Sleep Under the Stars

Camping in the South Sound

Nothing says summer like going to sleep in a tent staring up at twinkling stars, the sound of a crackling campfire, or the taste of toasted sticky marshmallow s’mores.

Here in the Northwest, there are camping experiences for all comfort zones. From beginners pitching tents with other families at a park for one night — to the hardcore hikers who need skills, permits, and the wherewithal to get away from it all.

Here are some camping experiences for everyone:

Beginners with Kids
You can pitch a tent in the backyard, or, if you want something a little more realistic, Metro Parks Tacoma is hosting Campout in the Parks. The final campout at Tacoma’s Owen Beach is Aug. 20 and includes tent space, snacks, activities, and a hot sunrise breakfast. Cost is $50-$100 for four to eight people.  

Not Quite Roughing It
For some campers, bathroom facilities are a must. And no one is judging — we get it. Penrose State Park near Purdy offers 82 tent sites and three restrooms (two with showers!). The campground is nestled in the woods and is a short walk to the beach. Firewood is available for purchase at the park during the summer. Bring on the roasted weenies and marshmallows.

Camping Minus the Tent 
Don’t want to deal with a tent, but still want a rustic experience? Several campsites offer cabins for rent. Check out KOA campsites — several offer cabins and other amenities like swimming pools and hot pancake breakfasts. All you have to bring is a sleeping bag; clothes; and, of course, bug spray.

Camping Minus Crowds?
If you really want to get away from it all, you’ll need to hike to a campground that is more difficult for the masses to get to. The Washington State Trails Association has a list of 14 overnight backpacking destinations closer than a 14-mile hike, good for novice backpackers. One of the suggested hikes is Navaho Pass near Cle Elum; it promises to get your “heart pumping” thanks to the beautiful scenery.

Beach bum
If you find sandy beaches and crashing waves more alluring than the mountains, you’re in luck. The sandy beaches of La Push are a quick drive from the South Sound and feature breathtaking views of sea stacks and the wonder of tide pools. Follow Highway 101 west toward La Push and make a pit stop in Forks for some Twilight sightseeing if you feel the need to geek out.

Total Seclusion
If you’re looking to escape from emails and social media, you can’t get much farther off the grid than camping in the wilderness of the Alpine Lakes in the Central Cascades. The region boasts more than 700 pristine mountain lakes, 47 official trailheads, and 615 miles of backcountry trails. If you’re conditioned and feeling ambitious, take a stab at Mount Stuart which, at 9,415 feet in elevation, is the second-highest nonvolcanic peak in Washington.

Hit the open road
If you long for the wind in your hair as you cruise down the highway, consider renting a small recreational vehicle or a Volkswagen camper. Seattle-based Peace Van Rentals are a little pricey — more than $200 a night for a minimum of six nights during the summer season — but you get a lot of bang for your buck. Each van is outfitted with a kitchen, French press coffee, and room for four adults to sleep comfortably.

Camping for hardcore athletes
This four-day camping excursion is only for mountaineers, marathon runners, or triathletes; couch potatoes and those faint-of-heart need not apply. RMI expeditions gives participants everything they need to summit Mount Rainier, including a full-day climbing introduction course, and a fully-stocked mountain hut basecamp at Camp Muir (10,060 feet).

What To Bring

By Joanna Kresge

Less is more if you are hiking to your campsite, as you’ll be carrying all your gear in and back out with you. Alternatively, if you are staying at a campground mere yards away from your vehicle, you can be less discriminating with your packing. With these variables in mind, we’ve assembled a list of items that are commonly overlooked or forgotten.

First-aid kit
Make sure this kit includes gas relief tablets, antacid, anti-diarrheal medicine, antihistamine for allergies, bandages, candied ginger for motion sickness, a mild laxative, nonaspirin pain reliever, a sawyer extractor for snake bites, and a thermometer.

Sunblock and bug spray
It seems like a no-brainer, but these are commonly forgotten and can have disastrous consequences.

Bandana
Don’t underestimate the power of this little scrap of fabric; it isn’t just for keeping your hair out of your eyes. Special forces are trained to use these items in survival situations to capture rainfall, as a bandage or tourniquet, or to protect their necks from sun damage.

Toilet paper
Because no one wants to improvise this item in a pinch.

Water purifier or purification tablets
Whether you are catching rainfall with your bandana or refilling your bottle at the campground’s water fountain, play it safe by not trusting the water.

A lighter, matches, or a magnesium fire starter
Make sure to check with the campground or park services to find out whether campfires are allowed, but pack them regardless, in case of emergency.

Extra socks
You never know when you are going to be caught in a sudden downpour or accidentally step in a puddle. Wet socks can make a hike or camping trip unbearably uncomfortable; extra socks will keep your piggies cozy and warm.

Tin foil and pot holders/tongs
Assuming you’re preparing your own rustic fare, these items can come in handy for cooking and handling.

Plastic bags (trash and zipper bags)
These come in handy in a myriad of ways, from simply storing trash or dirty items, to serving as a crude rain poncho in a pinch.

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