Camping in the Wenatchee Forest: My Weekend Exploring Washington

Cle Elum Lake

Cle Elum Lake in Wenatchee Forest

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.

Camping at Cooper Lake

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 Dan@camping-gear-outlet.com 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.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted August 15, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    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.

  2. Posted June 24, 2014 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

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