It happens all the time.
Every summer I kick myself for not planning the outdoor season better. Sure, there are always great spots to go hiking and camping, but it’s frustrating to realize that the place you want to go to this weekend was booked months, in some cases, a year ago. So to help with planning, I put together a little guide for myself and thought it would be useful to others as well.
Car camping - A lot of places in national forests can be reserved through recreation.gov. The window for individual sites is 6 months and group sites 12 months. The trick of it is though, that the timeframe is for your first night, which means you don’t need to wait for the complete 6 or 12 months to roll through. What’s that mean? Labor Day weekend is one of the busiest weekends anywhere, much less for camping. Reserving a site 12 months in advance means the earliest you can book Labor Day is not Labor Day, but the Friday before. Then, when you make your reservation, you add in 3 nights! Group sites can accommodate up to 75 campers, but I’ve found them to be well worth the money when you have a group of friends, their kids, and dogs.
The Enchantments – Lottery available through recreation.gov. Applications are open February 1 through March 31st and are good for trips between June 15 through October 15 each year (though going before August 1st usually means snow). If you're more the adventourous types, many permits are held for morning-of lotteries at the ranger station in Leavenworth.
Mt. Rainier National Park – Reservations are accepted beginning on March 15th of each year through April 1st, after which a lottery process ensues. No reservations are accepted after September 30th, when it switches to first come, first served.
Olympic National Park – Reservations are accepted beginning on March 15th of each year, for trips occurring between May 1 and September 30th. However, reservations are only required for the sites listed on the site (Ozette, 7 Hearts, Lena, Hoh, Royal Basin/Lake, among others).
North Cascades National Park – No reservations needed, first come first served.
Glacier National Park – Not in the state, but still worth planning for. Reservations for backcountry permits are taken between January 1 to April 15th, with the lottery beginning on April 16th.
Lodges – Washington state is home to a few fantastic historic lodges run and operated on park land. You fill out a request form and send it in, then they’ll reply with their availability. These places are on the historic register and well, they don’t quite make them like they used to (and you can’t beat the views!).
Washington State Parks
State Parks in Washington State vary in their ability to be reserved. Check the main site at https://washington.goingtocamp.com/ to find if your desired site is reservable. If so, there is a 7 month advance reservation window available.
Hidden Lake – No reservation is needed and it is available on a first come, first served basis, however a permit is required from the Marblemount ranger station in North Cascades National Park
Winchester Mountain – No reservation is needed and it is available on a first come, first served basis.
Evergreen Mountain – Reservations can be made up to 6 months in advance, beginning September 8th 2014 until March 4th 2015. It’s a little confusing, as the short season runs from August 28th through October 6th. – so in order to book a night in August, the earliest you can do so (6 months) would be sometime in March, the end of the booking window. So how does one book October if that would mean a May reservation, outside the window? Essentially, I think the site is saying the earliest you can book is 6 months.
Any other dates that I'm missing?