Memorial Day weekend is the ceremonial start to camping, and it’s not too late to book a trip at any of the hundreds of campgrounds throughout the Northwest. 

If you’re new to camping, how should you decide where to go? One of my favorite aspects of camping is that the actual campground serves as an opportune base camp for further exploration—a means to access a broad range of nearby adventuring possibilities. While it’s relaxing to hang-out at a campsite all day, it’s also possible for a week-long trip or even a three-day weekend to become a multi-sport adventure. Rather than just “go camping,” plan a trip itinerary more like an expedition—an opportunity to explore with your kids and try a new activity or devote time to a favorite sport, such as fishing, paddling, biking, or hiking.  

Here are some regional campground destination ideas, organized according to activities. Not meant to be a comprehensive list, all the suggestions below include campgrounds located on public lands, such as state parks and national forests. Many of these places provide access to multiple activities—it all depends on how much time you have and how much gear you’re willing (and able) to pack.  

Best campground destinations for dock fishing and paddling:

  1. North Idaho’s Chain Lakes, connected to the Coeur d’Alene River via narrow channels, provides scenic paddling through a designated wildlife management area. Blue Lake is one of the largest, along with Lake Killarney, which has a dock, boat launch, and campsites—including a site and picnic area on Popcorn Island—all managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
  2. Hawley’s Landing Campgroundat Heyburn State Park, at Lake Chatcolet, has a dock and small beach boat launch area, only accessible by a short, downhill hike. A short drive away is Rocky Point, which has a larger dock, swimming beach, and boat launch. 
  3. Round Lake State Park, near Sagle, Idaho, has two long docks and a boat launch for paddlers and boats (electric motors only). This small lake is popular with local anglers; Idaho Fish & Wildlife annually stocks it with thousands of hatchery-raised rainbow trout.
  4. Beaver Creek Campground at Priest Lakeprovides the closest access for paddling the thoroughfare to Upper Priest Lake. Though there isn’t a dock, you can fish from the shoreline, boat, or other watercraft.  
  5. Brush LakeCampgroundnear Bonners Ferry has a dock and boat launch (electric motors only). Last year, the lake was stocked with over 5,000 hatchery-raised trout. 
  6. Sullivan Lakein the Colville National Forest has three campgrounds. West Sullivan and East Sullivan both have docks and boat launches.
  7. Liberty Lake County Parkhas campsites, trails, and a swimming beach, but a Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife boat launch and dock are located on the other end of the lake (Discover Pass required). This past March, the lake was stocked with over 5,000 hatchery-raised rainbow trout.
  8. Steamboat Rock State Parkat Banks Lakehas three campgrounds within the park, a dock, and seven boat launches. The 27-mile acre reservoir lake, popular for catching whitefish, stretches between Coulee City and the towns of Electric City and Grand Coulee.

Best campgrounds with trails for hiking or mountain biking:

National Parks provide interpretative nature, hiking trails, and detailed maps to guide you to alpine lakes or other scenic viewpoints. Stay in Glacier National Park at Apgar Campground, near Apgar Village and Lake MacDonald. Ride the park’s free shuttle or drive farther into the park to access additional trailheads and lakes. Note: Mountain biking is not typically allowed on trails within national parks.

In North Cascades National Park, Goodell Creek and Newhalem Creek Campgrounds are two of the largest ones. Backcountry hiking includes access to the Pacific Crest Trail. Or stay at Lakeview Campground in Stehekan, which is located at the headwaters of Lake Chelan and only accessible by ferry, private boat, or on foot. 

Riverside State Park, Mt. Spokane State Park, and Farragut State Park all offer extensive trail networks for hiking and mountain biking. 

Best Campground for Biking on Paved Trails:

Riverside State Park’s Bowl & Pitcher campground provides close access to the Centennial Trail. For the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, stay at Heyburn State Park’s Chatcolet Campground, situated on a hill above the trailhead at the Lake Chatcolet day-use area.

Camping Resources:“Camping Washington” by Ron C. Judd, published by The Mountaineers Books (2009) is a comprehensive guidebook to campgrounds throughout the state. Find updated information at Parks.wa.gov and Recreation.gov. For more information about camping in Idaho or Montana, visit their state park websites or OutThereOutdoors.com and use the search tool for accessing archived articles.