Illahee State Park is well-loved by locals and visitors who come from all over to enjoy its 1,785-foot shoreline. Located in the Puget Sound region of Washington, this 82-acre park is near Bremerton on Port Orchard Bay and combines water access and large day-use areas with a small campground nestled into ancient old-growth trees. Because of the large amounts of rain that this region receives, the park has some of the healthiest plants and animals. The enormous trees are well over 100 feet tall, covered in moss above, and lush green plants sprouting below.
This health on land carries over to life in the park’s saltwater bay that is teeming with birds, seals, fish, and shellfish. A boat launch and fishing pier offer guests the opportunity to see this abundant wildlife up close. Although everyone gives it a try once, the beach here isn't really for walking since it is mostly underwater at least twice a day at high tide. It is also rocky and covered in oyster and clamshells. Kids and families can still be found swimming and floating on tubes or paddle-boards when the summer gets going.
The campground is small and mostly designed for campers who don't need power or sewer hookups. However, the campground is also lightly trafficked—even during the summer—and can provide a great, off-the-grid camping RV vacation. Some creative parking and blocking allow trailers and smaller motorhomes to fit in here as well. There are a dump station and drinking water by the restrooms with showers.
Illahee State Park is conveniently located under an hour from Tacoma and less than two hours from Seattle. You can also easily take a day trip to see the 8,000-foot Mount Olympus at Olympic National Park or the lesser-known Olympic National Forest, which offers 600,000 acres of forests with breathtaking waterfalls to explore.
The Tacoma Narrows and Hood Canal bridge provides good road access in and out of the Bremerton area, so campers should have no trouble locating and driving to Illahee State Park. However, once inside the park, visitors will want to take extra caution when traveling. The roads are narrow, and the park and campground are both located in very uneven and hilly areas.
In spite of the paved pads in the campsites, any RVs will need more blocking than usual to level out. Clearance should not be an issue since the trees are old and very tall, but don't expect to have much sun exposure or satellite dish signal. Guests who plan to arrive in the park via water should also be aware that it is costly to transport trailers and motorhomes on the Washington State Ferries.
The Illahee State Park Campground is small, but charming with a total of 25 campsites available by reservation only. RVers should be aware that only two of these sites have full hookups, and the rest are standard campsites without any hookups. Be careful when making a reservation that an RV-friendly site is selected because a few of these sites are more suited for larger vans than RVs and trailers. Rigs up to 40 feet can be accommodated at this campground.
The sites are all located under very large and very old cedar and fir trees, making the campground a peaceful and scenic venue with plenty of shade to rest under on a hot summer's day. There are large picnic tables and fire rings included at each site. Modern restrooms and coin-operated showers are also available in the camping loop, as well as a dumping station. Drinking water is also provided for all campers. A metal playground slide and a sports field are just a short walk away.
Illahee State Park is a great place to bring a fishing pole. The 360-foot dock puts visitors deep enough to catch passing Chinook salmon, steelhead, and cutthroat trout. The shallow waters throughout Puget Sound provide ideal feeding grounds for large healthy fish and, guests will be surprised to find trout well over 20 inches long and salmon weighing in over 15 pounds. With plenty of room to spread out, the pier is the perfect place for even the most novice angler to cast their line and catch something big.
Though the park is popular and regularly visited by locals, there is lots of room, and it rarely feels crowded. This is a great place to plan a picnic. There are 90 unsheltered, extra-large picnic tables scattered all around the park. Some are placed in deep woodsy spots that are shady and cool, while others are found in sunny, grassy areas on the shore. Several of these spots have fire rings and BBQ grills included. These 90 picnicking areas are available on a first-come, first-served basis. There are four sheltered picnic areas with electricity that are available by reservation only. There are also kitchen shelters that can be reserved for even bigger festivities.
For visitors who are wanting a more challenging sport, the park has three horseshoe pits where guests can challenge each other to a game of horseshoes, testing their strength and tossing skills. Historians believe that the game of horseshoes was invented around 2,000 years ago, and it has been a crowd favorite ever since. Guests of all ages will enjoy the thrill of trying for that perfect throw that will send a horseshoe spinning around the stake.
Walking through the campground and the short hiking trails in the park is a great way to see unique trees that are over 400 years old. Over a dozen species of trees make up this rare section of the Pacific Northwest Old-Growth Forest. The Old-Growth Forest is famous for its ancient trees that grew for many years largely undisturbed, resulting in a unique ecosystem. Be sure to look for the oldest Pacific yew in America, affectionately named "Chief of the Forest" by Native Americans of the region.
During the summer months, this area can reach temperatures upwards of 90 degrees, and swimming in the refreshing saltwater Port Orchard Bay is a very popular way to cool off. Coin showers are available in the restrooms for rinsing off afterward. Or there are picnic tables and a nice grassy area to lay around and air dry. The shore has a lot of rocks and sharp oyster shells, so guests will need to ensure that they have some form of foot protection before getting in.
Something of a local secret is that at low tide, significant oyster beds are revealed right along the shore of Illahee State Park. Clams require a bit of quick digging with a small shovel but are very easy to find as they sit right on the surface. Clams and Oysters are usually open to harvest April through July. During the summer months, crabs can be caught with a ring off the pier. Dungeness, red rock, and tanner crabs are all common catches here.