Located just two hours’ drive east of Seattle, this campground lies at the edge of central Washington’s high desert scablands. These small recreation areas along the shore of Wanapum Lake, on the mighty Columbia River, showcase the area’s dramatic landscape, and preserve the fossilized remains of a prehistoric forest buried by an ancient lava flow. Some of the many activities available at these two locations include hiking, swimming, boating, fishing, camping and wildlife watching.
The campground at Wanapum offers 50 large, full-hookup sites for RV and tent campers. Sites are mostly open and grassy, with a few spare trees for shade and wind protection; all are equipped with picnic tables and cooking grills. The camp area has two vault toilets, a boat ramp, a shaded picnic area, and a sandy beach. This area is susceptible to high winds, so tents and awnings should be firmly secured. Dogs are permitted, but should remain leashed, as there are rattlesnakes in the area. The campground is open from March through October. Sites are first-come, first-served, but reservations are recommended in the summer season. Seasonal rates are $30–$50/night.
Just a few miles north of the recreation area, Ginkgo Petrified Forest preserves a unique fossil discovery that was revealed during highway construction in the 1930s: the remains of an ancient forest turned to stone. The park features an air-conditioned visitor center, restrooms, picnic areas, a boat launch, and lake viewpoints. Nearby, the 1-mile Trees of Stone interpretive trail winds through the fossilized forest, where visitors can see more than 20 specimens of petrified trees, in addition to erratic boulders deposited by ancient glacial floods. Common wildlife seen in the area include deer, elk, bighorn sheep and coyotes. Check park website for operating seasons and hours.
Just off the banks of the Columbia River, Ginkgo Petrified Forest is a fascinating testament to the wild geology of the Gorge. An easy 1.5 mile hike will take you past several nicely preserved examples of different types of petrified wood, including some whole logs where you can clearly still see the shape of the bark, rings, etc. There are restrooms and water spigots at both the Ginkgo Petrified Forest check in station/interpretive center, where you can see a saber tooth tiger skull, more samples of petrified wood, and explanations of how this area was formed by lava and other forces millions of years ago.
Just down from the interpretive center, on the river banks, is a nice little campground. It's not very remote or wild, but it is a good place to pop open your tent if you're hoping to do some kayaking. You'll also be close to handicapped parking spaces and have sidewalk access to your campsite, making this a great choice for campers with disabilities or mobility limitations. The restrooms are nice, too. They're pit toilets, but well-maintained and plenty of room to maneuver a walker or wheelchair in side. The landscaping is lovely, and the beach where you can put in your boat is level with the water, no boat launch required.
A few miles down the road from the interpretive center and campground are the hiking trails where you can see the petrified wood and experience the rolling hills and grassland that typify central Washington. You can also admire a CCC constructed ranger residence— a gorgeous example of classic "parkitecture" that is reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Stream2Sea Sunscreen Review
As a Dyrt Ranger, I had a chance to test drive Stream2Sea's sunscreen. This reef safe & biodegradable sunscreen is made without oxybenzone. Even though I wasn't camping near a reef or doing any snorkeling, I opted to use this product on my hike since ultimately all oceans are downstream of lakes and rivers somewhere. Not only is the sunscreen itself environmentally safe, even the tube it comes in is made with Leave No Trace principles in mind, so it won't clutter up a landfill one day.
I'm stoked that this product was as good for my skin as it is for the environment. I have had a hard time finding a sunscreen I like in the past, one that doesn't irritate my sensitive skin or cause breakouts, that doesn't have an overly strong scent, that is a physical rather than chemical sunscreen, and blends well with my pale, freckled complexion.
Stream2Sea hit it out of the park. A little goes a long way, so I know I'm getting good value from a tube. The tinted version didn't make me look orange or like I slathered on faux tanner, nor did it look strange over my freckles. Instead, it blended in quite naturally, almost like a BB cream or light foundation. The scent was refreshing but not cloying.
Even though it's shoulder season after a long, cloudy winter in the Pacific Northwest and I haven't seen the sun in months, I didn't get burned despite spending all weekend mountain biking and hiking. Instead, I washed my face at the end of the day and my skin felt moisturized and refreshed, not tight, dried out, or irritated. I would feel comfortable using Stream2Sea sunscreen and lip balm every day as part of my pretty minimalist skincare routine.
Campground Review: 5/5 Stars. Perfect Spot on Cliff Overlooking River.
This was our favorite spot on our recent central-Washington camping trip. We pulled up about 7pm and grabbed a huge spot with a peekaboo view of the river. When we were there, all spots were $30 and included water and electricity. While there's not a ton of coverage between sites (trees, etc.) the sound didn't seem to travel, so the folks happily playing board games and playing Prince didn't keep us up and in fact contributed to the overall happiness of the spots.
Clean bathrooms, soft grass, beautiful views of the river. There's a boat launch and I'm sure this is a very popular spot in the summer. As it was, it was perfect for a Spring get-away.
Tip: Visit the nearby Ginko Petrified Forest state park. Free, nice exhibits, and even some petroglyphs, which my older son especially loved.
Escape Campervan Review: 5/5 Stars. Lots of Fun!
