SKAMANIA COUNTY (Stevenson)
Two major icons make this county famous: Mount St. Helens and Beacon rock; but the real star is the Gifford Pinchot National Forest with its 22 USFS campgrounds. Be prepared! Most of this county is gravel roads, but all of them lead to something extraordinary.
Columbia River Gorge
You don't often see a river running through an entire mountain range, but this is Washington, folks. More correctly, the Columbia River was here first, with the Cascade Range forming later, but rising slowly enough for the River to kept eroding it, cutting 4000' in some places. What we have today is a clear division between east and west -- between the dry side and wet side of Washington, all visible from singular vantage points. It is now a designated National Scenic Area, shared by both Washington and Oregon.
- Beacon Rock State Park (includes Skamania Co.'s BEST GROUP CG and only BOAT-IN CAMPSITES)
The centerpiece of the Park is Beacon Rock itself, the 848-ft basalt core of an extinct volcano whose softer materials were washed away by the Missoula floods. The trail to the top includes 15 switchbacks, handrails, and several small bridges.
Overview: This iconic park is located 9.8 miles southwest of Stevenson on 5100 acres with 9500' of Columbia River waterfront. Its highest point is 1968', and is open year round; GPS 45.662598, - 121.901801.
Facilities: The Park is well equipped with flush toilets, showers, running water (hot and cold), picnic tables, fire pits, a playground in the Day Use Area, a marina on the Columbia River, and camp hosts.
Recreation: Rock climbing is a given, but the park also boasts 20 miles of hiking/biking/equestrian trails. Windsurfing is excellent at nearby Spring Creek Hatchery S.P. Rentals are available in Hood River, Oregon.
Campsites (Woodard Creek CG has 5 sites for RVs up to 40', all with full hookups; Main Campground has 26 sites, no hookups, mostly for tenters or small RVs; Group Camp for up to 200 people with 2 Adirondack shelters, 2 equestrian sites at the trailhead, Group Camp is reservable, main campground closed in winter): Sites in the Main CG are moderate in size, but heavily wooded, shady, and relatively private. They are on a hillside away from road noise, but are typically flat. Woodard Creek CG consists of 5 RV sites close to both Highway 105 and the railroad. There are also two tent sites at the marina to accommodate boat-in campers. Best sites are 21, 22, and 23 (all in the Main Campground). The large Group Camp is a dispersed grassy area with Adirondack shelters, each of which can accommodate 8 people.
Trip Notes: We were very surprised at the complexity of this park. The Group Camp was among the best we have seen with nooks and crannies where individual campers can get some privacy from other campers. This is a mecca for geologists, rock climbers, hikers and, yes, even campers.
The "Rock" at Beacon Rock State Park is the 848-foot basalt core of an extinct volcano
For more photos of Beacon Rock S.P. click HERE
- Timberlake Campground & RV Park (Skamania Co.'s BEST EQUIPPED/ BEST CG FOR RVs)
The land on which this park sits is itself a synopsis of the history of this area. Norwegians settlers named it "Heim Dal," later translated as Home Valley in 1894 when the Swedish Bylin family homesteaded the region. They survived the 1902 "Yacolt Burn" forest fire by standing in the Anderson Slough, losing all but their lives. They rebuilt, and the homestead stayed in family hands until 2006, when one of the Bylin-Anderson clan neared retirement, designating part of the land as a campground high above the bustling Columbia Gorge. Founder and former owner Leroy Anderson built this Park to give campers the opportunity to experience the peacefulness of their best homesteading years.
Overview: This well-appointed campground is located 8.3 miles east of Stevenson and 4 miles north of Home Valley on 22 acres, privately operated at 871' elevation, open March to November; GPS 45.7332, -121.7641.
Facilities: This well-appointed campground is equipped with bathrooms and showers, picnic tables, well-designed fire pits, Wi-Fi, good cell phone reception, a dog park (unfenced), helpful camp hosts, and an RV dump.
