The difficulty behind living in your van is a hushed subject as it is still an uncommon path for those who chose to reduce their responsibilities of property, and more so for those who did not have a choice. Whatever the situation is, we recognize that the gravity of it weighs heaviest when you cannot find a safe place to sleep. To address this, I have summarized some information and options for those intending to stay in their vans for some time in the Bellingham area. Whether you are travelling through, checking out the area for the summer months, finding difficulty in affording rent…etc, use this information to make the safest choices for sleep. All information is current to the posted article date and may change. Stay current with any changes to these regulations!
Mt. Baker & Snoqualmie Forest Service- Dispersed
Dispersed camping is allowed in the Mt. Baker and Snoqualmie Forest areas. As far as we are concerned, this means you can drive up a forest service road (check if your suspension can handle it) and park there to sleep. You can stay in this spot up to 16 days, after which you must move your vehicle to a new location no less than 5 miles away from the previous encampment. Dispersed camping must be at least 100 feet from any water source. If you are sleeping on the forest road, this should not be a problem because roads are supposed to be built at least 100 feet from water sources anyway.
Purchase an annual Northwest Forest Pass (~$40) and hang the tag from your mirror. This notifies the forest service rangers that you have recognized the regulations.
If you decide to camp alongside the road, please recognize that there are no services out there. This means you must follow standard Leave-No-Trace protocol: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/fishlake/recreation/?cid=stelprdb5121850
- Pack it in, Pack it out. This is your new home now. Treat it with respect.
- Do not defecate less than 200 feet from any water source. You must bury your waste up to 8 inches into the soil.
- Do not build any structures out in the woods, such as chairs or tables from wood you find. Aside from impacting resource, this is important to maintain your covert dwelling.
- Respect wildlife. They are your neighbors.
- Ask yourself if it is the time of the year to have a fire. We have really hot summers out here, and historic wildfires started from illegal campfires during fire-ban season. If there is a ban, please respect it. Check out this site for accumulated information about burn bans in Washington state: https://waburnbans.net/
If caught violating these regulations, there is a hefty fine emplaced.
Mt. Baker- Snoqualmie Forest Service campsites
You can also pay for a campsite on Forest Service federal land. They are maintained and serviced by rangers. Check their prices and availability here:
North Cascades National Park & Ross Lake Recreational Area
There is no dispersed camping. You must reserve a designated campsite, or obtain a backcountry permit from the Wilderness Information Center. The two centers that you can access from Bellingham are in Glacier, WA and in Marblemount, WA.
No pets are allowed into the national park. Dogs are allowed to walk leashed within Ross Lake Recreational Area.
State Park camping
These state parks include Larrabee State Park, Rockport State Park, and Birch Bay State Park. Dispersed camping is not allowed. Paid campsites, with availability, are great options. You can stay at them for a maximum of 20 days.
Please remember to treat these sites with respect!
Municipal Code for staying on residential streets of Bellingham
Sleeping in your vehicle and/or being homeless is not illegal in Bellingham as of March 2018. For the majority of residential parking, there is a 72 hour limit. For those streets, if you decide to park, please respect the resident’s front property and remember to move your vehicle after you have exceeded the time limit. Some of these streets have newer 2-hour limits in response to prolonged stays of vehicles. It is advised to avoid parking on those streets.
Many parking lots have tow-away signs posted, and business owners hold true to their word. Heed these signs and keep looking elsewhere.