Last summer my family won a vacation rental with Escape Campervans, so we decided to use part of our credit for a three-night trip over Spring Break. We drove up from Portland to Seattle, and while most people head west toward the lush Olympic National Forest, we wanted to try something different, and instead headed east for a loop through central Washington with stops in Snowqualmie Falls (famous for its part in Twin Peaks), Roslyn (home of Northern Exposure) and the oldest saloon in Washington with a 23-foot water spittoon, Ellensburg and the Tomahawk and Rock Ranch, Vantage and the Ginko Petrified Forest, the German-themed town of Leavenworth, and a grand finale in a 90-degree indoor swimming pool in Bothell, Washington. All-in-all, a great trip, and we'd definitely rent from Escape Campervans again. Here's some of what we learned.
Even though I'm used to driving a large-ish SUV, I was still worried that the large campervan would be a steep learning curve. It was actually quite easy right away. I fit in every parking spot on the trip that I tried, backed up easily with the help of the back-up assist (basically a beeping noise if I came too close to anything), and went through drive-throughs and moved in and out of traffic with ease. Having previously driven both a large RV and a car towing a trailer, I definitely prefer the stress-free ease of the van.
We ended up driving 500 miles total in four days, and spent almost exactly $100 on gas. Looking at our receipts, we averaged 14.5 miles per gallon driving mostly through mountains on a combination of highway and small-town roads.
When booking your Escape Campervan, you start with a base daily price that's not much more than an average car rental, but then you can add on all kinds of extras if you want, some of which can add up fast. If you're flying in from another country, this is super-convenient to be able to rent things like bedding and pillows rather than having to bring it. But since we were driving from only a few hours away, I wasn't sure which of the add-ons would be worth it. In the end, I was surprised to see what I used and what I didn't. Part of the Spring Break deal that we booked included the following:
* Camp chairs: Not something we used. We either stayed at campgrounds that already had picnic tables (state parks), or stayed places we didn't really want to hang out (a casino parking lot), so the chairs did not get used.
* Bedding: I LOVED this option. We brought along our own pillows and sleeping bags as well, but this bedding was huge, warm, soft and smelled great. I almost always am sensitive to sheets in hotels and such, and wasn't expecting much, but this was a great add-on that I'd definitely do again.
* Extra Propane: We only ended up cooking once the whole time, so getting a total of two propane tanks was overkill for us.
* 100 miles per day: This was definitely worth pre-paying for the 100/miles per day (we even went over that).
* Heater and electrical: This heater and electrical is a maybe. Yes, you can have the space heater inside your van running at night safely, as long as you have an electrical hookup, and we actually even put it up in the tent for 20 minutes one night to warm it up. But you can also just run the van's heater with the engine running for 10-20 minutes before bed as well, and be just as warm, especially if you get the bedding from them.
* Dishes: More of a personal choice. I think next time I'd just get paper plates and such, rather than wash the dishes, but that's obviously up to each individual.
Pros: My boys had a blast riding around in a van with a couch and table, and the roof-top tent was equally fun. Being self-contained was lovely, as was the surprising ease of driving the van. We were also much warmer and more comfortable than we would have been sleeping in our tent.
Cons: The main difficulty we had was converting the van from daytime to nighttime. We brought way too much stuff, and the grounds where we were camping were often wet or snowy, so it was a bit of a logic puzzle to move everything around, convert the chairs into a bed, add all the bedding, and get even more bedding up into the rooftop tent. We got much faster the more times we did it, but it still took between a 1/2 hour and an hour each night to fully set up. I think this would be much easier in the summer (with less bedding needed), or with the slightly larger van where the bed can stay together while driving (though then you lose the cool table and couch).
Conclusion: All-in-all, definitely a fun addition to our road trip and one we'd do again in a heartbeat.
Hike and Bike spot did not include a table or cooking grill/fire pit. It also sits next to restrooms. This is a nice desert campground with green lawns and close proximity to the river. Winds picked up dramatically at night.
This is a beautiful, very well maintained park. Park is literally right off of I-90 near Vantage! RV spots don’t have much privacy, but the spots are huge! Full hookups, good cell phone coverage! Nice swimming area(kind of a walk from RV spaces). Every time we have stayed here it has been pretty windy….we are still drawn back, tho!
Wanapum is the perfect place to camp when it’s hot in the summer and you bring your boat, or just your floaties. It has great Columbia River access, it’s close to the Gorge, and it’s a beautifully kept campground. The one caveat is that sometimes the winds can kick up and you have to secure all of your belongings because they will blow away in some of the windstorms.
Not very private, but the place was clean and quiet. Make sure there isn't a burn ban before you go otherwise you might be out of luck for dinner.
I stopped by the Ginkgo Petrified Forest on the way back to Seattle from Moses Lake. The Columbia River, if you have never seen it, is an astounding site as you round the highway curve and it suddenly sprawns across the horizon- and as you eye follows the road, you realize how tiny those cars going across the bridge look!
Then, I stopped at the park, took the educational hikING trail that highlights various species of trees petrified and preserved below the trail level. They are protected under metal grills, which still allow for viewing and pictures.
The building houses an interesting collection of rocks- petrified, sedimentary, igneous, even meteorite chunks. Interesting are the "picture" rocks that have naturally formed images that the human eye and mind reinterprets into recognizable pictures.
The Ranger on duty was originally from Grays Harbor, where one of my favorite state parks is- Grayland Beach- but also as low employment, so it was a nice discussion of how becoming a ranger had allowed her to move out and see a lot more of the state. I had a great visit.
The cliffs on the other side of the river make a great observation point, and are covered with signs advising to watch out for rattlesnakes- but I never saw one.
Great huge sites with room for several big tents at almost all sits. Can be really, really windy and rowdy if groups are staging for concerts at the Gorge. Great views, good hiking and exploring nearby.