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Camping in the Wenatchee Forest: My Weekend Exploring Washington

You don’t have to scour too hard to find a sublime camping spot on the outskirts of Seattle. The city lies within a few hours of a slew of top-tier camping locales, such as Mount Rainier, the San Juan Islands and the Lower Cascades.

After visiting for a conference last week, I borrowed a car from a friend and spent a leisurely weekend camping in the Wenatchee National Forest on the Eastern Slopes of the Cascades.

Getting to the Wenatchee National Forest
I’m a total slacker when it comes to making camping plans, but occasionally my lack of preparation produces spur-of-the-moment decisions that lead to a great trip.  This was one of those situations. Camping spots around Seattle are a hot commodity in the summer months–especially on the weekends–so when I tried to find a spot on one of the San Juan Islands on a Saturday, I was basically laughed off the phone.

After a quick Google search, I found what appeared to be a really cool camping spot on Cooper Lake just north of the town Cle Elum. I couldn’t get a hold of the ranger station, so I decided to wing it, taking I-90 East out of the city and toward the mountains. Everything was going swimmingly until my friend’s car started shaking violently while driving through a tunnel on Mercer Island.

Flat Tire
My awesome flat tire

Undaunted, I managed to pull into a service station, put on the spare and make a quick jaunt to the closest Les Schwab Tire Center. Within an hour, I was back on the road, barreling down I-70, enveloped in Alpine forest and thoroughly enjoying the rush of mountain air. It took a total of two hours to reach Cle Elum, after which I jumped on highway 903.

Abutting the road was Cle Elum lake, a gorgeous, crystal-blue body of water filled with families spending the afternoon recreating on the water and the sun-dappled shore. There are a half-dozen or so campgrounds located on the lake, but each one I passed was filled.  When I eventually arrived at Cooper Lake and the Owhi Campground, I was dismayed to find it also without vacancy.

I was pretty bummed about not finding a spot to camp, but instead of spending the whole afternoon scouring for one, I opted to go for a hike and figure out my sleeping spot later. I headed to a forest service road right off the Salmon Del Sac backcountry, which led to a number of long, looping trails  alongside the lake. The trails weaved through gorgeous alpine canopy, occasionally providing a glimpse of the rushing river below.

I hiked in for about two hours, then returned around 9 p.m. While heading back into town, I had basically resigned myself to spending the night in my car, before realizing that camping was allowed along the lake without a specified camping spot.  I hustled to get my tent set up as night descended.

Finding Joel Fleischman in Rosalyn
I was pretty hungry when I woke up around 7 a.m., so I decided to drive the 10 miles or so into Rosalyn for a bite and to get more food for the next evening. The small, quirky mining town of approximately 900, has only a few commercial establishments scattered along Main Street, but I was able to get a killer veggie burrito at Maggie’s Cafe.

Afterwards, I checked out a little tourist shop, where the hottest items were souvenirs from Northern Exposure, a 90’s sitcom about a neurotic Manhattan doctor named Joel Fleischman, who moves to Alaska.  The show was actually filmed in Rosalyn, a legacy still promulgated heavily in the local stores.

Joel Fleischman in Rosalyn

Camping at Cooper Lake
Satiated, I returned back to Cooper Lake and the Owhi Campground, which had been full the night prior. Since it was Sunday, most of the campers had left, and I was able to snag an epic spot right on the lake. I spent the day trekking through the paths that abutted the lake, where kayakers and rafters floated.  I even took a dip in the cold water myself, though I will admit it was a quick one.

Alas, I returned back to my camp, where I drifted lazily into an early, peaceful sleep. This was my first time camping in Washington State and it was a blast.  The summer weather in the Cascades is perfect for camping and the ample hiking, fishing and kayaking options provide recreation options for everyone.  I’ll definitely be back.

Do you have a great camping trip experience you’d like to publish?  If so, Lost in the Woods would love to hear from you.  Shoot an email to with your idea.  If we dig it, we’ll publish it on the blog and hook you up with some free camping gear as well.

1 Comment

  1. Good thing you got to see the Cle Elem area before the fire that’s raging there now.
    You have a wonderful blog–thanks for sharing your adventures in the outdoors.

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