Washington National Parks RV Trip Itinerary


Last Updated on January 21, 2024 by Bonnie

The best part of any national park trip is the variety that you’ll find. Not only will you see some of the most scenic landscapes in the country, but you’ll also typically find some amazing historical sites as well. Washington is no different.

From the coastal waters of Olympic National Park to the mountains of North Cascades and the nuclear reactor at the Manhattan Project, you really will find a little bit of everything right here in this not-so-small corner of the country.

So, if you’re looking for an epic road trip, look no further than Washington’s national parks. Make it an RV trip and you’ll really find yourself immersed in some of the most scenic landscapes in the country.

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Our Washington RV Trip Itinerary

With 11 different national park units all over the state, finding a logical path through all of them was not easy. Add in the fact that we were RVing AND doing an Alaska cruise in the middle of the trip and, yep, this itinerary was downright tough to figure out.

Silver Falls in Mt. Rainier National Park, part of our Washington RV Trip Itinerary
Silver Falls in Mt. Rainier National Park

Ultimately, we ended up spending 24 days in eight different campgrounds. Had we been a bit more nimble (tent camping and/or staying in hotels), we certainly would have done things differently. But, this itinerary allowed us to see everything we wanted to see in the time we had.

We did decide to skip two sites: Klondike NHS in Seattle and Fort Vancouver NHS just north of Portland, OR. Sadly, we just didn’t have time to actually visit either city so we decided to save them both for another time. Trust me, I am NOT upset that we “have” to return to Washington!

Without further ado, here is our 3.5-week Washington RV trip itinerary. With this itinerary, you can visit nearly all of Washington’s national park sites with ease. 

     1 – Arrive at Charbonneau Park Campground near Richland

     2 – Visit Manhattan Project NHP

     3 – Day trip to Whitman Mission & Nez Perce

     4 – Drive to Bridgeport State Park

     5 – Day trip Lake Roosevelt NRA

     6 – Day trip to Stehekin at Lake Chelan NRA

     7 – Drive to Glacier Peak Resort in Marblemount

     8 – Visit North Cascades NP

     9 – Visit North Cascades NP

     10 – Drive to Lake Pleasant RV Park, Bothell (just north of Seattle)

     11 – Day trip to San Juan Islands NHP

     12 -Day trip to Ebey’s Landing NHR

     13 – Rest Day at the campground

     14 – Drive to Cougar Rock Campground in Mount Rainier NP

     15 – Drive & Hike in Mt. Rainier 

     16 – Drive & Hike in Mt. Rainier 

     17 – Drive to Elwha Dam RV Park in Port Angeles

     18 – Visit Olympic NP – Hurricane Ridge & Lake Crescent

     19 – Visit Olympic NP – Sol Duc & Cape Flattery

     20 – Drive to Forks 101 RV Park in Forks; Visit Hoh Rain Forest 

     21 – Visit Olympic NP Beaches

     22 – Visit Olympic NP – Quinault Rain Forest

     23 – Drive to Seaquest State Park (near Mt. St. Helens)

     24 – Visit Mt. St. Helens

Keep reading for more information on where we stayed, how we enjoyed it and what we would do differently next time on our Washington RV Trip Itinerary.

Also, be sure to check out the following posts for more information on each area:

What Worked and Didn’t Work for Our Washington RV Trip Itinerary

While overall this itinerary worked for us, hindsight is always 20/20. I do think that we would schedule things a bit differently if doing this again. Top of that list is the first week or so, which was our time in the Eastern part of the state.

Honestly, we just did too much driving through not-exciting terrain over multiple days for it to really be enjoyable. If doing this again, I would certainly rather move campsites after one or two days than do all the driving we did this time.

The other thing we would do differently is to just have more time to relax. Unfortunately, we only have a limited amount of time for our summer break. And driving between Georgia and Washington takes a while. Thus, we had very little “extra” time anywhere.

Oregon Trail
The Whitman Mission predated the Oregon Trail and was often used as a stopover for pioneers on the trail.

The biggest difficulty in setting any itinerary is finding the right balance between quality and quantity. That is, making everything you want to see and do fit into the amount of time you have. Sure, we could have spent less time in Olympic NP and made time to visit Seattle. That just wasn’t worth it for us.

Instead, we chose to skip Seattle this time and fly back later. We can easily visit Seattle over a long weekend and take advantage of our airline and hotel rewards and public transportation. That wouldn’t necessarily work for a visit to Olympic NP.

