Boondocking In Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest: Mountain Loop Hwy
We never really thought about how the dense woods of Washington might be an issue for our solar powered rig until we were driving into the north Cascades on Mountain Loop Hwy to spend some time in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The tightly packed forest let in only narrow rays of sunshine. We would have eagerly welcomed the mossy shade if our home on wheels was a different set up.
From FreeCampsites.net we found vague information about how Mountain Loop Hwy outside Granite Falls, WA had multiple spots that were large enough for our 25’ long trailer to fit in. And looking on Google Maps we marked specific spots that seemed like it would work. Once we were actually there in person we realized that most of the camping spots the website referred to were better for car camping (not a surprise since FreeCampsite.net is not RV specific, Campendium is a better site for RVers). There were some incredibly cool campsites that were right on the sandy beach along the river. Since it has been a pretty dry summer (perhaps even year) for Washington, I’m not sure if those beach sites usually exist. Of the sites that we found on Google Maps, one didn’t seem to actually exist for whatever reason and the other wasn’t going to work. We did drive past a couple of pull out spots that were large enough for our RV, but they weren’t aesthetically pleasing. There was one particular pull out along Mountain Loop Hwy that was our backup site if we didn’t find anything better. This site sits right above the river and has a dirt path that leads down to the water. The pull out was also wide enough that we wouldn’t have had to worry about cars zipping by too closely to the RV with the slide out. The GPS coordinates of this site are 48.072957° N, 121.602311° W.
We decided to keep driving for a better spot. Several miles later we came across a very large gravel parking lot off FS 4052 (GPS coordinates 48.085163° N, 121.552699° W). Initially we pulled in just to stop and talk about our options. But after checking out the parking lot we decided that we would boondock there. The parking lot wasn’t for a trailhead of any sort. From the brown “Deer Creek” forest service sign at the entrance of the forest road it seemed like the gravel lot is used for winter sport activity parking. Since it wasn’t winter and the lot was totally empty, we claimed it as our home. We had reviewed the national forest rules and knew that we weren’t boondocking there illegally and that was confirmed when two forest rangers stopped by to chat with us later that week. It is a 14-day limit stay.
One of the reasons why we choose to stay in this spot was that it had enough overhead clearing that we could still get sun to keep our RV batteries charged. But we were still in the north Cascades so there were still lots of tall trees surrounding us, which meant we only got four hours of sunlight on the panels. We had to be a bit more careful about how we used our electricity.
Another perk about this site is that it actually has a large campsite in the woods right next to the gravel lot. The campsite became our outdoor living room where we would string up our hammocks after hikes to chill out with the dogs. It couldn’t have been more perfect. Ok, it could have been totally perfect if there wasn’t a fire ban so we could have had campfires every night.
The downside of this site is that we didn’t get any Verizon cell service. Actually we didn’t get any cell service throughout Mountain Loop Hwy. The closest place we could get service was back in Granite Falls, about 25 miles southwest. But the Verlot Public Service Center, which has limited summer hours of Thursday to Sunday from 8 AM to 4:30 PM, does have a public phone in its parking lot. The service center is the only place we are aware of with running water. And Granite Falls is the closest town for gas and groceries. The lot we stayed in had a pit toilet, picnic table and trash can over by the intersection of the forest road and Mountain Loop Hwy. While the area was large enough to easily accommodate a couple of more RVs and there was a lot more traffic in that area over the weekend, we were lucky to have the place all to ourselves during our entire stay.
All the trailhead parking lots in that area required the NW Forest Pass, except for this site - which didn’t require a permit of any sort. We did find out from the Verlot Public Service Center that our annual America the Beautiful Pass would satisfy the NW Forest Pass requirement. Money very well spent there! The America the Beautiful Pass covers entrance fees to not only national parks but also land overseen by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation. Note that there are a couple of hikes off Mountain Loop Hwy that require the Discover Pass instead, which you can’t substitute the America the Beautiful pass for. Daily NW Forest Passes can be purchased from the Verlot Public Service Center and they also have a vending machine you can get a pass from if the office is closed.
There are so many hikes to choose from all along Mountain Loop Hwy. Including some classic ones. And we could easily access those from this boondocking site.
Here is a review I did for Campendium of this site.