Camp Every County, Washington

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From the many-fingered waterways of southern Puget Sound, to the amazing Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, to the glacial prairies at the base of the Capital State Forest, this small county provides a wide variety of camping and recreational opportunities.

Nisqually River Region
The Nisqually River has its source at the Nisqually Glacier on Mount Rainier, but makes its grand exit at the Nisqually River Delta in northern Thurston Co. Its 81-mile journey criss-crosses the Nisqually Indian Reservation, and is their territorial center. Tribal influences make recreation here more solitary and natural than much of the County. 

  • Riverbend Campground (Thurston Co.'s MOST UNIQUELY WASHINGTON CG)
    This at first appears like an RV Park with some long-term residents, but look deeper. On the edge of the campground, on the sandy shores of the Nisqually River, are some of the nicest, most natural tent sites in all of Washington. The campground is also under new management with vast improvements. Warning: don't confuse this with Riverbend RV Park in Okanogan Co.
    Overview: This gated campground is located 12.2 miles east of downtown Olympia and 3.5 miles south of I-5, privately operated on 25 acres at low elevation, open year round; GPS 47.04804, -122.69429.
    Facilities:  Updated amenities include bathrooms with showers (ADA), pit toilets near the River, some picnic tables and fire pits, laundry, a playground, picnic area, a boat ramp, Club House with library/games/TV, a mini store, Wi-Fi and cable TV at some sites, a pet play area, friendly camp hosts, and an RV dump.
    Recreation: Disc Golf, horseshoes, and outdoor games are available. Check fishing regulations before setting out, as these change from year to year.
    Campsites (93 sites for tents and RVs up to 60', including 15 tent sites on the River, a mixture of pull-throughs and back-ins with full and partial 30/50 amp hookups, reservable): Sites are large, level and shady on gravel or sand pads, but subject to railroad and military plane noise. The tents sites on the River are rustic and natural, and also the most private. The RV sites surround beautifully manicured grounds. On the edge of the RV area is farmland with llamas who seem to keep many campers entertained.
    Trip Notes: This campground is best for longer stays, those stopping over along I-5, or for tent campers who are less bothered by train or plane noise. The long-term campers are reported as very nice and unobtrusive by most reviewers, and our experience was the same. The crowning jewel is the Nisqually River itself -- very uniquely Washington -- with its opalescent water, easy wading, camping on the sandy beach -- providing one of the best experiences of Washington from the ground up.
    Local Attraction: The amazing Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge occupies the Nisqually River Delta, where the River meets Puget Sound. Covering 3,114 acres, this is home to over 300 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. There are abundant opportunities for hiking on boardwalk trails, photography, fishing, and environmental education. A section (191 acres) is open to boat access waterfowl hunting. Be sure to visit the Norm Dicks Visitor Center exhibits.

Riverbend Campground is an often overlooked gem on the Nisqually River
For more photos of Riverbend CG click HERE

Thurston County's Prairie Region
Thurston Co. is unique among Puget Sound counties with its sprawling prairies. Those travelling north of Olympia to shop at Cabellas must take the Hawks Prairie exit, but most prairies lie further south where towns are smaller and more scattered. Still, less than 10% of the area's prairies still exist, with only a fraction of that suitable to support its many endangered species. Camp well here, but also appreciate what a remarkable opportunity you have to share this land.

