Epic Backcountry Campsites in the Northwest

Mountains and lake

If these back­coun­try camp­sites aren’t on your list, they should be. Even if you’ve already been there, go back. You’ll have to work for it, but that only adds to the beau­ty. Here’s a run­down of the best back­coun­try camps in the Pacif­ic North­west.


Aasgard Pass

Aas­gard Pass, the Enchant­ments, WA
Ris­ing 2,300-feet in a sin­gle boul­der-choked mile from Colchuck Lake, Aas­gard Pass is the most direct, rugged, and reward­ing way into the Enchant­ment Lakes basin, the base for explor­ing the lakes or climb­ing Prusik Peak, The Tem­ple, Drag­ontail Peak, or Lit­tle Anna­pur­na. The view from the top can’t be described, but the basin is full of glacial tarns, flat gran­ite shelves, wild­flow­ers, and moun­tain goats. On clear days the view spans the Wash­ing­ton Cas­cades from Mount Bak­er to Mount Adams, with Mount Stu­art loom­ing to the west.
The catch: You need a high­ly com­pet­i­tive lot­tery per­mit for high sea­son (sum­mer) use.


East Zigzag Moun­tain, Mt. Hood, OR
Climb through sub­alpine forests to camp on a small rocky out­crop with stun­ning views of Mount Hood. To the north­east, you’ll have views across the Colum­bia Gorge to Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens. A com­bi­na­tion of wild­flow­ers and sun­rise can be a photographer’s dream.
The catch: No water. Either melt snow or hike to a near­by lake to fill up.


Whaler Island, British Colum­bia
Play at being a Cana­di­an Robin­son Cru­soe on this tiny, sand-dune island in the midst of Rus­sell Chan­nel on Van­cou­ver Island’s west coast. It’s reach­able only by sea kayak, and it’s exposed loca­tion keeps campers to a min­i­mum. Frol­ic on the sand, watch for gray whales in the chan­nel, camp amidst the dunes to stay out of the wind and take in sun­sets over the Pacif­ic.
The catch: If the wind picks up, kayak­ing back can be a chal­lenge.


Thun­der Moun­tain, Alas­ka
Perch on a flat tun­dra and wild­flower mead­ow with sweep­ing views of the 12-mile Menden­hall Glac­i­er, Alaska’s coast range, and Gastineau Chan­nel. Near­by Heinztle­man Ridge is the gate­way to the Juneau Ice­field. The trail is steep, mud­dy, and often unmarked, but worth it when the view is clear. Be care­ful on the steep exposed trails that approach Heint­zle­man Ridge.
The catch: South­east Alas­ka is known for con­stant driz­zle, not thun­der­storms. The name comes from spring avalanch­es. Be care­ful when there’s heavy snow.


High Camp, Boston Basin, North Cas­cades Nation­al Park, WA
The names of the moun­tains ring­ing Boston Basin—Mount Tor­ment, For­bid­den Peak, and Shark­fin Tower—tell you how impos­ing the alpine land­scape is in this sec­tion of the North Cas­cades. Boston Basin is the jump­ing off point for these climbs, but also a spec­tac­u­lar des­ti­na­tion in its own right: a glac­i­er-carved cirque laced with water­falls and the Boston Glac­i­er, the park’s largest. High camp is high indeed, at 6,400 feet, well above tree­line this far north.
The catch: Camp­ing is allowed only at High Camp and Low Camp, and per­mits are required.


Chilean Memo­r­i­al, Olympic Nation­al Park, WA
Wedged into a per­fect cres­cent cove between the rugged Cape John­son and Hole in the Wall, on the Olympic Wilder­ness Coast, the Chilean Memo­r­i­al is a crit­i­cal camp­site between two head­lands that can be round­ed only at low tide. It’s also a spec­tac­u­lar spot for sunsets—which is say­ing some­thing con­sid­er­ing its part of a trail that goes down the Pacif­ic Coast for 37 miles.
The catch: The Park Ser­vice requires per­mits. All food must be kept in bear can­is­ters.


Coleman_Glacier

Cole­man Glac­i­er Ter­mi­nus, Mount Bak­er, WA
Camp at the foot of a giant sheet of ice on the west slope of Mount Bak­er. Lis­ten to the ice clink and chunk all night long, and wake up ear­ly to watch the lights of Belling­ham to the west flick on as the sun ris­es over the vol­cano. This camp is also the jump­ing off point for moun­taineers on the Cole­man-Dem­ing Glac­i­er route up the moun­tain.
The catch: You may be wok­en up by climb­ing par­ties get­ting start­ed in the mid­dle of the night. Or you may be one of them.


Cham­bers Lakes, Three Sis­ters Wilder­ness, OR
The Cham­bers Lakes are a series of glacial tarns—some with minia­ture glac­i­ers calv­ing ice­bergs into them—in the high coun­try between Oregon’s Mid­dle and South Sis­ter. Hike to Camp Lake, where the trail ends. Then it’s explor­ing with a map and com­pass. The good news is that the trail-less nature keeps vis­i­tors to a min­i­mum. Each lake is a slight­ly dif­fer­ent shade of blue or turquoise, and incred­i­ble ice caves dot the land­scape.
The catch: A for­est fire burned the area around the Pole Creek trail­head in 2012.


Wild­horse Lake, Steens Moun­tain, OR
In the far south­east­ern cor­ner of Ore­gon, Wild­horse Lake is a short 1‑mile descent from Wild­horse Over­look near the top of Steens Moun­tain. The trail makes up in steep­ness what it lacks in length. Since you’re descend­ing first, it’s easy to descend far­ther than you think. Wild­horse Lake is in a high alpine mead­ow envi­ron­ment with an in-your-face view of Steens Mountain’s fas­ci­nat­ing glacial-carved and fault block moun­tain geog­ra­phy and the Alvord basin.
The catch: The Steens Moun­tain loop road is often closed until mid-July.