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Hike, Backpack and Camp: Tips for Memorial Day Weekend

With Memorial Day weekend coming early this year, you might still be nailing down your hiking, camping and backpacking plans. Read out tips for exploring snow-free destinations and scoring last-minute camping spots.

Are you getting outside this Memorial Day weekend? Whether you've had your plans for weeks or are thinking a spontaneous camping trip is just the ticket, Washington Trails Association can help. Below are a few tips for staying safe and ideas of where to hike, backpack and camp.

Weather and spring safety tips

Check the weather. Then recheck it.

  • Depending on where you're headed, weekend forecasts call for relatively warm weather, with (no surprise) some showers and storms in the mix. That means you'll want to make sure to pack your rain gear and take measures to keep your campsite comfortable in cool, drizzly weather.
  • If you can't stand the idea of (another) Memorial Day in wet weather, seek warmth and the sun east of the Cascades, where showers are less likely and temperatures are likely to reach into the 80's.
  • Check the National Weather Service website to ensure you're prepared for whatever conditions you might encounter.

Check conditions and consult a ranger

  • Snow in the high country. Snow is still the name of the game in the high country, and hikers can easily encounter slick and dangerous conditions on snowy slopes and from overhanging cornices.
  • Rivers and streams running high. All of that snow has to go somewhere when it melts too. Rivers and creeks are running at their peak levels right now.
  • Read WTA's Spring Hiking Tips to refresh what you need to bring in your pack and how to stay safe under these conditions.
  • Always check with a ranger before heading out. Give them a call, or, even better, plan to stop by a station on your way out of town.

Hiking and backpacking

Columbia Gorge

Wildflowers still adorn the southern slopes of the Columbia River Gorge on the Washington side, making for spectacular day hiking:

South Cascades: Mount Rainier and Mount St Helens

  • Most of Mount Rainier National Park is under snow, but not the Carbon River area. A wilderness walk-in campground is open (after a 5-mile hike) at Ipsut Creek
  • , which provides ample opportunities to explore this lovely area. For a day hike, try the trail up to Ranger Creek Falls and Green Lake.
  • One volcano down the chain, the South Coldwater Lake trail at Mount St. Helens is often one of the first places in the Monument to melt out. (You'll need to check snow levels, at 3,500 feet at last account, and get a backcountry permit to overnight here.)

Pacific Coast

If hearing the crash of ocean waves is more your style, head to the rugged Washington Coast.

Backpacker at Shi Shi and Point of the Arches
Backpacking Shi Shi Beach and Point of the Arches on the Olympic Coast. Photo: Deanna Marie Molenda

North Cascades

Highway 20 is open for the season, providing hikers east-west access through the North Cascades.

  • North Central Washington. A visit to the Methow Valley or some of the lower elevation trails in the Pasayten wilderness make for great hiking this time of year. Check out Lewis Butte or the Sun Mountain Trails in the Methow. Or overnight to Black Lake (but be aware of the dangers of hiking through an recovering burned area.)
  • North Cascades National Park. While much of North Cascades National Park is under snow, the campgrounds make great basecamps for day hiking. Try the Diablo Lake Trail up and across talus slopes on the flanks of Sourdough Mountain to impressive cascading waterfalls and stunning views.
  • East Bank Baker Lake offers awesome views of Mount Baker and Shuksan, with some established backcountry campgrounds along the way (though you may have competition for them).

Central Cascades

Savvy Memorial Day hikers seek the sunnier southern and eastern slopes of the Central Cascades. The wildflowers are really showing their stuff here. As long as you stay below the snowline, there are lovely day hikes and overnights to be found:

  • Two Volunteer Vacation crews have recently logged out and repaired tread along the Chelan Lakeshore Trail, a classic spring backpacking trail. There are some logistics involved in backpacking this, though, so make sure you're prepared.
  • There are many options in the Icicle Creek area near Leavenworth, including two ways to ascend Icicle Ridge: the gentle Icicle Ridge trail or the Fourth of July Creek butt-kicker.
  • Alternatively, off of Blewett Pass, try a hike or backpack up Ingalls Creek. It features a raging creek, abundant wildflowers and plentiful backcountry campsites starting a few miles in.

Central Washington

Wildflowers are still going strong in the desert steppe country.

Ancient Lakes hiking and camping
Hiking and camping Ancient Lakes. Photos (left to right) by trip reporters raring2hike and mackfu.
With Memorial Day weekend coming early this year, you might still be nailing down your hiking, camping and backpacking plans. Read out tips for exploring snow-free destinations and scoring last-minute camping spots.

Strategies for last-minute camping on Memorial Day weekend

Camping can be tricky this time of year, though most campgrounds are opening in advance of the Memorial Day weekend. You can still try to reserve a spot, but if you go into the weekend without a reservation, then a first-come, first-served campground and dispersed camping areas are for you.

Here are some tips for finding a great spot:

  • If you have the flexibility, the best course of action is to arrive a little earlier than Friday night for campgrounds that do not accept reservations, like most of the campgrounds in Olympic National Forest .
  • Go farther afield and check out areas with lighter usage.
  • Try dispersed camping on National Forest land, a great way to find a little solitude and practice your Leave No Trace ethics. Dispersed camping means there are no toilets, no picnic tables, no trash cans, no treated water, and no fire grates. Typically, dispersed camping is not allowed in the vicinity of developed recreation areas such as campgrounds, boat ramps, picnic areas or trailheads. (For the best information on dispersed camping opportunities, contact the ranger district offices.)
  • Try your first backpack. Try packing a little lighter and consider converting your camping plans into a short backpack with an overnight.

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