My wife and I often find ourselves discussing how blessed we are to live in such a uniquely accessible and beautiful corner of the world. Washington State is generally regarded as an outdoor enthusiasts’ playground, but what never ceases to amaze us is that we can drive just a few short hours in any direction and completely change our environment. Ocean, rainforest, and prairies, oh my!
When I think about my love of the outdoors, my mind can wander endlessly in a multitude of directions. But there is one common, uniting factor that I personally believe can bring anyone together: relaxing around a campfire.
Now, I know we can all agree that being warmed by the fire under a blanket of stars is absolutely amazing but, for me, there is absolutely nothing better than campfire mornings. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share one of my favorite ways to experience a campfire morning, right here in Lewis County.
The DNR Winston Creek Campground is a small, off the beaten path DNR site between Silver Creek and Mossyrock, just a few miles off of Highway 12 East. There are no RV hookups, no electricity to speak of, and – best of all – no pay station. Washington State DNR operates a number of campgrounds, including Winston Creek, that can be enjoyed for nothing more than your annual Discover Pass. They are well worth the investment. The rules are simple: find a campsite, display your Discover Pass, respect your neighbors and surrounding habitat, and most importantly, pack it in – pack it out.
The campground offers basic amenities, and I mean BASIC. Each site has a place to park, a campfire ring, and most even have a picnic table. The best way I could describe Winston Creek is perfectly primitive.
There is a communal use, hand-pump well, but bring your own drinking water, as this is meant more for putting out campfires and sanitation. Speaking of sanitation, the campground also utilizes outhouses for restroom facilities – four of them to be exact – so come prepared to truly commune with nature!
On that note, bring your own toilet paper, because communing with nature means sharing space with squirrels, and squirrels apparently love running wild with the toilet paper that’s provided – only laughable when it isn’t the toilet paper you had anticipated using!
While all of this may seem a bit more primitive than you might be used to, it also plays a big role in why we love camping Winston Creek so much. Once you’ve rolled in and chosen a site, the simplicity of the surroundings remind you that you’ve somehow managed to step out of the everyday hustle and bustle of modern life. The silence sings brightly as you set up camp, and leaves you longing to explore. I like to take time to really take in the clean, fresh air, and listen for the subtle sounds of nearby wildlife. You’ll also likely hear the calming sound of water running over stones, as many of the sites back up to Winston Creek itself, accessible by trails leading through the buffer of trees and underbrush, which also provides a great barrier to keep the kids safely away from the water’s edge until you’re ready to enjoy the creek as a family.
The creek is wide, but reasonably shallow during camping season, and provides a comfortable atmosphere to unwind. Small trout and crawdads are easily found in the small pools between the currents, and we’ve really enjoyed passing time catching crawdad to bring back to camp for a suppertime treat. Between the cool breeze coming down the creek bed and the shade of the surrounding trees, it can be difficult to get back to the business of “roughing it” at camp, but we haven’t gotten to the best part yet: that campfire.
Now, if you’re anything like us, with getting packed, ready, and rounding up the kiddos, getting to camp itself is usually a late afternoon to evening affair. I think that has a lot to do with why nights around a campfire are so wonderful. It’s the calm after the storm. You’ve done it! You got out of town, into the woods, smacked your thumb with a mallet while driving tent stakes (possibly), and tucked into a simple supper you didn’t have to work too hard on your first night out. Now, you’re just tasting the drink in your hand, smelling that smoke that seems to follow you to every corner of the camp, and there might even be marshmallows involved. This is amazing. But the best is yet to come.
Waking up at camp is an experience that holds its own, and it’s my favorite part of the whole trip. You open your eyes, suddenly aware of the crisp, damp air on your face. You pull on your most comfortable, cozy overshirt, and head straight to the fire pit. After a bit of hurried fire building and coffee making, it’s a perfect world.
The stillness of the dawn and the comfortable chair are paradise. You’ll unwittingly drink the cup of cowboy coffee in your hand to the last drop, only to find grounds, but you’re not even mad about it. It’s all too perfect lounging by the fire.
The day isn’t ending. It’s only just begun. It’s full of possibilities; stories you’ll tell, adventures you’ll have, special moments. This is where it all starts, with a morning campfire and the DNR Winston Creek Campground.