These days, it’s hard to believe that there is anything left that’s still free, but surprisingly, there are a number of outstanding campgrounds where you can pitch your tent or pull in your trailer without paying a dime. With spring here, now is the time to start planning those amazing camping trips, and if you’d like to save a little while enjoying a spectacular outdoor adventure, here are the best places in the Northwest to do just that.
Campbell Tree Grove Campground, Quinault Rain Forest
Campbell Tree Grove Campground sits at the southern edge of Olympic National Park in the Quinault Rain Forest. It’s remote, peaceful and doesn’t cost a thing. While there isn’t much in the way of facilities, each site does include a picnic table and fire pit, and many are located right along the West Fork of the Humptulips River. The heavily wooded campground filled with giant Douglas Fir and Western Cedar trees can be reached about 22 miles down a mostly dirt road, while the nearest gas station and grocery store is about 30 miles away, which means you’ll need to bring food for the duration of your stay, and plenty of water or a water filter. There are no showers, but taking a dip in the cool, tranquil pools is an amazing way to get refreshed when you start to feel grungy.
Soda Springs Campground, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
Soda Springs Campground is located near Lake Wenatchee and overlooks the Little Wenatchee River in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. It got its name from a natural soda springs that bubbles up pure, fresh mineral water that can be enjoyed with no filtering needed. Located about 9 miles down a dirt road from Lake Wenatchee, it also offers a more remote, tranquil experience with just 5 sites. All are free and first come, first served, so be sure to arrive early on a Friday if you plan to come on a weekend in late spring through early fall.
Fishing is outstanding in the deep pools that line the shoreof the river, which are home to brook, rainbow and steelhead trout. And, when the weather gets hot, you can jump into the chilly water to cool off.
Big Meadow Lake Campground, Ione, Washington
Located in the Colville National Forest about 7 miles west of Ione, this free campground offers a whole lot without any fees whatsoever. It includes 17 sites, all with fire pits, picnic tables, tent pads, a boat launch and fishing dock, and even interpretive trails. Some of the sites are very private and come complete with a view of the lake. It’s also first come, first served, so arrive early and bring your own water.
Round Lake Campground, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
This free campground is located on Round Lake in the Mount Hood National Forest near Sisters and features six campsites along with access to swimming, fishing and hiking. The setting is jaw-dropping with 3 Finger Jack mountain as the backdrop, and the heavy deer population and other wildlife makes it great for animal and bird watchers too. In fact, don’t be surprised if one of the more curious deer tries to take a peak into your tent at night. Due to fire damage there are no facilities, but it definitely makes for a true wilderness experience.
Crane Prairie Reservoir, Oregon
Crane Prairie is a 4,940-acre reservoir located in the Eastern Oregon Cascades just off the scenic Cascade Lakes Highway about 40 miles southwest of Bend. While there are a number of pay campgrounds in the area, primitive dispersed camping along the shore of the lake is free. There are fire rings, but little else in the way of facilities, although you will have a ton of privacy along with stunning lake and mountain views. The fishing is outstanding, with the reservoir housing some huge rainbows as well as brook trout, largemouth bass and mountain whitefish. But the main reason to come is the wildlife viewing. This is one of central Oregon’s premier viewing areas, with an impressive array of waterfowl and other birds, including bald eagles, osprey and sandhill cranes. On a summer morning, you’re likely to see elk grazing in the lush lakeside meadows too.
Lower Salmon River, Big Salmon Road, Idaho
Salmon River Campground offers 30 sites along the Salmon River near the town of Stanley. It’s an ideal spot to spend a summer weekend, cooling off in the pools along the shoreline, paddling the river or just watching the kayakers and rafters float by. This stretch of the river is also great for for fly fishing, and on land, you’ll find lots of opportunities for hiking and mountain biking. The campground offers drinking water and vault-style outhouses, while each site has a picnic table and fire pit. Firewood is available for a fee through the campground host.
Silver Creek West Access Campground, Picabo, Idaho
Silver Creek West offers free camping all year-round along Silver Creek in one of four large sites. There are vault toilets, but little else when it comes to facilities, but this is a premier spot for wildlife and bird watching as well as for fly fishing for f large brown and rainbow trout.