  • American Heritage Campground (Thurston Co.'s BEST EQUIPPED CG/BEST CG FOR RVs):
    Despite what is often published, this is not a KOA Park or franchised park, but an independent, family-run operation, with its own attention to the details of a good camping experience.
    Overview: This tidy but natural campground is located 7.6 miles south Olympia on 25 acres, private/family operated at 174' elevation, open year round for RVs (tents are summer only); GPS 46.946439, -122.926398.
    Facilities: This campground comes well-equipped with bathrooms, showers, running water, picnic tables, fire rings, laundry, Wi-Fi, an on-site store, swimming pool, a play field and playground, volleyball and horseshoe pits, a paved bicycle track, an animal viewing farm, camp hosts, and an RV dump.
    Recreation: Most recreation occurs within the park.
    Campsites (86 sites, including 72 back-in RV sites with 30 amp hookups, one wonderful cabin, all reservable): The RV sites are formed into two loops surrounded by a larger loop; the tent sites have a separate, more isolated, grassier loop. Most sites are wooded and private. The Park seems oriented to families, and the staff (the Heck family) make great efforts to accommodate everyone. The noise of coyotes and wolves can be heard at night, owing in part to its proximity to Wolf Haven. Though the parks sits close to I-5, most freeway sound is buffered by pristine stands of mature trees and vegetation. Of note, many campers come here generation after generation, including entire families, groups of friends, and more solitary campers, owing to the welcoming environment of the staff.
    Trip Notes: The City of Tumwater is slowly encroaching on this park, but don't judge it until you are inside the campground itself. It does not have the feel of a suburban park, as the lush, high vegetation and trees provide a great escape. The sites are very deep and large, and can accommodate even the largest RVs. The tent sites are also large enough for those Goliath tents you see occasionally. More to the point, the Heck Family was extremely welcoming, and this is reflected in every detail of the Park. On that note, however, I must add that the Park is showing its age and could use a little more maintenance. Maybe their growing children will follow in their parent's footsteps and get it done.
    Nearby Attractions: Tumwater Falls Park in Tumwater is a large walking park with cement paths, bridges, and viewing platforms along the upper, middle, and lower falls of the Deschutes River. Above it all rests the incredible Falls Terrace Restaurant, which is Tumwater's finest.  Wolf Haven (near Tenino) is a facility that has walking tours and works for wolf conservation. The previously displaced wolves came from private owners, zoos, and other "attractions," and now have a safe haven that returns them to more natural environs. For more information, contact 360 264-HOWL, 800-448-WOLF, or

The one lowly cabin at American Heritage is nicely set among mature pines
For more photos of American Heritage CG click HERE

  • Millersylvania State Park (Thurston Co.'s BEST CG FOR ENTIRE FAMILIES)
    This park was originally called "Miller's Glade," after the Miller family that donated the land. The name was later changed to Millersylvania, or "wooded glade," due to its striking forest, lakes, and prairie land. Its construction by the CCC in 1935 gives it the vintage character of the era, with its brick bathrooms, kitchen shelters, and other stone and wooden buildings.
    Overview: Vintage in every way, this campground is located 11.7 miles south of Olympia on 842 acres with 3,300' of of freshwater shoreline on 38.8 acre Deep Lake at 210' elevation, open year round; GPS 46.91278, -122.90972.
    Facilities: Vintage with modern updates, campers will find bathrooms with showers (ADA), picnic tables, fire grills, 4 kitchen shelters, a boat launch, 100' of dock, a Park Store, concession stand, boat rentals, 8.6 miles of hiking trails, 7.6 miles of biking trails, camp hosts, and an RV dump station.
    Recreation: This includes swimming, boating (speed limit 5 mph, no gas motors), fishing, hiking, and "glamping."
    Campsites (120 tent spaces, 48 full utility sites for RVs up to 45' with full hookups 30 amp, 5 "glamping sites" in the Pampered Wilderness, one group camp for 20-40, the Environmental Learning Center for  150-160, Lakeside Cottage, all are reservable): The tent sites, while shaded and beautiful amid old growth forest, are connected by a series of difficult to maneuver roads, and large vehicles should reserve sites in the RV loop. The most shaded/wooded RV sites are 201-227 and 246-248, others are in full sun. The 5 Pampered Wilderness sites feature furnished hand-made canvas and log cabins with king-sized beds, electricity, mini-fridges, microwaves, gourmet coffee, barbecues with utensils, continental breakfasts, wine glasses, and even s'mores. The Group Camp is wooded and shady, with a group fire pit and kitchen shelter. The Environmental Learning/Retreat Center features a furnished wood lodge with dining hall and equipped kitchen, 19 heated cabins (2 with bathrooms) for 6-8 people each, 4 trailer/RV sites, 2 outdoor classrooms, bathrooms with showers, and an amphitheater.
    Trip Notes: The 1930s-1940s feel of this campground strikes you the minute you enter the camping areas. It is easy to imagine movie stars -- Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and even Mae West -- glamping in the Pampered Wilderness, sipping wine, wading in Deep Lake, and sitting around their respective campfires, while their servants bring them boeuf bourguignon and caviar, before being tucked in beneath the silk sheets of their candlelit canvas tents. Exaggeration? Sure, but this place retains a vintage, Hollywood-type glamor that is a real treasure.