Recreation: The Park was built as a centralized location for all activities in the Gorge, including fishing on the White Salmon River, golfing at one of the many courses in Stevenson, windsurfing on the Columbia, and simply enjoying nature in an undisturbed form.
Campsites (22 back-ins and walk-ins for tents, 43 back-in RV sites for RVs of any size including 25 sites with full hookups and 18 with water & electric 20/30/50 amp hookups, reservable): Sites are in two large loops, a larger double loop (RV sites 19-43, tent sites T1-T2 and T-13 to T-22) and a smaller single loop (RV sites 6-13 plus tents sites T3-T-9), with some side-by-side RV sites in between (RV sites 2-5 and 14-18). All RV sites have gravel pads, while tent sites are walk-ins. Some water & electric sites are uphill and somewhat hard to maneuver, but the full hookup sites are level with easy maneuverability. There is no train or highway noise. Reservations are recommended for RVers, but the tent sites are often available.
Trip Notes: This is a high energy RV Park with real camping for tenters, dominated by long, slender, colorful wind surfing boards mounted on top of cars, campers, trucks, and even trailers. The Columbia Gorge provides the activities, and campers here take full opportunity. But it can also be restful, with tent sites set low in the middle of a heavily forested loop, or high on the banks above the roads. One site saw wind surfers manically waxing their boards, while in the next site hammocks and reading were the name of the game. This place lives up to the promise to deliver both peacefulness and access to all that that the Gorge can offer.
The wind surfing boards at Timberlake Campground create a carnival of colors.
For more photos of Timberlake CG and RV Park click HERE
Wind River Road (Highway 30)
The Wind River originates in the Cascades and flows 30 miles south where it meets the Columbia near the town of Carson. Highway 30 follows this path, and is a popular ride for motorcyclers, due to its sweeping turns, old growth forest, wilderness areas, and beautiful campgrounds. You don't necessarily need a motorcycle, but you definitely need to go camping here.
- Panther Creek Campground (one of Skamania Co.s MOST APPEALING CGs TO THE SENSES)
This woodland oasis that doubles under the assumed name of Panther Creek draws you a few miles off the Wind River Highway, then seduces you into a camper's coma so that you'll never want to leave. It is beautiful, but it is evil. Campers beware.
Overview: This campground is beautifully located 12.2 miles northeast of Stevenson and 5 miles north of Carson, operated by the USFS at 988' elevation, open early May through mid-September; GPS 45.821, -121.876.
Facilities: These include vault toilets, water by spigot, hiking and equestrian trails with access to the Pacific Crest Trail, and camp hosts.
Recreation: Panther Creek Falls Trail #137 is less than one mile long and leads to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the U.S. with a total height of 136' and a 102' drop, and 100' in width with tiered horsetails. Added bonuses are the Carson Hot Springs and the historic St. Martin Hotel.
Campsites (33 back-in sites including 6 double sites for tents or RVs up to 25', no hookups, equestrian staging area with one site, all reservable): Sites are large, spread out and private. Sites 5, 9, 18, 23, 26 and 27 are multisites.
Trip Notes: It is a wonderful feeling to pull into a new campground and your immediate impression is that it's perfect, the sites are perfect, the creek is perfect, it's just the right size... Yep, this is the place. Extremely peaceful, quiet, shady, and the kind of creek in which you can spend all day wading. There are also horse and hiking trails right from the campground, ensuring that you will never be bored -- unless, of course, that is your goal.
Camping Alternatives: Beaver CG, USFS (23 sites, no hookups, reservable) - Sites large, wooded and shady, mostly with maple trees, 2 pull-throughs. Fishing is allowed in the Wind River. An added bonus is Government Mineral Springs, whose original guard station is still available for rent. Paradise Creek CG, USFS, 1600' elevation (42 sites, no hookups, reservable) - Sites large and private. 20 miles north of Carson near Columbia Gorge, all paved roads. Nice!
