific Northwest”: whitewater rafting, trout fishing, kayaking, hiking, swimming, exploring waterfalls, mountain biking, and fly fishing. Near the North Yuba River sits a popular fly fishing spot and the town of Downieville, which is known for its mountain biking trails and events.
If you’re looking for a rejuvenating escape that inspires you to connect more to nature, that’s exactly what you’ll find here in Tahoe National Forest.
9. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Enveloped by the magical Cascade Mountains, Crater Lake National Park allures campers from all over thanks not only to its beauty, but also its range of activities.
You’ll want to start by traversing the 33-mile Rim Drive that takes you around the lake. Here you’ll enjoy over 30 scenic pullouts and trailheads that take you on all kinds of adventures. One of our favorites is Sun Notch – a relatively short hike that ends with spectacular views of Phantom Ship Island. We also love the Cleetwood Cove Trail that takes you down to the lake itself, and serves as the only legal access to the water’s edge. Once there, you can’t skip on taking a dip in the icy yet refreshing waters.
If you’re more of an experienced hiker, you may want to consider the challenge of the Mount Scott Trial. As the highest point in the park, up here, you’ll get panoramic views of the lake and the surround areas. You may even be able to see as far as California’s Mount Shasta on a clear day.
Once the sun sets, you’ll want to head back to camp, where the scenery for a perfect night around the campfire, roasting marshmallows, and sharing stories from the day’s adventures occur.
And, of course, we can’t forget about the night sky. Because of the high altitude, the clean air, and the lack of light pollution here, you’ll get unobstructed views of the stars and the Milky Way. Talk about a perspective shift.
Crater Lake National Park isn’t just a place to camp – it’s a place to discover the beauty of this planet while disconnecting from the hustle and bustle of daily life and reconnecting with yourself.
10. San Juan Islands, Washington
Accessible only by ferry or plane, this Pacific Northwest getaway is certainly remote and worth the trek.
This archipelago of islands nestled between the mainland and Vancouver Island offers a truly unique camping experience.
While there are no KOA campgrounds on the islands, there are a handful nearby that are still convenient and allow you to spend the day exploring the islands. Or, if you prefer, there are other options for county and state park camping on the islands themselves.
Regardless of where you lay your head at night, the islands themselves are breathtaking. For one, you’ve got the wildlife. We suggest getting out for some sea-kayaking, where you’re likely to spot harbor seals, sea lions, and maybe even a bland eagle. If you get really lucky, you may even see a pod of orcas breach the surface of the water.
The farmers’ markets here are a must where you can gather local food to make your own delicious camping meals. And when night hits, don’t forget to look up. Like many areas in the Pacific Northwest, the minimal light pollution makes the skies truly come alive with light. Pair that with listening to the waves of the ocean crash, and we dare you to find something more heavenly.
With land to explore on land and in the water, the San Juan Islands gives you a taste of a different kind of island life, where all types of magic exists.
Camping in the Pacific Northwest is an extraordinary way to see the region in all of its splendor and glory. Places like the Oregon Coast, the mountains and falls of Washington, and even Pacific Northwest rainforests, can be life-altering.
If you plan to head to the Pacific Northwest, keep a few things in mind. First, it’s usually a good idea to make reservations in advance. The beauty of the PNW is well known. And while it’s an expansive territory, there are lots of campers eager to explore (especially on weekends). So if reservations are an option where you plan to stay, take advantage and lock it in.
Next, respect the land. Keep it beautiful for fellow (and future) campers and hikers. Brush up on Leave No Trace principles for the Pacific Northwest. While Leave No Trace began in backcountry settings, it can and should be applied everywhere — local parks, campgrounds, and even your own backyard. Leave No Trace is all about minimizing your impact on the environment, being courteous to others who wish to explore, and protecting local wildlife. Small habits can make a big difference.
Finally, research your basic must-have gear, depending on where you will go, what you will do, and what time of year you will enjoy the PNW. Oh, and don’t forget to sunscreen up, even (especially) in that dense PNW fog.
The Pacific Northwest is a spectacular place to camp, hike, and be one with nature. You’ll fall in love with the region’s rocky shoreline, old-growth forests, and misty mountaintops. Just imagine pitching your tent where you can hear the waves crashing against rocks.
If you have an opportunity to visit this magical land, don’t hesitate … get traveling!
Leslie, a.k.a. Copy Girl, is a copywriter who gets butterflies from telling stories through words.
Her voice comes from a place filled with passion, dreams, and lots of sugar. “Cake over steak” is her go-to motto.
With over 10 years of experience in crafting words, and years of embarking on travels that have taken this Montana girl to some incredible places, Leslie love the adventures of both body and mind her writing takes her on.
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