If crowds scare you away, these are for you. Far from the madding crowd, and even further from the “wait in line for the permit lottery,” these spots will help you escape from the Northwest’s crowds. You won’t have to worry too much about finding a campsite either. Enjoy our list of the crowd-free summer escapes in the Pacific Northwest.
Alvord Desert, OR
This is one of Oregon’s weirdest landscapes. The Alvord Desert is a dry playa beneath the massive escarpment of Steens Mountain in the far southeastern corner. Simply drive out onto the massive expanse and stop for a unique camping experience. Wake up early to watch the first rays of sunshine hit the top of Steens Mountain, and stay up late for stargazing. It’s a long drive from just about anywhere to the Alvord, but it’s worth it.
Christmas Valley, OR
Southeast of Bend, “Christmas Valley” refers to a general region more than the tiny town that bears that name. The region has a series of geologic oddities: the semicircular ring of Fort Rock, the simply but accurately named volcanic features called Hole in the Ground and Crack in the Ground, a series of sand dunes, and old-growth juniper forest.
Hope Island, WA
Abandon land, but don’t abandon hope—a small island state park in south Puget Sound. The fact that you need a boat of some kind to get here keeps camping mayhem to a minimum. Complete with an old orchard, beach, trails, and access to the currents of Hammersley Inlet, Hope island is a great taste of island camping in Puget Sound.
Willapa Bay, WA
Another island paradise in Washington, Willapa Bay sports Long Island, complete with campgrounds and public tidelands. Its location—the state’s far southwestern corner, a decent drive from any major metropolitan area—makes it a low-key spot, along with the need for a water crossing. Bring your rubber boots, shellfish permit, and patience: when the bay dries out at low tide, you’re not leaving.
South Warner Mountains, CA
A slice of the basin-and-range country of the intermountain west, the Warner Mountains cross the Oregon-California boundary south of Lakeview. The dry mountains are great for long ridges with unimpeded views of playas and big skies. The distance from population centers means the definition of a “crowd” is sharing the parking lot with another vehicle. The combination of solitude, long drive to get there, and wide-open country makes the Warner Range a backpackers’ paradise.
Drift Creek, OR
A little known wilderness in the coastal range near Waldport, Oregon, Drift Creek is a backpack through massive old-growth forest to a deep valley with a crystal-clear creek. While everyone else is headed to the beach, few will be here. Although a few hardy fly fishermen will hike down to the creek when salmon and steelhead are running, you likely to find yourself alone. But bring a crawfish recipe, just in case.
Your Favorite Forest Service Road
The best-kept secrets, of course, are close to home. Even near major cities, the vast majority of national forests have a few popular trails and campgrounds where parking lots get full and campgrounds are reserved months in advance. A whole host of other trails go un-hiked, even on busy weekends.
Find them; scour the pages of guidebooks and look at topo maps. Drive down a spur road, find a cool spot that’s not an “official” campground, and have a great time. Just be sure to leave no trace, use a portable toilet system like those used on rafting trips, and remember how to find your way out the maze of roads.