Camping 101: Getting the most from your state park visit

Tent and motorcycle in front of trees with water in background

Score a beautiful place to camp for some peace, relaxation and fun at Washington state parks. Photo of Bowman Bay campground at Deception Pass State Park by Steve GInn

May 6, 2021

In 2021 the outdoors is, undeniably, in.

The pandemic climate is spurring a mushrooming interest in the outdoors! Outdoor gear and RV sales are booming, and campsites are filling up. Many first-time campers are heading to campgrounds as a way to get out of the house while still practicing social distancing.

Here at Washington State Parks, we have always been happy campers, and we want you to be, too! So, to help out you first-time (and returning) campers, we have compiled answers to a few frequently asked questions to help get you started on what we hope will be a lifetime of great outdoor recreation adventures.

Arriving at the park

Two people seated in front of an RV with dogs at their feet

Camp hosts, like Barbara Stuebing (left) and Robert Cameron (right) -- who volunteer at Riverside State Park -- can help you get settled at your campsite. 

How do I check in?

Check in procedures vary by park. Your confirmation letter or reminder email includes your check-in time.

When are check-in and check-out times?  

Campsites and Group Camps
Check-in: 2:30 p.m.
Check-out: 1 p.m.

Roofed accomodations (cabins, platform tents, teepees and yurts):
Check-in: 4 p.m.
Check-out: 11 a.m.

Vacation houses
Check-in: 4 p.m.
Check-out: 11 a.m.

Day-use shelters
Check-in: 9 a.m.
Check-out: One hour before dark.

Can I arrive early?

Please arrive on or after your check-in time. This allows time for staff to clean and ensure your campsite or cabin is ready for your stay. Also, please be considerate of other visitors who are already camping in your site.  DO NOT wait outside other people’s campsites while you wait for your check-in time.

If you do arrive early, bring your Discover Pass. You are welcome hang out in the day-use area of the park or even check out one of our wonderful Interpretive Centers, which are beginning to reopen.   

If I arrive late, will I be able to get in?  

If you arrive after hours and the gate is closed, you may enter through the gate by using the slider bar. Please close the gate after you enter the park and be sure to register the next morning. Note that quiet hours are 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

What happens if I don’t show up the first night of my stay?

We consider your reservation a “no show” if you have not arrived by 1 p.m. the day following your scheduled arrival day. You will forfeit the cost of your entire stay. If you are arriving a day late, please call the park on or before your arrival date to let them know. (You’ll pay for that night, unless you are able to change ahead of time). If you need to contact the park, you can find the phone number on the park’s web page. 

RV in a campsite

New RV? Pull on into a Washington State Park hookup site and enjoy a relaxing stay with friends and family like these folks at Grayland Beach State Park.

How many people can I bring to my campsite?

✔ A maximum of eight people can stay overnight at a campsite. We appreciate it if you can provide the exact number of people staying overnight with you when you check in, so we know how many people are in the park.  

Can I bring an extra car?

✔ Check the site description on the reservations website first to make sure there is room for an extra car or nearby parking is available. If there is, you can bring an extra car for overnight parking. We charge a $10 per night extra vehicle fee.

In the park

Will there be firewood?

Many parks sell firewood. Please check the individual park web pages on the Washington State Parks website. This information is found in the “Camping” link under the “Activities” section of the page. If firewood is not available for sale at the park, please purchase from a nearby business to prevent bringing in nuisance pests from other areas. 

Please do not cut trees or gather wood for firewood in the park.  

Photo right: Let the kids have their own tent like these campers at Potholes State Park did!

Two tents on a grass field.

Will campfires be allowed? Will I receive a refund if campfires are not allowed?

You can check for campfire burn ban information on the park's web page, or on our alert center. It's best to check before you go. In some cases, alternative fuel sources will be allowed. Burn bans are a fact of life during Washington summers and are not predictable. We do not provide refunds if a ban is in place.

Where can I find information about special park conditions, such as construction?

If the reservation staff receives this information in advance and it affects your site, we notify you via email. Depending on how far in advance information becomes available, you’ll see this as an alert before booking. Your reminder email will also provide the most current park alerts. You can also check for park alerts on the park’s web page or our alert center on our website.

Can I get a refund if activities (for example: clam digging) that I wanted to take part in are not available at the park during my visit?

Your fee pays for your campsite or other accommodation. We cannot guarantee the availability of activities, and we do not provide refunds if activities are not available.

Dog on a leash next to a person.

Bring your buddy! Dogs (on a leash) are allowed in all campsites and in cabins, yurts and other rentals listed as pet friendly. Photo of dog at Dash Point State Park by SupportPDX.

Can I bring a pet?

✔ Yes. Pets are allowed in campsites. All pets or domestic animals must be kept under physical control, on a leash no greater than eight feet in length, or otherwise physically restrained, at all times while in a state park area. 

Please clean up after your pet and keep pets out of designated swimming areas.  

For roofed accommodations, pets are allowed in pet-friendly facilities only. Check our cabins and yurts and vacation rentals pages for more information.

Can I have visitors?

Yes, you may have visitors. Day-use visitors to your site must have either an annual Discover Pass or a day-use pass. The cost of the pass is $30 for the annual pass and $10 for the day use pass, if purchased at the park. Visitors can park overnight for a $10 nightly fee as long as you do not exceed site capacity (i.e., no more than 8 persons per campsite). Check the site description for additional vehicle capacity or check with the park for other overnight parking options.

What if my roofed accommodation (cabin, vacation house, yurt, etc.) is locked when I have arrived?

If the office is open, always check in to obtain keys, lock codes and important information about your stay. If the office is closed and park staff are unavailable:

  • Procedures for accessing your roofed accommodation vary by park, so be sure to review this information in your confirmation letter prior to arrival. 
  • Park rangers will often leave information about accessing your roofed accommodation at the main office, or at the roofed shelter. 
  • You may be able to reach a staff member by phone even if you do not see anyone onsite, as they may be stationed in another area of the park. Please refer to our find a park web page to find contact information for you park. 

What do I do if I can’t find park staff?  

Please check park office board for information or speak with the camp host.  

Where can I see park rules?

View park rules here or on the park’s bulletin board.

Learn More

We hope these questions and answers will help you get your camp on!
But if you have more questions, please contact our Information Center at (360) 902-8844, or cabin and picnic table.

And remember ... we are still in facing COVID 19 restrictions.
Learn more about our recreate responsibly polices and restrictions on our COVID 19  and Parks Status pages.

Just got a new RV?
Check out our blog with information specifically for the newly minted and returning road warrior!

Having trouble finding a spot?
Check out this blog on reserving a mid-week campsite and even working from a state park!

Now get on out there and enjoy Washington state parks!

Photo above right: Don't care for tent camping? Rent one our cabins, yurts or other roofed accommodations like this beauty at Rasar State Park.