Southeastern Washington

Our route to Washington, from our hometown near Atlanta, GA brought us in on Interstate 90 across Montana and Idaho. It did not take us long, after leaving the interstate to realize that the landscape here is not what the state is known for.

Driving south (and later east) we found wide-open spaces, very few trees and only a smattering of small towns. We quickly realized why we had difficulty finding a good place to stay. The Richland-Pasco-Kennewick area is really the only large town in the southeastern part of the state.

The outside of the B Reactor Building at Manhattan Project NHP, part of our Washington RV Trip Itinerary.
The outside of the B Reactor Building at Manhattan Project NHP

We generally like to stay in one campground for at least two or three nights since setting up and taking down camp is somewhat time-consuming. So, after much consideration, we chose to camp at the Corps of Engineers Charboneau Park campground near Richland. From here we made day trips to Manhattan Project National Historical Park and Whitman Mission National Historic Site plus Nez Perce National Historical Park in western Idaho.

Charbonneau Park was a great base for visiting Manhattan Project NHP, where we toured the nuclear reactor that produced the plutonium used in the Nagasaki atomic bomb. Our drive in each direction was about 45 minutes.

Grant grilling pork chops at the Charboneau Park!
Grant grilling pork chops at the Charboneau Park!

One thing to note: tours of the Manhattan Project are only offered on certain days during the summer. Plan ahead to make sure you actually get a tour!

The drive over to Whitman Mission and Nez Perce definitely made for a long day of driving at about 2-3 hours each way. Add in the fact that we spent no more than an hour at either site and it was really just a day full of driving.

Central Washington

From Richland, we drove nearly due north to Bridgeport State Park for our next three nights. Bridgeport was our base for visiting Lake Roosevelt NRA and Lake Chelan NRA. Again, we mostly chose this particular campground location because we did not want to relocate the camper several nights in a row. Again, that wasn’t necessarily the best decision.

The drive east to Lake Roosevelt was another tough one over some fairly sparse terrain. Add in the fact that the area of the NRA we actually wanted to visit (Fort Spokane) was on the far side and we had yet another very long day of driving.

Fort Spokane, part of our Washington RV Trip Itinerary
The barn and the guardhouse are pretty much all that remains of Fort Spokane. The fort was a cavalry outpost and then an Indian boarding school before the land was preserved with the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area.

One thing we have come to learn about national recreation areas is that they typically are geared towards boaters. This means that if you are not getting out on the water, you probably are going to be underwhelmed with your visit. Thus was the case at Lake Roosevelt NRA.

At the Fort Spokane area of Lake Roosevelt NRA, we found a small visitor center and a couple of buildings along with the old parade ground. Again, I think we spent nearly two hours driving in each direction for only a 30-45 minute stop.

Read more about the Eastern Washington park sites here.

Cabin on Lake Chelan
Cabin on Lake Chelan

Thankfully, the drive west to Chelan the next day was not bad at all. And, we actually LOVED our visit to Lake Chelan NRA, which is part of the North Cascades National Park Complex. Really, the only reason I would do anything differently with this part of the trip is the ferry trip required to get to the actual recreation area on the north end of the lake.

Read more about our trip to Stehekin and Lake Chelan NRA here.

Our Recommendations

If we were doing this trip again, we would definitely do things differently for this first part. Honestly, there was just way too much backtracking through terrain that isn’t all that scenic.

Here is our suggestion for an alternate route, still entering from central Idaho:  

  • Start in Spokane. Camp here one or two nights and do a day trip to Fort Spokane at Lake Roosevelt NRA.
  • From Spokane, drive south to Walla Walla. From here, visit Whitman Mission NHS and Nez Perce NHP. You’ll need one or two nights depending on arrival time and how much you want to drive in one day.
  • Next stop: Richland. You’ll definitely need two nights based on the tour times for Manhattan Project NHS. 
  • From Richland, drive north to Chelan. You’ll need two nights to accommodate a day trip to Stehekin (Lake Chelan NRA). 

North Cascades National Park

From Bridgeport, our next stop was North Cascades National Park. Inside the park, there are several campgrounds, but most only accommodate a tent or small RV and there are no hookups. So we chose to stay on the west side of the park at Glacier Peak Resort in Marblemount.

Diablo Lake from Thunder Knob in North Cascades, part of our Washington RV Trip Itinerary.
The Thunder Knob trail rewards you with a great view of Diablo Lake and the Cascades.

From here we spent two days hiking and exploring North Cascades NP and Ross Lake NRA. Two days was a perfect amount of time here. This allowed us to visit the overlooks and nature trails along Hwy 20, do a couple of longer hikes and drive to the actual national park border.

