Van Camping the Olympic Peninsula

Walking the Beach

Walking along the beach in the fog.

As I opened my eyes, I saw that fog was coming down the mountain and just beginning to kiss the tree tops in the golden light of dawn. As I lay in bed, I watched the fog get thicker while listening to the birds greeting a new day. My girlfriend and I were camped in the back of my truck in the Hoh Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. We were scouting the peninsula for great van-camping spots, once I get my new van fully functional.

We started our trip in Port Townsend to celebrate the Wooden Boat Festival, and we ended it with a circumnavigation of the Olympic Peninsula. This was my first year attending the Wooden Boat Festival and I really enjoyed the craftsmanship that goes into all the boats on display. I also caught a seminar on boat battery technology, and boy am I glad I went. I learned about this carbon nano-foam lead-acid battery that just hit the market. I also learned about these fuel-cells that just hit the market too.

After spending Friday at the festival, we road tripped the next three days, on the lookout for sweet camp sites. Along the way I marked the GPS coordinates of stuff I found, and created the map below. The markers are color coordinated. Green pins are free campsites. Yellow pins are a pull-out or other slightly sketchy but free areas. Red are paid campsites.

Before setting off on the journey, I got some great info from the VanDweller Mailing List as well as the VanDweller Facebook Group. I was also clued into a few sites by this amazingly sweet resource: As we discovered and marked campsites, I took note of my cell signal. I have a cell-phone signal-boosting antenna and a long-range wifi antenna mounted to the wind turbine tower aboard Solace. I plan to duplicate this same setup on the van, as money permits. I plan to pursue a career in freelance web design. Once established, I’ll be able to work wherever I can find a signal – on land or sea.

Native Fishing

Native families took turn with the traditional net used to scoop up seafood from the surf.

So our weekend had two equally important missions: 1) Have fun and 2) Look for sweet, free sites to camp in the van with a reliable cell signal.

After leaving the festival we wound our way west to Port Angles and then south to the Hoh Rain Forrest. There were several forest service roads to drive down and pull out, and that’s precisely what we did. We awoke the next morning to bow hunters quietly stalking through the woods around our camp; a sketchy way to wake up. Nonetheless, we slept the deep sleep one can only achieve when snuggled into a fluffy sleeping bag under a safe, steel canopy in a moonless and silent forest, away from all the freakish humans.

Traditional Fishing

A Native dip-netting with a traditional net.

As we continued on our circumnavigation, we pulled over to walk along the beach. The Natives were out along the water line fishing in a traditional style. The sea life was active and food was washing in. The fog and native gathering made the beach feel otherworldly; like I was seeing a glimpse of past centuries.

After Aberdeen we turned east and left the coast. Before getting to Olympia, we went out of the way to explore the Capitol State Forrest. I had no idea this amazing piece of DNR land existed. I’ve always considered Olympia to be an excellent winter port-town, but with this forest land only 15 minutes out of town, it went up a notch in my book.

While in Olympia, we stopped and had the world’s best pizza at the Old School Pizzeria. The next day we continued to Port Townsend and the ferries needed to get back to Friday Harbor. I was extremely pleased with the information I was able to gather on this fun little reconnaissance mission.

Related posts:

Foraging for Wild Food: Fennel Fronds
Clamming Tools
Harvesting Seaweed to Eat - Ulva Sea Lettuce
5 Responses to “Van Camping the Olympic Peninsula”
  1. Alan says:

    Hi Chris.
    If your in the PA area a really spectacular camping area is the top of Blue Mountain. Take a right at the Movie Theater just ouside of town on Deer Park Rd. And follow the road up. The campground usually has many spaces. Mainly because the road is a bit wild. Keep to the right. It goes to a dirt road that is essentially one lane. You drive on the edge of the mountain all the way up. When there you can hike a short distance to the top of Blue Mountain. Spectacular view. On a clear day you can see all the way to the Pacific Ocean. You can see up Vancouver Island and the Olympics from basically just short of the snow line. 360 degree unbelievable view. It is part of the park but unless things have changed recently I don’t think they charge for the campsites. I used to camp in my VW bus there all the time.
    A truly one of a kind spot with not all that many people aware of it. Also there is Salt Creek state park on 112 about 20 miles west of PA. They are paid for camp sites but once again a special place with white sand beach. Cliffs sea stack. Great hikes through the woods and on the rocks. I have frequently seen whales in the bay. Certainly lots of eagles. I’ve even seen a golden eagle there. There is also another camp site up Palo Alto road. Nice and secluded on the Grey Wolf river. National forest free camping aways up the road with some more really nice views and almost no one around. If you get in the area I’d turn you on to some spots.
    Alan in PA
    Thanks for the good writing.

  2. Van Camper says:

    I am new to this website. I have a camper van and am sourcing the net for various van camping websites, info and stories. We are considering starting a small van camping caravan group. If anyone’s interested or has suggestions about such an idea, feedback would be welcome. I can be reached at the above e-mail addy. I enjoyed reading Chris’ write-up. That said, he can buy me a beer *lol* 🙂

  3. Van Camper says:

    PS-the idea for a budding caravan camping group speaks for itself. It’s safer and more enjoyable. Everyone has each others back traveling as a group. It would be a group consisting of chill yet responsible people who are self sufficient. Retired would be a bonus! We’re near Skagit county which has some spectacular scenery and ((((GREAT))))) fishing. The road trips would also include the Western Washington coastline and some scenic places in Oregon.

  4. Van Camper says:

    Anyone here ever heard of Kayak Point salt water park in north Snohomish county? It’s a county park right on the bay that is open year-round. It has spectacular scenery, lots of coastline, a pier for fishing, crabbing or viewing, boat launch, beach picnic shelters and all amenities campground on the upper level. We’ve been going there for over 25 years. One look and you’re hooked. Being a county park, KP has a website. Anyone interested in a fall campout at KP, just give a holler 🙂

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