How bicycle travelers can pitch their tents at full WA state park campgrounds

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One of the common worries of bicycle travel involves pulling into a state campground late in the day and finding out that all the campsites are taken.

The prospect of heading out on a dark road or stealth camping in the woods looms ahead.

Finding an emergency camping site at Palouse Falls State Park

A policy update by the Washington State Parks assures this won’t happen for bicyclists or hikers in the Evergreen State.

The policy procedure — PRO 65-8 Hiker/Biker Accommodations — directs campground managers to establish an emergency area for overnight camping away from the designated campsites.  “If no campsite options exist for accommodating a hiker/biker overnight, staff may allow visitors to stay in the emergency area …”

Here’s that link again: PRO 65-8 Hiker.Biker Accommodations. I suggest printing a copy and carrying it with you in case you need to remind state park campground staff that they need to find space for you.

Turned away

Bike camper Andrew Squirrel wrote me recently to say the issue came to light for him when he and some friends were riding from Seattle to Whitefish, Montana, over the Memorial Day weekend and were turned away late one afternoon at Palouse Falls State Park.

“Ultimately we forced our way into a site with the help of a unique loophole seen in a handicap sign as we visited the falls as temporary ‘day use’ visitors.”

Reading about Andrew’s experiences at the iBob Google group, Nick Favicchio got on the phone to WA State Parks and talked to a staffer about the hiker/biker policy.

“She said I was correct – hiker/bikers are never supposed to be turned away. I asked her where this policy can be found and she sent me a copy of Procedure #65-8 that clearly states if everything is full and no accommodation exists within 10-15 minutes away (or it’s after dark), hiker/bikers are to be allowed to stay in an ‘Emergency Area’.  In fact, it says hiker/bikers can turn down available fee sites and opt to stay in an Emergency Area.”

Virginia was one of the first states to put such a procedure in place back in 2012. Others include California, Oregon, Michigan, and Minnesota.


Now, a strict reading of Washington’s policy says that “staff may allow visitors to stay overnight in an emergency area.” “May”, not “must.”

If a campground host wants to quibble over such language while daylight is burning out and there are no other close-by campgrounds, I’d say it’s time encourage them to contact a park ranger who knows the law. It’s unlikely that both would be unreasonable.

Thanks to Andrew and Nick for doing the research and getting to the bottom of this policy.

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