Read more about North Cascades NP.

Our Recommendations

The lodging (and dining) options in and around the park are extremely limited if you are not tent camping. The Glacier Peak Resort was not a bad campground and we would have no problem recommending it as a place to stay. That said, I do not feel as though it is a “must-stay” campground.

On the east side of the park, you’ll find the charming small town of Winthrop. Here you will find several hotels and restaurants and a few campgrounds, but a significantly longer drive to most of the sights in the park.

Winthrop, WA near North Cascades
Winthrop, about an hour east of Diablo Lake.

Honestly, where you should stay is a bit of a toss-up. Since options on both sides of the park are limited, you may have to just take what you can get. Tent campers and those in small RVs will have the most options, with several well-located campgrounds in the park.

Island NPS Sites

Continuing west from North Cascades, you’ll arrive at the two park sites located on Washington’s islands: San Juan Islands National Historical Park and Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. Because we also needed to store our camper for the week-long Alaska cruise, we chose to stay in the north metro-Seattle town of Bothell at Lake Pleasant RV Park.

Selfie at Granny's Cove on San Juan Island
Selfie at Granny’s Cove on San Juan Island, a favorite stop on our Washington RV trip itinerary

I’m not going to lie, the drive from Bothell to Anacortes just to get on the ferry to San Juan Island was not a fun one. We did it because we needed to. And the campground was fabulous. But, there are plenty of other options that would be a lot closer.

Ebey’s Landing NHR, on Whidbey Island, can be accessed without a ferry from the north (again, a long drive from Bothell). It can also be accessed from the south via a ferry from Mulkiteo, which is a reasonable drive from Bothell.

Read more about San Juan Island and Ebey’s Landing.

Bothell, WA

Bothell is a good-sized town on its own with all the standard shopping and dining options. As part of the greater Seattle area, if you can’t find what you are looking for in Bothell you are sure to find it nearby. We actually found the town verging on being over-crowded in some areas.

Overall, though, we enjoyed Bothell and would certainly recommend it as a good base for exploring in and around Seattle. While the drive into Seattle is a little long to do several days in a row, the RV park is nice enough to balance that out.

We really enjoyed the Lake Pleasant RV Park. Not only were the sites great, they also had storage for RVers going on a cruise.
We really enjoyed the Lake Pleasant RV Park. Not only were the sites great, they also had storage for RVers going on a cruise.

And, if you are looking for RV parking while on a cruise, Lake Pleasant RV Park was perfect!

Our Recommendations

If you are just visiting the islands, I would suggest staying in or near Anacortes. From here you can easily catch a ferry to San Juan Island or any of the other nearby islands. You can also drive south to Whidby Island and Ebey’s Landing.

There are even a couple of campgrounds on San Juan Island. If you are interested in camping on the island, don’t forget to factor in the cost of taking the ferry with an RV. That is doable…seriously, anything will fit on those ferries, but the cost may or may not be worth it to you.

Approaching Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.
Approaching Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.

From the islands, you can easily continue south to Mount Rainier or even catch a ferry over to Port Townsend and continue on to the Olympic Peninsula.

Mount Rainier National Park

From the Seattle area, it is a bit of a toss-up as to where to go next: the Olympic Peninsula or Mount Rainier. Both are about two hours from Seattle. We chose to drive south to Mount Rainier first.

We spent about 2.5 days in Mount Rainier National Park. In this time, we drove the park roads across the southern and eastern edges of the park. Along the way, we stopped at most of the scenic pullouts and explored the Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh and Sunrise areas.  We also had time for a few short hikes.

The area around Mount Rainier is not highly-populated, so dining and lodging are somewhat limited. But there are few good options both in and outside the park. We chose to stay inside the park at Cougar Rock Campground.

Mt. Rainier at Reflection Lake
Mt. Rainier at Reflection Lake

There are no hookups at any of the park campgrounds, but sites are large enough to accommodate a mid-size RV. We enjoyed our campsite, but we were definitely pushing the RV size limits with a 27-foot trailer.

I would say that 2.5 days is a bare minimum if you want to see all the main sites and do a bit of day hiking. We certainly could have spent more time here. A third full day would have allowed us to do a few additional hikes that we just couldn’t fit in on this visit.

Read more about Mount Rainier.

New in 2024! Mount Rainier National Park is implementing timed-entry reservations in 2024 for the Paradise Corridor (May 24 – Sept. 2) and the Sunrise Corridor (July 3 – Sept. 2). You’ll need reservations to access these areas between 7:00 am – 3:00 pm for the indicated dates. Check the park’s website for details.

