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 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 ancient forest. Fossilized portions of distinctive ginkgo trees, as well as many other tree and plant species, can be found along the park’s series of 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, and learn, too, 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 floating a boat on the 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.
Wanapum has 50 full hookup sites and, being just off of I-90, is 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.
RV Rentals in Wanapum State Park
Transportation in Wanapum State Park
Travel to both Wanapum Recreation Area and Ginkgo Petrified Forest is about as easy as it gets. 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.
Paved roads and RV parking are available at both the park and the recreation area, and there are no sharp turns or steep hills 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.
Campgrounds and parking in Wanapum State Park
Campsites in Wanapum State Park
Wanapum Recreation Area Campground
Wanapum offers 50 full-hookup RV sites, all located in two small, neighboring loops. Some sites are partially shaded, though most are somewhat open. Most sites have a great view of nearby Wanapum Lake. Both loops are flat and easily accessible and navigable. Reservations are taken (and 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!)
Gas and some food is available at the nearby town of Vantage, just three miles north of the camping area and across highway 90. Ellensburg, 30 miles west along I-90, and Moses Lake, 40 miles east along I-90, are larger, full-service towns offering any other amenities and supplies that you might need.
Seasonal activities in Wanapum State Park
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, 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, but there’s plenty to see even in the off-season.
Boating and Water-skiing
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 fishing (you can find sturgeon and salmon, among other freshwater species, in the lake), 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.
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 Fahrenheit, 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 parks’ campsites and adjacent to both a small parking lot and a picnic area.
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’ bounds. 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.
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 peak season (mid-May to mid-September), visitors 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.