Panther Creek Campground seduces you into a camper's coma so that you'll never want to leave
For more photos of Panther Creek CG click HERE
Little White Salmon River
Lengendary to whitewater rafters, a sanctuary for fisherman trying to escape the summer heat, but forgotten by many others, this little river flows for 19 miles from the Cascades into little Drano Lake along Highway 14, a humble ending for mighty tempest of a river, staying well under the recreational radar, just waiting to be tapped by those clever enough to seek it out.
- Moss Creek Campground (one of Skamania Co.s MOST APPEALING CGs TO THE SENSES)
This cozy little campground sits on a gentle slope half surrounded by the Little White Salmon River and lush forest.
Overview: This lush and misty campground is located 20 miles northeast of Stevenson and 5 miles north of Willard on 7 acres, bordered by the Little While Salmon River, operated by the USFS at 1400’ elevation, open early May through mid-September; GPS 45.7948, -121.6329.
Facilities: These include vault toilets, water by spigot, fire rings, picnic tables, and camp hosts.
Recreation: The Little White Salmon River is thumbs up with whitewater kayakers, and includes many high quality rapids over a very long season, adequate for class V paddlers. Fishing is also good for brook and rainbow trout.
Campsites (17 back-in and pull-through sites for tents and RVs up to 30', no hookups, reservable): The sites are large and private, with dogwood trees adding to the usual mix of Douglas fir, hemlock, cedar, and big leaf maples. They are arranged in one small (2 sites) and one larger loop.
Trip Notes: This small campground reminded me of a hilly version of Panther Creek CG. Unlike Panther Creek, there was always someone in view either carrying a fishing pole or fishing in the Little White Salmon River. This will be a camper’s paradise for those seeking the forest experience, and is short drive from the Lewis and Clark Hwy 14. A word of warning: unless you wish to get lost like we did, be sure to take the Cook-Willard Road off of Hwy 105 (this will be Hwy 14) then take a right turn onto Willard Road 3-4 miles up the road. When you get to the town of Willard, you know you're on your way.
Camping Alternative: Oklahoma CG (USFS, 23 sites, no hookups; reservable) is further up the same paved road. Only a few campsites were open, due to extensive damage that appears to be an accumulation of several winters. The road at the end of the loop had a drop of about 18", and roped off without further explanation. We can recommend this campground only if Moss Creek is full.
Lush and misty Moss Creek Campground sits on a gentle slope half surrounded by the Little White Salmon River
For more photos of Moss Creek CG click HERE
Indian Heaven Wilderness
Indian Heaven is a 20,600-acre wilderness within the southern Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It is a gentle plateau mosaic of wildflower meadows, about 175 small lakes, panoramic views, volcanic fields, and volcanic craters turned into lakes. Native peoples have been using this property for sacred and cultural purposes for at least 9,000 years, and it still elicits that indescribable sense of awe.
- Forlorn Lakes Campground (Skamania Co.'s BEST RUSTIC CG)
"Forlorn" is an odd designation for such a happy place. The small lakes invite fishing, human powered boats, lakeshore sunbathing, and play (remember that word?).
Overview: This collection of campgrounds is located 32 miles northeast of Stevenson and 17 miles west of Trout Lake, operated by the USFS at 3700’ elevation, open mid-June to mid-September; GPS 45.95893, -121.757005.
Facilities: Scattered amenities include vault toilets (some ADA), fire grills, picnic tables, and camp hosts.
Recreation: The area is excellent for mountain blueberries (wild huckleberries) that ripen in late August. Swimming and kayaking are good in the various small lakes. Cave exploring is popular in the Natural Bridges, which are actually lava tubes. Guler Ice Caves are also lava tubes formed by the freezing of dripping water. Bird Creek Meadows and the Indian Heaven Wilderness also provide endless hiking and exploring.
Campsites (24 sites for tents or small RVs, no hookups or reservations, no water on site): Sites wind for 1.7 miles around five campgrounds with 16 lakes, perfect for canoeing. Parking aprons are irregular, and only campgrounds 1, 2 and 3 accommodate RVs. Others are best for tents or truck-mounted campers. Despite this, the sites offer excellent privacy, quiet, and heavy vegetation. Most sites have lakefront views; others have short trails to lakes. The forest here is a blend of Eastern and Western Washington, including Douglas fir, Engelmann spruce, and lodgepole pine.
