The Best Spots to Pitch Your Tent in the Northwest

If there’s anything that defines the Pacific Northwest, it’s that we camp. And there are plenty of places to camp that give you scenery and solitude. But these are the best, the all-time most scenic spots, the most sublime. They require effort. And they’re worth it.

Coleman GlacierColeman Glacier Terminus, Mount Baker

The Coleman Glacier descends the west side of Washington’s northernmost ice-covered stratovolcano. It’s usually the last camp climbers use before climbing Mount Baker via the Coleman-Deming route. But it’s a great destination in its own right, with views of crevasse fields, the summit of Baker, and Colfax Peak. In season, look for alpine wildflowers.
Vista Tips: Wake up early to see the lights of Bellingham flicker out as the sun rises over Mount Baker.
Hardship Factor: You’ll be hauling a pack up a steep climbers trail to the base of the glacier. Summiting is another commitment entirely. While Baker isn’t as tall as Mounts Adams or Rainier, the ice extends lower, so more time is spent on glacier travel with significant icefalls and crevasses.
Nearest Town: Bellingham, WA

unnamed glacial tarnUnnamed Glacial Tarn, Chambers Lakes

The trail ends at Camp Lake on the east side of Middle Sister. From there, keep on truckin’: go up a ridge toward the mountains. Then it’s off-trail navigation to get to any number of small tarns amidst snowfields and mini-glaciers. Look for one with a glacier calving into it, and settle in for an Alaskan-style camping experience. From there, you can explore one of Oregon’s premier landscapes, or even climb Middle Sister.
Vista Tips: Set up your tent with a view of the glacier and the lake…but use the guylines. Winds tend to plow over the glacier across the lake right at you. It’s worth it.
Hardship Factor: Carrying a pack (and an ice axe) off trail through talus and scree.
Nearest Town: Sisters, OR

illumination saddleIllumination Saddle, Mount Hood

Illumination Rock is perched to the west side of Mount Hood’s Zigzag Glacier, second in drama only to the summit itself. Not many mountaineers camp in the saddle, which offers high alpine views down the Sandy River basin, south to Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters, and close-ups of Hood’s summit. And the rock itself is pretty darn scenic.
Vista Tips: Pretty hard to get wrong
Hardship Factor: You can drive to Timberline Lodge, but there’s still a ton of high-altitude snow and glacier travel involved. Beware loose rock.
Nearest Town: Government Camp, OR

Giant’s GraveyardGiant’s Graveyard, Olympic Coast

Camp on the wilderness beach with a gorgeous view of massive sea stacks and offshore rocks that resemble the bones of some huge being. With luck, you’ll also have whales, bald eagles, and otters to watch. Explore the tidepools at low tide.
Vista Tips: Face west, and make sure your tent is above the high tide line.
Hardship Factor: Backpacking down the beach may seem easier than the mountains, but you’ll also be climbing over headlands using rope ladders.
Nearest Town: Forks, WA

zigzagEast Zigzag Mountain, Mount Hood

Perch your tent on the tiny flat spot atop a small peak that pokes about above treeline on Mount Hoods’ Southwest corner. Get views of up to four volcanoes: Hood, Adams, St. Helens and Rainier, as well as the Sandy Basin and Burnt Lake. The hike is close to Portland, but a long rough dirt road to the trailhead keeps the crowds low.
Vista Tips: Face your tent northwest for views of the Washington Cascades at sunrise. Wander up the nearby rock slope to watch the sunset.
Hardship Factor: Moderate: a bit of a climb, with some potential for bugs. If you want to burn more calories, include West Zigzag Mountain nearby. Melt snow or make a detour to Cast Lake for water: there’s none at the summit.
Nearest Town: Zigzag, OR

catalaCatala Island, British Columbia

A rugged island on the edge of the Pacific off the west coast of Vancouver Island, Catala Island is one of the premier view campsites on and island full of premier views. Watch fog burn off in the morning. Sunsets are mind-bending with the array of offshore rocks and the wild Pacific kicking up waves. With luck, you’ll also have sea otters, porpoises, wolves and deer to scan with your binoculars. The nearby sea kayaking—which is the only way to get there—is fantastic.
Vista Tips: Plan your trip for a full moon for an incredible night vista
Hardship Factor: At least half a day for skill sea kayakers to get there in calm conditions. To explore the nearby sea stacks takes another level of skill and commitment.
Nearest Town: Zeballos, BC.