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 gives 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 an 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.