Olympic National Park – Port Angeles

From Mount Rainier, you can get to Port Angeles in about three hours. We chose to take a bit of a detour and approach from Olympia. This added a couple of hours onto the drive but gave us the chance to drive the eastern edge of Olympic National Park.

Port Angeles makes a great base for exploring the Hurricane Ridge, Lake Crescent and Sol Duc areas of Olympic NP. We also drove out to Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost point of the contiguous United States.

Our campsite in Port Angeles
Our campsite in Port Angeles

We enjoyed the town of Port Angeles – there are some great dining options and plenty of hotels. The camping options do seem to be limited, with Elwha Dam being one of the few. For us, the campground was ok. The location was great, but space was a little tight.

From Port Angeles you can catch the ferry to Victoria, British Columbia should you desire to make your trip international.

Olympic National Park – Forks

To explore the western areas of Olympic NP, I suggest staying in Forks. Located about an hour southwest of Port Angeles, Forks was our base for visiting the coastal area and the Hoh and Quinault Rain Forests.

Forks is considerably smaller than Port Angeles but does have a good grocery store and several decent restaurants. You will not find a lot of stuff here but you can definitely find the basics.

Split Rock and Hole-in-the-Wall in the distance along Rialto Beach.
Split Rock and Hole-in-the-Wall in the distance along Rialto Beach.

Our stay at the Forks 101 RV Park was great. The owner and other campers were friendly, bathrooms and laundry were clean and it is in a good location. We definitely recommend this campground.

The drive to Quinault Rain Forest is a bit long at a little over an hour. But there are very few options further south and it does offer a great opportunity to stop at the beach if you are interested.

Read more about Olympic National Park.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Mount St. Helens is operated by the US Forest Service, so it does not count as one of the 417 national parks units. But, we are including it because, well, it is an interesting site! The visitor centers are found on the west side, where we visited. The south and east sides offer viewing and recreation areas as well.

The mountain (volcano) is actually located about an hour east of I-5. If you are short on time, there is a nice visitor center and viewing opportunity at Silver Lake, just about 5-10 minutes off the interstate. If nothing else, be sure to watch the 30-minute film and take a quick walk along the boardwalk at the lake.

Hopefully, the weather will cooperate and allow you a view of Mount St. Helens. When we were there, it was too cloudy to see anything. Thankfully, the next day was clear and sunny with fabulous views!

Silver Lake near the Mt. St. Helens Visitor Center run by the state of Washington.
Silver Lake near the Mt. St. Helens Visitor Center run by the state of Washington.

Across the street from Silver Lake, you will find Seaquest State Park, which is where we camped. The full hook-up sites were well-maintained and the bathrooms were clean. Our favorite part of the campground, though, was the tunnel under the road taking you straight to the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center.

One thing to note: this visitor center is operated by Washington State Parks, so admission is not included with the NPS America the Beautiful Pass.

Johnston Ridge Observatory

For the really good views of (what’s left of) the mountain, you’ll need to drive east to the Johnston Ridge Observatory. As you drive along Hwy 504 you’ll get several peeks of the volcano.

The Forest Learning Center offers exhibits, a film, souvenirs and great views of the mountain and river valley. This is definitely a good place to stop and stretch your legs and take in the scenery. Best of all, admission to the Learning Center is free.

Located about as close as possible to the mountain, the Johnston Ridge Observatory offers a few exhibits and another film. There are also several hikes of varying length and difficulty, affording fabulous views of the crater.

Mt. St. Helens from Johnston Observatory
Mt. St. Helens from Johnston Observatory, a really cool non-NPS site we visited as part of our Washington RV trip itinerary.

Here, you really get an up-close view of just how much of this mountain was blasted away by the eruption. It really is staggering!

There are several hiking and other recreational opportunities in and around Mount St. Helens. If you are driving to the observatory, you’ll want at least half a day for your visit. Add in a little hiking or several visitor center stops and you could easily spend a full day here.

For all you National Park lovers, the America the Beautiful Pass DOES cover entrance to US Forest Service lands. So, your visit to the Johnston Ridge Observatory is included if you have the pass.

Planning Your Washington RV Trip Itinerary

Exactly how you route your trip will depend on where you are entering from, any additional sights you want to see and how much time you have. While we enjoyed this trip, having more time to slow down, relax and really enjoy the scenery would have made it that much better.

