Saturday, July 5, 2014

Washington's Dirty Little Secret

Like they say, there's good news and there's bad news.

First, the bad news. The State of Washington charges tax payers to access their public lands. Water access points such as parking lots or beaches and recreation access points such as trail heads, day use of parks, viewpoints, and some roads in state forests require the purchase and display of a Discover Pass. The pass costs $10 per day, or $35 for a 365 day pass.

I've heard from several people that requirement of the Discover Pass is strongly enforced. They provide the yellow paper hangar when you buy the pass, but the instructions only state that the pass must be displayed. I've heard one story where a Fish & Wildlife official was going to ticket a person who had the pass on the dash in full view, but not suspended from their mirror. Sounds like somebody was having too much fun writing tickets.

The good side is that once you have the Discover Pass, there are no further fees for use of Washington State Department of Natural Resources campgrounds. There aren't a lot of them, many require you bring your own drinking water, and you're limited to 10 days, but once the Pass is in hand, they're free. Amazingly, most of them don't show up in AllStays or or the more complete (for public campgrounds) so you'll have to do a bit of extra homework.

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources has a Recreation Guide that lists all of their campgrounds. It is available for download as a PDF, but the layout makes it a bit challenging to use on a computer screen. It can also be ordered or purchased as a printed version.

The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife owns considerable land for wildlife management. On their website they provide tools (in the left hand column) to find out about public water access points and wildlife areas. Unfortunately, a random but fairly extensive search suggests camping is rarely (never?) allowed on the listed properties although their Public Conduct Rules allows for 21 day camping in a 30 day period. I just haven't yet been able to find the land where WDFW allows camping...

Next time we're in Washington, I'll spent more time leveraging that $35 investment.


  1. Sorry to hear about how hard it is to find places to camp once you buy their mandatory pass.

    Wishing you better luck down the road. :)

    1. As you'll see from the next post, there are several places in Capital Forest and others scattered around the state. Just not as common as National Forest sites, and not as well known. When I bought the pass, I'd expected to use it for a spot on the Peninsula but we ended up staying on the beach at Olympic National Park's South Beach campsite for $5 per night instead.