January - April is the time to look ahead and make your reservations for May - October! In Washington state, online reservations are the easiest way to go.
The Washington State Parks Camps Reservation site is well thought out and laid out to explore and choose your camping adventures. Let's walk through it!
Register if this is your first time: In the upper left of the landing page you'll see "Sign in" - click on that and scroll down to "Create Account" - follow prompts.
After you are registered, you'll sign in here to explore and make and modify reservations.
The system will retain your history including sites - so if you want to repeat a visit at a site you loved, you can check your history, and go to "reserve it again" - easy peasy!
On the landing page, you'll find several tabs across the top. There are vacation homes, retreat centers, etc... if you're like me, you are going to hang out in the far left tab, Camping Sites, or potentially, also the next tab, "roofed" (cabins and yurts.)
Once in Camping Sites, unless you know exactly the campground you want, leave it on Washington State Parks to get a map of Washington State, divided into quadrants.
Alternatively, If you DO know which campsite you want, you can click on Washington State Campgrounds, and scroll down - they are there, in alphabetical order.
You will get a notices page - restrictions, burn bans, etc. This is important information! Read thoroughly and THEN click the "I have read this" box!
Choose your equipment (1 tent, 2 tents, 3 tents, RV)
Choose your dates (arrival and leaving dates) and check the number of nights to make sure it's what you are thinking.
In the quadrant map, you start following the green - green dots are areas where there is availability in the date range you've chosen.
Once you've chosen an area, you'll find a map of all the campgrounds in that quadrant (pictured above)
Again, you're looking for green - those are campgrounds with availability in the equipment and dates you've chosen. There is a key at the bottom of this page that tells you what all the other colors mean - purple means there is partial availability in your dates, so if you can adjust dates, you may have more options.
Click on a campground with a green dot that you want to explore.
You'll get a map of the campground, and off to the right, a synopsis of the campground and some of its attributes (you can click on it for more details)
Within the campground, keep following the green :) green are available spaces; purple are available for a portion of your time, etc. Triangles are tent/RV spaces; there is a little house icon for yurts/cabins. Note: If you have a tent, you will not be happy in an RV space - they have hookups, no nearby trees, large expanse of flat and pavement for the RV parking. Be sure via the picture that you are looking at a site ideal for tent camping. You can also in this view see proximity of each campsite to structures, bathrooms, trails, water spigots, and trash structures, so you can triangulate with your needs and preferences.
Click on a campspace to see a thumbnail and some details off to the side. PAY ATTENTION to these details! You may see things like (as pictured below) notice that the site is a walk-in site - you won't be able to park at the site. Or that a site HAS to be reserved in tandem with another site next to it. There's also handy at-a-glance info there.
Click on the thumbnail pic to see more and bigger pictures of the space. If there are arrows within the picture, there are multiple views: scroll right to see more pics. This allows you a bit to see vegetation, surroundings, layout, etc. Keep in mind, even with multiple pictures, the site will feel different when you get there; it is 360 degrees, there are other sites with other occupants. So the picture is *great* and yet just a sliver of the "big picture."
Be open when you are there - that is your reality for your trip. Take pics yourself- even better video!- along with the site #, so you have a record of it for the future!
At the bottom of the campsite is "More Details" tab - click on this - this tells you slope, shade, fire pit, number of tent pads, etc etc.
As you search different sites, grounds, dates, etc, you will need to change things - site numbers, campgrounds, dates, etc. Be sure you hit REFRESH after you change to ensure you are seeing the new information you requested.
Please note: Inventory is LIVE - you may be looking at something that others are viewing also. Viewing it does NOT take it off the inventory! Only reserving does! Reserving gives you 15 minutes to complete your reservation. My only complaint with the system - you can't reserve it to take it out of inventory, and then go back and read the details. Especially if it's summer and you are trying over and over again to snag a cancellation, and others are as well, you may only have seconds before it's snapped up. Which means at times of scarcity, you've just to see the pic and commit, and have a few more surprises when you get there. Part of the adventure!
Once you've begun the reservation process, the system walks you through your eligibility for any discounts, and also offerings (like an add-on Discover Pass, which you will NOT need to park your vehicle at your site. Always great to have for a season, but just know that you do not need it to park at the designated parking for your site.
You will be charged for the site at the time you make the reservation - cancellation or changes will incur cancellation or change fees, and these grow the closer you get to the reservation. If there are conditions that require cancellation in the eyes of WA State - nearby forest fires, COVID closures, etc - they will inform you via email of cancellation and refund the site fee. There is an online fee for reserving online -but there is a higher fee for calling in to reserve, and you can't see sites, etc - so it's great to just support your state parks and reserve online!
It's kind of fun to spend your winter amassing a list of campgrounds and sites you like, dream a bit - and that way, you can make reservations by checking your list quickly and going for it if it's free! Highly recommend, plus the anticipation is really fun :)
Finding a site, and exploring and experiencing it when you get there, is all part of the adventure. Go planning to be pleased, regardless, and it does wonders for what you discover and how much you enjoy.