With more time, we could have visited Seattle, Klondike NHS, Fort Vancouver NHS and more of Washington’s breweries and wineries. Alas, it just didn’t work out this time.

As you start planning your trip, I think the best part about this itinerary is how well the “big pieces” can be moved around. 

Mt. St. Helens Selfie
Mt. St. Helens Selfie

Entering from Oregon? Simply reverse the order. 

Flying into Seattle and driving a car or renting an RV? Circle to the east for most of the sights and add on the Olympic Peninsula at the beginning or end.

Only have a few days? Just pick one part of the trip and see that area.

Want to add on the two sights we skipped (Klondike NHS in Seattle and Fort Vancouver NHS in Vancouver)? You should be able to see each with just about a half-day stop in each city. That might be a little difficult with an RV but not impossible.

Yep, the options are just about endless for your Washington RV trip itinerary.

Final Thoughts on Our Washington RV Trip Itinerary

When most folks think of Washington, they think of Seattle and rainy weather, but there is a lot more to the state.

We really enjoyed the variety of Washington, both in terms of the types of sites and the terrain. Where else can you drive a few hours in one direction and find a nuclear reactor along the semi-arid banks of the Columbia River and then find a rainforest a few hours in the opposite direction?

The biggest thing we wanted on this trip was more time. It’s tough to really explore this state in less than a month, so bear that in mind when you are planning your Washington RV trip itinerary.

Travel Resources
What do you use to find a flight?

We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
Click here to search for a flight.

What do you use to find a hotel?

We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. You can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
Click here to book a Hilton property.

If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
Click here to search for a hotel.

We recently partnered with Stay22 to add interactive maps to each of our destination posts. This will allow you to see a plethora of hotels and vacation rentals all in one responsive map of the area.

What if I need more space than I can get at a hotel?

We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
Click here to search for a vacation rental.

Who do you use for rental cars?

As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
Click here to book a rental car.

How about booking a cruise?

We have found some amazing prices for booking a cruise through Cruise Direct. We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper.
Click here to book a cruise.

What if I want to rent an RV?

We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
Click here to rent an RV.

What do you use for booking tours?

We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viator first.
Click here to book a tour.

Do you use anything to get discounts on the road?

We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.
We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.
Click here to get a AAA membership.

Looking for an epic road trip to all of the National Park Sites in Washington? See how we did it with this 24-day Washington RV trip itinerary.
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4 thoughts on “Washington National Parks RV Trip Itinerary”

  1. Very helpful report. We are planning a three week trip through Western Washington for this September. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the campgrounds will be open.

  2. Just came across your article (really great, thank you) when planning our trip from GEORGIA,(We live in Oakwood, GA on Lake Lanier so had to contact yall for some help), across the top of the country. Ive planned from GA to TN (our kids live there) thru ST Lois, up to ND & SD , thru northern MT and staying in Glacier NP for a week, heading to W Glacier & Whitefish then South to Flathead Lake,for lunch on the water and staying in St Regis for a few days to rest, recharge and hit the hot springs. (RV Trip Planner sent us that way) on our way to staying in Farragut State Park, to check out Sandpoint, Couer D’Alene and then onto Spokane. And…thats where Ive stopped. So far we will be gone from June 1 thru July 15th. We are in a Navion 25 ‘ without a tow so we can be limited as to where we can drive. On our last long adventure along the East coast, we encountered only one town we just had to skip, Lancaster, couldnt find parking. But, this is a concern of ours specifically regarding San Juan Islands and all those islands up in the far NE part of Washington. We have used a ferry to get rv to an island before but its more of a concern about driving around the island once we get there. I intended to stop near Mt Ranier and Mt Saint Helens on our way to the Oregon coast but hadnt thought at all of heading to NWestern WA until my bud from CO Springs, big time rvers now retired to FL, said you MUST visit Whidbey Island and Sand Juan. I would love and appreciate your thoughts given youve been there , done that. Thanks in advance for any help. Brenda & Steve Bratton

    • Sounds like you’ve got a great trip planned! Whidbey Island and the San Juan Islands are both great and definitely worth a stop if you have the time. Whidbey should not be a problem since you do not need to take a ferry to get there. I don’t recall any specific areas where getting around in an RV would be problematic. In terms of San Juan Island… parking in Friday Harbor might be a bit difficult with an RV but you shouldn’t have any major issues getting around the rest of the island. Just check the ferry information regarding getting there. It’s been a few years since we’ve been there and things change, but I’m pretty sure you need a reservation for any vehicle.


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