Camping Outside Mount Rainier: La Wis Wis

Mount Rainier is the crown jewel of Washington state, which means that it can get downright packed in the peak summer tourist season. So, if you’re looking to visit but having trouble finding lodging available within the park (or simply want to avoid the thickest crowds), then camping outside Mount Rainier is a great option.

There are multiple options for camping outside Mount Rainier, but today I’m going to share my thoughts on the National Forest Service’s La Wis Wis campground. I’ve written about La Wis Wis before in my Introverts Getaway Series, but that was in autumn, during the off-season.

Now that I’ve had a chance to try La Wis Wis during the busy tourist season, I’ve decided to cover it again. (This happens to be where I was camping, by the way, when I wrote my Pub Beer review.) Same campground, but different vibe, as last time I nearly had the whole place to myself but this time every spot was taken.

Three Easy Hikes at Mount Rainier

My brief summary of La Wis Wis during the busy season is simple: it’s very good. I highly recommend it to all visitors interesting in camping outside Mount Rainier. I stay at Forest Service campgrounds often, and I’d rank this as one of the better in the state of Washington.

The campground was filled to capacity when I visited in July, but my spot was wooded enough that I didn’t feel encroached upon. As you can see in the photo the left, there was a tent spot about 20 feet from the picnic table and fire ring, which is a feature I always enjoy in campgrounds.

With the separate tent spot, you don’t have to worry about stray sparks burning a hole in your tent, or about feeling crowded in when you sleep.

The fire ring has a grill and is excellently ventilated, so you can get a good hot fire going. Most of the spots are at least relatively close to water, which is also nice.

The campground is close enough to the town of Packwood that a short drive can get you to supplies, but the area in general surrounding area is so underdeveloped that it’s still nice and quiet.

The south entrance to Mount Rainier itself is not far from Las Wis Wis, which is also what makes it an ideal location for people who want to visit Rainier but not stay there. One thing that may confuse visitors is that it’s listed as being in Randle, but you drive many miles east of Randle before you get there.

You actually have to go all the way through Packwood and a few more miles east up the spectacular White Pass Scenic Byway before you get to La Wis Wis. You get ample warning that the turn is coming up, but it still kind of sneaks up on you because it’s right next to a bridge.

So, if you’re looking for camping outside Mount Rainier, I don’t believe you can go wrong with La Wis Wis. I’ll review some other sites in upcoming posts.

Introvert’s Getaway Series: Packwood, Washington and the La Wis Wis Campground

A Perfect Escape into Quietude

If you’re a Washington state introvert looking for a quick weekend escape into relative solitude (as much as you can get without actually going into the back country), then I’ve got a place for you.

Near the southern entrance into Mount Rainier National Park, there’s a little town named Packwood. A few miles beyond that, a National Forest Service campground named Las Wis Wis.

 

Packwood, as you can see above, isn’t Las Vegas. It’s a mellow place, even by Washington mountain-town standards—especially in the fall and winter off season, which is precisely the time I recommend people go.

There’s nothing intrusive about the town. Packwood takes your money for the basics and then leaves you alone, asking and tempting you with nothing more. The town just sits there meditating amidst the mountains, as ready for you to be driving away as driving in.

For folks who are looking for a silent escape from the rat race but not in the mood to head into the back country or leave civilization entirely, it’s a great town to visit.

Amazing Drive

Like the Interstate 90 route through Snoqualmie Pass and the 101 Olympic Peninsula Loop, the White Pass drive is a spectacular scenic excursion. Packwood, which is just off this route, is an ideal base camp for those looking to explore the road’s full length.

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La Wis Wis Campground—A Gem of Silence

About 8 miles north of Packwood, located just off US 12 as you’re heading into that White Pass Scenic Byway, is the U.S. Forest Service’s La Wis Wis campground. It’s located on the shore of the Cowlitz River.

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Some of the sites are located right alongside the water, while others are tucked inland amidst Douglas fir, hemlock, and cedar. The pic below is an example of the latter.

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La Wis Wis campground is nice any time of year, but for the quiet introvert getaway I’m recommending here, the ideal time is late in the tourist season when it’s already begun to get a little colder at night. The campground closes on Labor Day, so the window I’m recommending is late August into early September.

Last time I went, on Labor Day weekend 2016, I was the only camper within earshot. There were a few other visitors alongside the river, but I felt like I had the run of the place. At night, it felt as silent and remote as actually being deep in the woods.

Up the Cowlitz Lies the Blue Hole

At the end of a very short La Wis Wis hiking trail is the Blue Hole, a swimming hole with pristine blue water.

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It was too cold for swimming in early September, but I had a great view of a few salmon making their fall run. The water was so clear that every detail of the fish and the river floor was visible. I sat on the rocks for a solid hour watching the fish go about their business.

On the beach, which is rocky but sandy enough to walk comfortably barefoot, someone left the heart shown above. It was rather beautiful, and its artists nowhere to be found. Beauty in solitude—exactly what I’d gone in looking for. If that sounds appealing to you, as well, then I highly recommend La Wis Wis in early fall.

P.S. Even in the peak season, this area isn’t as highly trafficked as many other Washington destinations and is good to ditch the crowds to some extent, but I’ll be writing a more general post about that this summer.