It’s been a great first month getting outside and exploring the Greater Seattle Area. We’ve made a total of three trips to date:
- Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest
- Scenic Beach State Park
- Lake Alder State Park
One of the main questions we’ve been asked so far is, “How do you plan for a camping trip and how do you know where to go?” In this post we’ll be focusing predominantly on the second question.
I’m still very much a beginner at all of this, camping, overlanding, even hiking so take my opinion/advice with a grain of salt knowing that I’m first and foremost a learner figuring it out along the way and using missteps as learning opportunities for next time. That said- let’s get to it, shall we?
Our first adventure led us to Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest. We have some friends who have been overlanding/camping for a handful of years and they were kind enough to let us join in on their trip and get our feet wet… metaphorically and literally. We had next to no clue where we were going, but let’s be real- who doesn’t love a shroud of mystery when heading into the woods with few points of reference other than GPS coordinates and a “just keep driving, you’ll eventually see us” text? In all fairness, it worked. We eventually met up with the group even after a slight detour from Google Maps…but that’s a different blog post for a different day.
Seeing as this was more of a “dispersed campsite”, there were no facilities such as toilets, showers or trash collection. This was also near recreational target shooting so something to keep an eye out for while you’re scoping spots on public land in case that either makes a potential camp site more or less appealing. Even though I loved our first experience getting out and exploring, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend dispersed camping for those who are looking to ease their way into the great outdoors. Which leads up us to…
Learn from others.
In this specific instance there’s no way we would have just stumbled upon this location. If I wouldn’t have reached out to my colleague asking for some guidance there’s a high likelihood we would have sat at home all weekend binging a trashy reality tv show on Netflix, ordering pizza and scrolling mindlessly until the Sunday Scaries set in.
Another option of learning from others is to find groups online. At the risk of aging myself, there are plenty of Facebook groups that have really great resources built by communities of like minded folks. At this point in life, I genuinely look forward to checking updates in my Facebook groups. (Narrator: It was at this moment she realized that she did indeed age herself…)
Our next two adventures were both state parks. State parks generally run at a family friendly/beginner pace to spending time outside while still having amenities available that make sleeping in a tent feel a bit more like home.
For planning our second adventure, we had originally been looking at going to Rialto Beach or La Push because we had seen an Instagram Reel highlighting a few coastal beaches. Consider us influenced. Alas, after doing a bit more research via simple Google searches, I realized even though dogs are allowed on the beach during daylight hours, they’re not allowed for overnight camping. Womp.
This sent our initial plan sideways. Nick quickly came to the rescue by going to Google Maps and simply searching for “beach camping”. A handful of state parks around the Puget Sound popped up, Scenic Beach being one that had nearly a 5 star rating, hundreds of positive reviews and photos that seemed to promise great views and a clean campsite. Although camping wasn’t physically *on* the beach, it was a just a short, flat, walk away.
Make a list for your needs and wants out of the adventure.
We know going into most of our trips we’ll need dog friendly options so as soon as we come across a location that seems appealing we check to make sure dogs are allowed. For this trip in particular we were specifically focusing on a beach adventure because, why not?
Even though the idea of “the world is your oyster” is nice, inspiring, looks good embroidered on a pillow… it can cause decision paralysis. Key in on a couple of preferences to narrow down your choices. There’s a decent likelihood if you’re in a state with a diverse landscape like Washington, Oregon, or Idaho that you may find exactly what you’re looking for or worst case scenario getting most of what you’re looking for with a sacrifice here or there.
Lastly our third adventure to Alder Lake State Park was a day-of whim. When our Saturday plans changed at the last minute, Nick said “Where should we go for the night?”, and just like that I was on the hunt. In using tip number two, I was trying to find a spot that was near a body of water, in close proximity to hiking options, only an hour and a half away at most and of course dog friendly. I was trying to go from 0-100 in an hour so we didn’t burn too much daylight at home, so I used a combination of apps for my search. Specifically: The Dyrt, OnX Backcountry, iOverlander, and AllTrails.
Each app has a different purpose and varying degrees of helpfulness. As an example, I like the UI of “The Dyrt” for campsites but it seems to lack a lot of data points and potential results. onX Backcountry is a sister app to onX Offroad that seems to focus more on trails. A pro of onX Backcountry – you’ll find some options that are less well known / con – the app doesn’t feel very intuitive. iOverlander has a lot of great options that are known for being “off grid”, the map is easy to zoom in to find options but the filter feature is more focused on finding various types of establishments rather than keying in on a set of criteria. Lastly, AllTrails is tried and true for finding hikes that meet our criteria. In this case looking for an easy to moderate hike in a 50ish mile radius + dog friendly helped narrow down general areas to look for campsites nearby.
Since this was a last minute decision, we had fairly low expectations for this site and as a Plan B we knew we could have turned around and gone home which we were perfectly fine with.
If you have access to tools, use them.
I am so very grateful for technology and the ease it brings to our lives. You don’t need every hiking/camping/outdoor application available, but play around with a few and find the ones that work best with how you think. Take a 5 minute crash course on how the app can be best utilized via Youtube and after a few times you’ll start to get into a groove of which ones work well for your scenario. This is an ongoing work in progress even for us.