If you are visiting us here at Freedom Vans or just taking a trip to the City of Subdued Excitement, here are our best tips for where to sleep in and around Bellingham!
Dispersed camping in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest:
Dispersed camping is one of the best van camping options, in our opinion, and is allowed in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, about an hour from the town of Bellingham. There are many spots accessible by forest service road, some with fire pits and lots of space and some that are just road pull offs. If you stay at a site with a fire pit, be sure to check current fire bans before having a campfire. Camp spots in the national forest can be stayed at for up to 14 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.
Be sure to purchase an annual Northwest Forest Pass, and hang the tag from your mirror to avoid any unwanted tickets.
When dispersed camping, keep in mind that there are no services and you will need to be self contained and/or pack it in/pack it out. Familiarize yourself with Leave No Trace protocol to be a good steward of our public lands!
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Forest Service paid 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:
State park camping is nice if you are looking for some amenities and want to feel extra safe at night. Although you do have to pay for them, sometimes the cost is worth having bathrooms/showers and knowing you are in a gated area where you will not be bothered at night. Some state parks that offer camping near Bellingham include Larrabee State Park, Rockport State Park, and Birch Bay State Park. You can stay at them for a maximum of 20 days.
Municipal Code for staying on residential streets of Bellingham:
For the majority of residential parking in Bellingham, there is a 72 hour limit. For those streets, if you decide to park, please respect the resident’s 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.
Highway pull offs:
If you do not want to drive all the way to the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest for free camping but sleeping on a side street in town does not sound ideal either, another option is finding a pull off along the highway a bit further out of town so that it will not be as noisy or bright but you aren’t as far away from town and still have cell service. Some of our favorites are the pull outs along Chuckanut Drive, as they are scenic, near to town, and not too busy at night.
Another great option for camping in Bellingham would be to look into a HipCamp. HipCamp is basically the Airbnb of glamping, where property owners offer their land for parking for a fee. Some of these sites have amenities, even tents or cabins, while others just offer a place to park.
Free Camping Apps:
A go to of ours is to check iOverlander, Freecampsites.net or Campendium.com for coordinates to specific spots that have already been found by other campers. It is nice to have directions and reviews of camp spots, especially if you are new to an area and don’t have time to scope it out before camping.
Photos by Johanna Hendrickson