Motorcycle Camping in Washington State

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Eastern Washington is quite dry, so your tarp can serve as a shade tent.
Eastern Washington is quite dry, so your tarp can serve as a shade tent. (Image: Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images)

It's surprisingly easy how fast you can pack your car for a camping trip -- but with a motorcycle, that's just not possible. The limited space means you have to be much more strategic. If you're headed on a motorcycle trip through Washington state, you can expect warm summers and cool, wet conditions in the western part of the state the rest of the year. On the eastern side, expect hot and dry summers and cold, dry winters.

Amenities You Need

Washington's residents are the nature-loving sort, and as such, you'll find many options for camping on public and private lands. With private campgrounds, call ahead to ask whether they allow tent campers; some are geared toward RV campers and won't have sites for tents. Also make sure any campground you visit sells firewood, since you won't be able to haul in your own. The western side of the state can be quite wet, meaning firewood will need to dry for a year or more for ideal use. As such, a flint, roll of newspaper or another simple fire-starting device can come in handy. The campground should also have running water, unless you pack light enough to haul in a few bladder bags of your own. If you're staying for more than a day or two, your companions will likely thank you for choosing a campground with showers, or at the very least, a swimming hole to take a dip.

What to Pack

When it comes to motorcycle camping, organization and packing light are the keys to a successful trip. Your gear should include a tent that packs up small, a backpacker's sleeping bag and camping mat, clothing -- including warm gear for cool nights -- and basic cooking equipment. If you're traveling with others, organize among yourselves so that you only bring one single-burner camp stove, a single cook pot or pan, one set of knives and one can opener; these all take up valuable space and add weight. Each person should also have a small mess kit with utensils and a bowl or plate and a water bottle or bladder. An essential item for camping in Washington is at least one tarp and some rope, since rainstorms can happen year-round. Ideally, you should have one tarp or sheet of lightweight plastic to cover your motorcycle, one tarp for creating a rain cover over your picnic table, and possibly a third for underneath your tent.

Packing the Cycle

If you're camping west of the Cascades mountain range, pack your stuff into medium or large duffel-style dry bags to avoid arriving at your destination with soaked gear. Leather is also a decent choice, though it may still allow water to seep in near the seams. A large duffel should be able to hold your sleeping bag, tent and any other light-weight, bulky items. If you have saddlebags, they'll be the ideal place for heavier items so your motorcycle doesn't get overly top-heavy. Some motorcycle campers also place a small bag onto the gas tank, but if you do so, make sure it's not going to restrict you from safely operating the motorcycle. And speaking of safety, keep in mind that Washington requires all motorcycle riders to wear a Department of Transportation-approved helmet. If you're headed to the mountains, check the weather beforehand to make sure snow isn't expected -- as can happen almost year-round in the high Cascades and Olympic ranges.

Ideal Washington Routes

When you're looking for ideal routes for riding, a natural choice is Highway 101, which snakes along the Pacific Ocean and takes you abreast of Olympic National Park. The entire Olympic peninsula offers breathtaking views and some challenging mountain roads, but don't overlook areas in the Cascades range east of Seattle, the winding roads along the Columbia River in the southern part of the state, and the open roads and wine regions in the eastern half of the state. To find campgrounds along the way, consult the Washington State Parks website or the Olympic National Park website. If you plan to camp in Olympic National Park, however, keep in mind that the campgrounds do not have showers. Another word to the wise: if you're really not up for bringing along a tent and a lot of extra supplies, Washington State Parks does offer numerous campgrounds with camping cabins and yurts -- though they typically fill up fast, so book early.

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