If you're interested in ancient history, geology, photography, or just looking for a picturesque place to park the rig for the night, then head to Washington state. Wanapum Recreation Area and Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park (managed jointly and adjacent to each other) offer RVers the chance to experience and learn about a completely unique piece of natural history. But it's not just history buffs that enjoy this scenic park; there’s also plenty of classic camping pastimes to take part in as well.
The state park, as its name suggests, is home to a fantastically preserved patch of an ancient forest. Fossilized portions of distinctive ginkgo trees, as well as many other tree and plant species, can be found along the park’s nature trails and in the park’s wonderful interpretive center. From signage or informative programs, learn about the rich, towering forests that covered eastern Washington millions of years ago. You can also learn about the geologic processes which created and uncovered the fossils visible at the park today. For those interested in ancient human history, take some time outside the interpretive center to study the spectacular collection of sixty petroglyphs – ancient drawings carved into stone by Neolithic peoples – that have been found in the area over the years.
Or, if geology, paleontology, and archaeology don’t float your boat, try actually floating a boat on Lake Wanapum. Head out from the boat launch located conveniently by the recreation area’s campsites, or just go for a swim at the nearby beach. If you’re a birder, bring binoculars; the lake, a kind of oasis in the high desert, is the county’s most diverse birding area.
RV camping is easy at Wanapum with 50 full hookup sites, and, being just off of I-90, it's a breeze to get to. Make sure to reserve your spots at this gem of a campground ahead of time – during the summer months, spots fill up quickly.
Travel to both Wanapum Recreation Area and Ginkgo Petrified Forest is about as easy as it gets. A scenic two-hour drive from Seattle, both are directly off of Interstate 90, accessible via exit 136; Ginkgo is just to the north of the highway, as is the small town of Vantage, while Wanapum is just to the south of the highway. Due to its location right off of the main highway, roads are easy to navigate, even for large vehicles. Once inside the park, visitors will find spacious, paved roads without any steep hills or sharp turns to worry about.
At Wanapum, both the swim beach and the boat launch are an easy walk from the camping loops, but parking lots are available at either site if you’d prefer to drive. If you’re looking to go for a hike on the Petrified Forest Interpretive Trail, simply take the Old Vantage Highway (also paved) two miles west from the State Park Visitor Center, and you’ll find yourself at the trail’s parking lot.
Wanapum offers 50 full-hookup RV sites, all located in two small, neighboring loops. Some sites are partially shaded to help you stay cool in the summer months, though most are somewhat open. Most sites have a great view of nearby Wanapum Lake. Both loops are flat and easily accessible and navigable. Each site is equipped with a picnic table and fire ring, and campers will find a restroom with showers in each loop.
Reservations are taken (and are highly recommended) from mid-April to mid-October. During the rest of the campground’s open season, March 1 –October 31, sites are first-come, first-served. Wanapum’s official website does warn RV campers about the possibility of high winds, so make sure that everything in your setup is well secured, especially overnight (or you might find it floating in the lake the next day)!
With 50 full-hookup sites, the facilities at Wanapum Campground are perfect for RV campers. Although reservations are pretty much a must during the peak season, from March through October, the sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Rigs up to 60 feet can be accommodated in the campground's relatively flat spaces, just beware of the wind! Each site is equipped with a picnic table and fire ring, and campers will find a restroom with showers in each loop.
Without much water on the landscape to regulate temperatures, the scrublands of eastern Washington can get hot – very hot – during the summer months. At Wanapum, the average high temperature in July and August is over 90 degrees, and the thermometer routinely heads towards triple digits. Thankfully, Wanapum offers a respite from the heat in the form of a swimming beach, conveniently located near the park's campsites and adjacent to a small parking lot, a bathhouse, and a picnic area. Don't forget to pack your bathing suit in the campervan if you plan on taking a dip.
A convenient boat launch located right by the campgrounds offers aquatic access to Wanapum Lake, which was created in the 60s with the construction of the Wanapum Dam on the Columbia River. Whether you’re heading out for some water-skiing or just some relaxation time on the water, you’ll no doubt enjoy this welcome oasis of blue set in the arid, high scrubland of eastern Washington. If you plan on spending a day on the water, make sure to tow your own boat along on your RV vacation, as the park does not offer any rentals.
Surrounded by arid country but sitting on the shores of a large lake, the recreation area is a busy spot for both residential and migratory bird species. Vireos, kinglets, and warblers flit from tree to brush, widgeons, coots, and gulls bob in the waters of the lake, sandpipers and yellowlegs dash across the shore, and hawks and kestrels perch on high places and wait patiently for their next meal. Late spring, summer, and early fall are the times to expect the highest avian diversity, so if you find yourself parking the rig in this area during peak season, don't forget to pack a pair of binoculars.
After a day out on the water or hiking through the Petrified Forest, enjoy a picnic on the scenic shores of Wanapum Lake. Fifty-seven unsheltered picnic tables are sprinkled throughout the park and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. On busy summer weekends, these tables can fill up fairly quickly, so you may want to try to snag one early on in the day. If you can't find an empty table, enjoy a picnic next to the pop-up at your own private table. Sites are also equipped with fire rings should you be having a cookout.
The Interpretive Center at Gingko Petrified Forest provides unique exhibits and fascinating explanations of the region’s natural and human history. Though its hours are limited when not in the peak season (mid-May to mid-September), visitors RV camping in the off-season can enjoy a quieter, more subdued atmosphere as they learn about the dramatic changes the area has gone through over the course of millions of years. Check out some of the many incredible petrified wood samples held inside the center, or head outside and see some of the sixty petroglyphs (ancient figures and drawings carved into stone by Neolithic peoples) collected and assembled over the decades.
Leave the Airstream parked at camp and explore some of the park's unique terrain on foot. Three miles of wonderful trails provide access to Gingko Petrified Forest State Park’s namesake feature. During the Miocene era (approximately 15 million years ago), the park’s land was covered in rich, wet forests. Evidence of this magnificent forest is visible today in the form of fossilized trunks, stumps, and logs; observe and learn about ancient redwoods, maples, cottonwoods, magnolias, madrones, and more as you stroll past millions of years of natural history. Some species found here, such as the rare and distinctive ginkgo, are either extinct or are no longer found naturally in North America.
Birds are far from the only creatures you can expect to catch a glimpse of at Wanapum or Gingko. Bighorn sheep, elk, white-tailed deer, coyotes, marmots, badgers, bobcats, and more are also found within the parks’ boundaries. And though you’ll be hard-pressed to find them in the depths of winter, in the spring or fall, you might spy reptiles out hunting or trying to soak up some warmth from the sun. Pygmy short-horned lizards, northern Pacific rattlesnakes, gopher snakes, and many other species can be found here as well.
Pack the fishing gear in the Sprinter and spend a day on Wanapum Lake. Anglers can try for sturgeon, sockeye salmon, and chinook salmon in the lake, among other freshwater species, including smallmouth bass and walleye. Two boat ramps are conveniently located near the campground if you're in the mood to do some trolling. If you prefer to fish from land, there are over 25,000 feet of freshwater shoreline to cast out from.