Trip Notes: There is a sense of deep forest excitement here. We spent hours exploring the various lakes, some of which were pristine blue, others shallower and more brackish. There is a 3.9 mile stretch of gravel road as you approach the campground from the town of Trout Lake (the only route we recommend). Access through Carson and the Wind River Hwy leads to severely rutted gravel roads that may damage some vehicles.
Local Alternatives: Peterson Prairie CG.has he advantage of having all paved roads, located just west of the very helpful Trout Lake Ranger Station. Lost Creek Ditch bisects the campground in two, satisfying some peoples' need to seek out the unusual. Goose Lake CG, which comes with a popular fishing lake just west of the Forlorns, is especially good for children, and offers walk-in tent sites.
"Forlorn" is an odd designation for such a happy place as Forlorn Lakes
For more photos of Forlorn Lakes CG click HERE
- Thomas Lake and Vicinity Hike-In Campsites (Skamania Co.'s BEST HIKE-IN CAMPSITES)
It is rare for camping to be allowed in wilderness areas, especially one so dramatic, breathtaking, and yet so accessible by hikers, campers, and all other adventurers. It was heaven for the native peoples, and now for all of us.
Overview: This series of campsites is located 29 miles north of Stevenson and just 0.37 miles in from the Lake Thomas Lake Trail #111 Trailhead. It is operated by the USFS at 4500' elevation. The campsites are best used from May until October; GPS for Trailhead 46.0057, -121.83923, see more below.
Facilities are limited and primitive. Water should be packed in, or treated before using.
Recreation: Wildflower viewing is quite engaging here. Huckleberry picking is quite popular in late summer. Most of the lakes are stocked for fishing. Hiking continues on past Thomas Lake to the great views of the Umtux Lakes, and beyond that to Blue Lake (see below).
Trailhead: To reach the Thomas Lake Trail #111 TH, start in Carson. Drive North on the Wind River Hwy (Forest Road 30) for about 5 miles to Forest Road 65. Turn right onto Old State Road and take the 1st left onto Forest Road 65/Panther Creek Road. Continue for 16 miles. Trailhead will be on the right.
GPS coordinates for campsites:
Site #1 121° 49' 51.3W 46° 0' 15.6N
Site #2 121° 49' 51.5W 46° 0' 06.8N
Site #3 121° 49' 48.0W 46° 0' 03.9N
Site #4 121° 49' 43.9W 46° 0' 06.1N
Site #5 121° 49' 42.7W 46° 0' 12.4N
Site #6 121° 49' 37.6W 46° 0' 19.2N
Site #7 121° 49' 29.8W 46° 0' 22.4N
Campsites (7 sites dispersed around 5 small lakes. FREE with a free self-issue Wilderness Permit available at TH): Sites 1-5 are around Thomas Lake. Site 3 is also close to little Kwaddis Lake. Sites 6 and 7 are between Heather and Eunice Lakes.
Best Local Alternative is Blue Lake and Vicinity Hike-In Campsites.
Overview: This set of campsites is located an additional 3.7 miles east on Thomas Lake Trail #111, best used May until October; GPS, see below.
Recreation: Blue Lake, Tombstone, and Sahalee-Tyee are the best fishing lakes in this group. Hiking continues on as the trail #111 connects to the Pacific Crest Trail, and the beginning of the awesome 16.5-mile Wilderness Lakes Loop hike. Hiking past Blue Lake is considered much more challenging.
Trailhead: Same as above for Thomas Lake.
