Camping at Dash Point State Park

Quick Facts:
  • Washington State Park website:
  • Judd rating: 3 stars out of 5
  • Stienstra rating: 8 out of 10
  • Access to water: drivable distance to Dash Point Beach (or an uncomfortable 1km, downhill walk on the road from campsites)
  • Token-operated hot shower, flush toilets, drinking water source, dish washing sink
  • 4 cabins
  • Activities: water activities on Dash Point Beach (but it shrinks down to a tiny little patch of sand at high tide, so check the tide table), biking and hiking trails
  • Beach type: mix of sandy and pebbly beach
  • Outdoor Fam rating: 6 out of 10

On a random January day, our friend Jenny serendipitiously dropped by for a quick visit with Tina while I was in the middle of booking some camping trips. I didn’t want to wait for the crap shoot that invariably awaits on the BC Provincial Park reservation system for booking May Long, so I was browsing through some Washington State Parks. We asked her if she would be interested in joining. A few minutes later, we reserved a cabin and a campsite at Dash Point State Park.

A few weeks later, we invited another mutual friend, Shelly and Matt, and a 3-family camping trip was finalized. Jenny, her husband Jimmy, her brother Bruce, and their 3 kids would stay in the cabin, where as Shelly and Matt’s family of 4, with ample tent camping experience themselves, will share our campsite.

Note to our cabin-camping friends: cabins are rare in the BC Provincial Park system, but not so in Washington State Parks. There are 20 State Parks that have cabins in Washington, including some of the most highly rated parks not too far from Vancouver:

We tagged on a quick overnight trip to Birch Bay State Park to avoid the worst of the longweekend border lineup, and leisurely made our way down to Tacoma on Saturday, after stopping at Bellingham for lunch and a Trader Joe’s for stocking up.

We booked campsite #125, which is close to the washroom and cabins. It’s quite open and airy, and it had plenty of space for 2 cars and 2-3 tents. A large Bigleaf maple tree covers a significant portion of the site. Thorny bushes provide good amount of privacy.

It seems odd that a campground with more than 60 campsites only have one serviced washroom/shower facility, and the only water source is the sink outside the washroom. The garbage system is even less bear-proof than Birch Bay: they just placed some large plastic bins around the washroom. Even raccoons can easily get into these bins, so I’m not sure why they are so nonchalant about this.

The garbage bin at the beach doesn’t even have a lid on it!

We walked through the campground and were quite surprised by the poor state some of the campsites are in. In campsite #77, the picnic table was pushed to the side and into the thorns, and the ground was badly overgrown. I hope the table was only temporarily placed there so that the park operator can clean up the site, but it would really suck if someone booked it and came to find it looking like this.

Campsite #77

The cabins at Dash Point, on the other hand, were very functional. It had 3 mattresses (2 on a bunk bed, and 1 on a queen bed), a table, 3 chairs, and both a heater and an air conditioner.

Our team of little helpers is well practiced in tent setup and playing in the dirt.

After dinner, we were eager to visit the Dash Point Beach before sunset. It’s a 1km drive down a winding road with considerable grade, so I don’t see myself carrying a paddleboard from the campsite to access the water. The beach was quite disappointing, since we got there at high tide and there was only a sliver of sandy beach left. Photos of the beach at low tide looked a lot more fun and inviting.

Our camping companions were keen campfire lovers so we were lucky that we had a robust campfire on both nights without putting in any work. We even tagged along for some delicious campfire BBQ and s’mores.

Sunday morning we were hit with a surprise rain. Thankfully Matt was prepared and we quickly set up a rain shelter tent. It would have been difficult for me to set up a rain tarp at this campsite since the trees were very far apart and even if my ropes were long enough, one of the trees was obstructed by bushes of thorny vines.

Note to self: even if the forecast calls for sun, never underestimate the power of the rain gods in the Pacific North West. I bought some tarp poles but didn’t even bring them because of the sunny forecast.

After breakfast, we spend the majority of the day at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma. It was a blast for the kids. We have visited Woodland Zoo near Seattle, and Portland Zoo in Portland in the past. Point Defiance Zoo seems smaller than its neighbors, but it stood out with a fantastic themed animal show at their main stage, with lots of cool props and special effects. They also had lots of little talks throughout the zoo which was very educational for both adults and children.

After a 3.5 hour visit at the park, the kids were thoroughly spent. I took a quick drive through the rest of Point Defiance Park and stopped at Owen Beach for a look, so that the kids can get deeper into their nap. The beach was very inviting, with a kayak rental shop nearby (but no paddleboards!). One can easily spend the whole day at Point Defiance Park (760 acres), which in many ways reminds me of our Stanley Park in Vancouver (1000 acres) and Washington Park in Portland (410 acres), each with its own aquarium and zoo, respectively, as well as trails and gardens.

After dinner, some kids from a neighboring campsite invited us to their talent show at the amphitheater and celebrate their dad’s birthday. We went for the kicks and giggles, and shared a fun time with them. At the end of their show, we encouraged Big Bro and Middle Bro to go up onto the stage and show our new friends their talents. Big Bro was too shy, but Middle Bro surprised us by singing Yellow Submarine for the audience.

Monday was a leisurely drive up back to Vancouver, with stops at Trader Joe’s, Katzu Burger, Seattle Premium Outlets, and Olive Garden.

Overall, it’s been another amazing trip with a new set of camping friends. It’s great to share stories and plans with other camping families, and having so many kids with similar interests and temperament was a lot of fun for the brothers too.

In terms of the State Park itself, I agree with the mediocre 3/5 rating from Judd over the enthusiastic 8/10 rating from Stienstra. The campsite is hardly ‘waterfront’, since the beach is a drive away, and the limited water source and washroom facility can be quite inconvenient unless you stay at the closest campsites. It’s more suited for a quick getaway for people living in Seattle than a destination campground 3.5 hour drive from Vancouver. Tacoma is fun though, so it might be worthwhile to stay here for a few days and explore the industrial port city more thoroughly.

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