The Best Crowd-Free Summer Escapes in the Pacific Northwest

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, Oregon

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.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dtwpuck/9585170761

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.