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Primitive camping is also referred to as backcountry camping, and this basically means going beyond the comforts of a well-equipped site and moving into the undistracted nature of an area. We like to start with national parks when discussing backcountry camping. NPS.gov does a solid job of detailing each environment and providing important tips, warnings and resources. Each U.S. National Park below has a page that elaborates on trails and weather conditions, making it easier to plan a safe adventure. Be sure to review all safety info before setting off on the top primitive camping destinations in the Northwest.

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North Cascades National Park Hiker among stunning peaks in North Cascades National Park, Washington
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Hiker among stunning peaks in North Cascades National Park, Washington

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park is a hidden gem wedged within the state of Washington and a popular uncrowded alternative to other national parks across the country. Vast forests and sparkling lakes define the modern-day Eden. Permits protect the land and help rangers keep track of campers for safety reasons, so you must obtain one, no matter the time of year. North Cascades permits will detail the area you are designated to camp, to prevent overpopulation and usage of the grounds.

Mount Rainier National Park Backpacker beginning hike on trail in Mount Rainier National Park
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Backpacker beginning hike on trail in Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier allows backcountry camping year-round, with a wilderness permit. Campers must follow guidelines on their form to assure they are camping in the correct designated area. The people at the park work hard to preserve the delicate nature and wildlife that makes the area so special, so avoid interaction with animals and follow the “leave no trace” policy, which applies to all parks. Mount Rainier is a lovely place to day hike if not ready for an overnight excursion.

Olympic National Park Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park
Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park reservations can be made up to six months in advance, allowing plenty of time to organize a trip. Keep in mind, walk-up permits are not issued. Olympic National Park has one of the most diverse ecosystems of any other park in the United States. You have rain forests, mountains, and a rocky coastline. This makes it a bucket list stop for many, so make sure you allow plenty of time for visiting.

Crater Lake National Park Crater Lake National Park in Oregon
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Crater Lake National Park in Oregon

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park attracts adventurists year round. In the summer, 90 miles of trails are yours to be hiked. In the winter, extreme skiers and snowshoers will come to traverse the abundance of snow. Both times can be magical for camping, while still presenting difficulties, as hiking the high elevations can be quite the work out. Crater lake is of course named after the electric blue body of water which people come from far away to see. Back country camping requires permits, so plan ahead.

Grand Teton National Park Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park
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Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park allows campers to enjoy a night in Jackson Hole before hitting the trail. Camping spots can be reserved in advance and permits are always required for any backcountry stays. Grand Teton National Park can be challenging as the elevation increases, so it is suggested that no more than 2 miles per hour be covered. Consider the difficulty of your routes when planning the pace. This is a gorgeous area with jagged peaks and wildflower carpeted meadows. Be aware that various wildlife roams about as well.

Glacier National Park Glacier National Park, Montana
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Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is an ideal backcountry option for a variety of backpackers, from beginners to experts. This is because there is such a variance in the terrain, that there typically is a campground accessible to almost anyone. However it should not be overlooked that this is the wilderness, and there will be challenges. Around 700 miles of trails are available to those looking for that rugged camping experience. That’s a lot of ground to cover. Glacier National park also will allow folks to walk in and get a permit last minute, with the number of campsites available being the final deciding factor.

Yellowstone National Park Yellowstone National Park
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Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is a bucket list park even for those just driving through. Some choose to go beyond the geothermal overlook points, far into trails that penetrate the surface, deep into the wonder of Yellowstone. Some venture in via boat or horse, and a permit must be obtained to do so. With the right approval, fisherman can cast their lines while on their adventure. Yellowstone has a high population of grizzly bears, so be prepared to properly handle an encounter—keeping food sealed and out of site is vital. NPS.gov has detailed updates on trail conditions.

Glacier Bay National Park Humpback, Glacier Bay, Alaska
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Humpback, Glacier Bay, Alaska

Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay National Park is in Alaska and is blanketed with rugged terrain that can be seriously tough to navigate. Expert backpackers need to be prepared to combat hypothermia and other crucial situations. Wildlife such as bears are abundant and it’s important to store food in bear safe containers. But the beautiful fjords and traditional features are rewarding if properly equipped. All backcountry campers must retrieve a permit and go through a safety orientation that teaches information such as when tides roll in and out. Under normal circumstances, the Glacier Bay Lodge offers showering facilities to backcountry adventurists, while shuttling folks upstream to starting points.

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