GPS coordinates for campsites:
Site #8 121° 47' 55.7W 46° 59' 12.2N
Site #9 121° 47' 01.3W 46° 59' 08.3N
Site #10 121° 47' 47.3W 46° 59' 07.3N
Site #11 121° 47' 49.2W 46° 59' 00.3N
Site #12 121° 47' 48.2W 46° 58' 59.3N
Site #13 121° 47' 41.5W 46° 59' 01.9N
Site #14 121° 47' 42.2W 46° 59' 00.1N
Site #15 121° 47' 38.9W 46° 58' 55.6N
Site #16 121° 47' 35.5W 46° 58' 49.7N
Campsites (9 sites dispersed around 4 small lakes. FREE with a free self-issue Wilderness Permit available at TH): Site 8 is on Sahalee-Tyee Lake. Sites 9-14 are closest to Blue Lake. Sites 15 and 16 are closest to tiny Tombstone Lake.
Trip Notes: Though high in elevation, the trail is relatively flat and manageable by most.
Thomas Lake Hike-In Campsites are unique in allowing camping in wilderness areas
For more photos of Thomas Lake Hike-ins click HERE
Gifford Pinchot National Forest North
This enormous National forest covers 1.37 million acres and occupies 65% of the land in Skamania County. One thing most people notice when driving around the Gifford Pinchot is how many gravel roads there are in the northern half. You also notice how few northern roads connect with the paved roads of the southern half. This makes travel challenging, but also gives a very different, more rustic character to the northern campgrounds. But with magnificent sites like Mount St. Helens, Takhlakh Lake and Lower Falls, you won't hear too many people complaining.
- Takhlakh Lake Campground (Skamania Co.'s MOST UNIQUELY WASHINGTON CG)
Just 7 miles west of Mt. Adams lies a lake. But not just any lake. This is a manificent alpine lake elusively named from the Native American word "takh" which means meadows. But there are no meadows here. Instead, this is a pristine, nearly round lake just the right size to capture the perfect reflection of majestic Mt. Adams. Ever wanted to appear in a picture postcard? Set foot or boat on this lake, and you'll do just that.
Overview: This awe-inspiring campground is located 98 miles northeast of Stevenson and 46 miles southeast of Randle on 32.6-acre Takhlakh Lake, operated by the USFS at 4449' elevation, open when the snow clears in June to late September, weather permitting; GPS 46.278, -121.599.
Facilities: This rugged campground includes vault toilets, picnic tables, firegrills, and camp hosts. Kayak/canoe launching is easy at several points along the lakeshore.
Recreation: There is a walking trail around the entire Lake full of magnificent photo opportunities. More restless hikers seek out the trails around Mt. Adams. Canoeing and kayaking are unparalleled (no motors allowed on the Lake). Fishing is good for brown, cutthroat, eastern brook, and rainbow, trout.
Campsites (62 sites for tents or RVs up to 30', no hookups or potable water; reservable): Sites are shady and wooded w/adequate privacy. Most sites are back-ins (some hilly) with a few pull-throughs. Access through Randle (from the north) or Trout Lake (from the south).
Trip notes: Finding the perfect campground on the perfect lake and the perfect mountain view means travelling for miles on grated, dusty, gravel roads and trusting that you’ll eventually get there without getting lost. But we made it. We had difficulty situating our pop-up trailer in the driveway of site 30, which was a long mound sloped on 3 sides and inches from large trees – kind of like trying to park on the top of a large loaf of bread. But again, we made it. We assumed at first that Mt. Adams was shrouded with clouds, as our sense of direction was compromised from the switchback roads the last few miles to the park entrance. When I finally walked the campground, and suddenly saw the reflection of Mt. Adams framed by old growth trees around the large round lake, it literally took my breath away. On the water were multi-colored “human-powered” boats: a small blue canoe, a red kayak, two matching bright orange pontoon boats, and a large green canoe with raised ends reminiscent of Hiawatha. Another camper, seeing my reaction, stated, “Yeah, this is why clichés are made.” And so it goes. The pictures just can’t capture the beauty of this place. Put this one on your bucket list, even if you've been here before.
Local Camping Alternatives: (1) Olallie Lake – close to Takhlakh, a smaller lake with a similar view of Mt. Adams. Sites were fewer and smaller, and most of the park was covered with oily gravel, as it is otherwise rather dusty. Had only 2-3 good sites. (2) Council Lake, see below – Beautiful, alpine lake (bigger than Olallie, smaller than Takhlakh, but longer and narrower).