The CCC built Millersylvania State Park in the 1930s, giving it a vintage charm
For more photos of Millersylvania S.P. click HERE

Capital State Forest
The 91,650-acre Capitol State Forest is a "working forest" providing both timber and recreation. These are trust lands managed to provide sustainable revenue in support of schools, state universities and local county public services. These Black Hills lands also provide the majority of the County's trails for ORVs, mountain biking, horseback riding, and hiking, laced with some of the most regenerative campgrounds in Washington.

  • Margaret McKenny Campground (Thurston Co.'s BEST FREE/RUSTIC CG, MOST APPEALING CG TO THE SENSES, and BEST BIKE-IN CG)
    This campground was named for the noted ecologist of the same name, and reflects her love of forest preservation in every way.
    Overview: This greenest of campgrounds is located 14 miles southwest of Olympia and 3 miles northwest of Littlerock, managed by the DNR at 292' elevation, open May to November; GPS 46.9265, -123.0628.
    Facilities: Campers at this DNR-equipped site can expect vault toilets, picnic tables, fire rings, horse corals in the equestrian loop, and camp hosts. There is no potable drinking water at this time.
    Campsites (21 back-in sites for tents and RVs up to 45' plus 8 walk-in sites, one loop dedicated to equestrians, no hookups or reservations, FREE with Discover Pass): The campground consists of 3 loops (see more below). Sites are wooded but primitive, and of variable size.
    Parking pads are gravel. Second growth Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, big leaf maple and alder provide both privacy and quiet. There is a campsite host during the summer months - very important, as vandalism is on the rise in all areas. Unlike nearby campgrounds, this one does not allow ORVs, and is seldom used by hunters. This Is a good base for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding -- all activities compatible with relaxed camping.

    Trip Notes
    : Even as you enter the Park, you see that its strong suits are as a trailhead for hiking, and dedicated campsites for horse campers. The regular camping sites, however, are also beautiful and diverse. It has some of the smallest and largest campsites of any local campground. The C Loop is the most attractive, as it has immediate access to Waddel Creek and surrounds a grassy circle. This is the first time we have camped in a "no fee" campground. I like not having a check-in or check-out time, as it was more relaxing. We had 180 degrees of pure, second growth forest around us, plus enough space to pitch at least 3 additional tents. The horse campers in Loop B were extremely quiet and friendly. Those in Loop A were a great mixture of people, some who used only homemade hemp rope and hand-made camping gear, others who kept to themselves but friendly when approached. We camped with several families in Loop C, and enjoyed watching the kids play in the large, grassy loop. I could get very, very used to this kind of camping. And yes, we'll be back.
    Local Alternatives: The smaller but prettier Sherman Valley (Thurston Co.) and North Creek (Grays Harbor Co.) campgrounds offer alternatives in spring and summer months.
    Historical Note: Here we will quote the campground's historical sign #1: Miss Margaret McKenny for whom this site is named, an ardent conservationist, author of many wildlife books, and a noted mushroom authority and photographer, has given freely of her time to conservation causes and to the teaching of children... This Recreation Site, on the banks of Waddel Creek, was the early home of Stephen Decatur Wynn and George H. Sturdevant families who settled here in the 1890's and cleared this area for a homesite. During the 1930's the sands of Waddell Creek were panned for gold.
    Nearby Attractions: The Mima Mounds Natural Preserve is just south of the campground on Mima Rd. The old logging ghost town of Bordeaux was unlike the other "log towns" of its era, as it was built by the French who preferred brick-and-mortar construction to the more less permanent log construction of their counterparts. Remains of buildings still stand in the forest just off Bordeaux Rd. A corner of the property is on private land, is posted as such, and sits on the right/north side of the road traveling west. Here you will see the concrete bank vault. The entrance to the public part of Bordeaux is just across the road from the vault on the left/south side. Here is a small parking area with access trails. The ghost town of Gate is about 12 miles south of the campground on Mima Rd. The only remaining building is the well-maintained one-room school house, which is now a community center with photos and displays of the glory days of Gate, which it considered itself the "Gateway to the West." Walking trails are available upon request, showing the locations of the old Train Station, the motels and store fronts. For more info, contact or call (360) 273-0707.

The wooded trail down to Waddell Creek at Margaret McKenny Campground
For more photos of Margaret McKenny CG and vicinity click HERE

OTHER CAMPGROUNDS: There are no Hike-In Only or Boat-In Only Campgrounds in Thurston Co. that we can recommend at this time.

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