Takhlakh Lake captures the perfect reflection of Mount Adams
For more photos of Takhlakh Lake CG click HERE
- Council Lake Campground (Skamania Co.'s BEST FREE CG)
This is a surprisingly cozy campground in an area of many small beautiful lakes. There's just something sturdier about this little lake, with an equally sturdy campground to match.
Overview: This lovely, rustic campground is located 41.3 miles north of Stevenson and 35.3 miles east of Cougar on beautiful alpine Council Lake (43.7 acres), operated by the USFS at 4225' elevation, open May to October; GPS 46.266884, -121.629982.
Facilities: Limited facilities include a pit toilet (no TP!) and fire rings. There is no water or garbage service.
Recreation: This includes fishing for rainbow, eastern, brown, and cutthroat trout. Good boating for human-powered boats only. Hiking is available on the 1.3 mile Council Bluff Trail - an old lookout road - leading to a great vista overlooking volcanoes with room for 3-4 tents.
Campsites (7 sites for tents and the smallest of RVs, no hookups or reservations, FREE with NW Forest Pass): The sites are arranged in a narrow dumbell-shaped pattern that puts the center sites in close proximity, but the old growth trees give some privacy.
Trip Notes: This beautiful blue-green lake is long and rectangle-shaped, pointing toward great mountain peaks beyond. This is one of the more pristine smaller campgrounds in the area -- no oiled gravel or evidence of recent fires or blow downs. This is a great place for quiet, and focusing on camping and floating on that peaceful lake.
Council Lake Campground sits on one of the more pristine lakes in the area
For more photos of Council Lake CG click HERE
- Lower Falls Recreation Area (Skamania Co.'s BEST CG FOR FAMILIES)
Seclusion is the word here, in a brilliant campground tucked away far up the Lewis River, with river boardwalks, viewing platforms, access stairwells, and some of the most dramatic waterfalls anywhere.
Overview: Located 53 miles north of Stevenson and 61 miles east of Woodland, operated by the USFS at 1535' elevation, open May to late October; GPS 46.15664, -121.87845.
Facilities: Reasonable facilities include composting toilets, picnic tables, fire rings, paved roads, a large Day Use Area, and camp hosts.
Recreation: Hiking is popular on Lewis River Trail #31, Quartz Creek Trail #5, and Wright Meadows Trail #80. Waterfall viewing is the big draw here at Lower Lewis River Falls, Curly Creek Falls, Big Creek Falls, and Middle Falls. Fishing (catch and release only) is good for bull trout, cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, and whitefish. Swimming is strongly discouraged, as the currents and heavy under tows beneath Lower Falls are deceptively dangerous.
Campsites (42 back-in and pull-through sites, including 2 double sites, for tents and RVs up to 60', no hookups, reservable): Sites are divided into two loops, Upper and Lower. All sites are wooded, private, and quite large. The Lower Loop has the best access to the River and is closest to the Falls.
Trip Notes: These incredible, complex, mesmerizing falls are closer to the campground than we expected (1/8 to 1/4 mile away by trail). And the Falls are not just a single flow of water, but dozens of distinct cascades of water -- some raging torrents, others narrow flows that tumble the entire height of that mighty set of rocks, others that rumble down fissures in the rock bank. Still others free fall nearly the entire height, until they hit benches of rock that pulverize the water into a fine mist that can be felt from the shore of the river below. Combine all these with a fine USFS campground in a family friendly environment, and this rates high, high, high on the list of best camping facilities in Washington.
Local Alternative: Twin Falls CG – just east of Lower Falls, has only a few sites, all of them walk-ins, so tents only. Two sites are right on the Lewis River, and very idyllic. The river here is narrower and deeper with rapids and nice falls. Is a very shady and more private spot than the other local parks.
Lower Falls Campground sits on the edge of one of the most complex and mesmerizing waterfalls in Washington
For more photos of Lower Falls CG click HERE