Tuesday, June 18, 2013

fort flagler state park - a family camping review

As avid summer car campers with kids, we are always looking for new and interesting places we've never been to.  On busy Father's Day weekend, we opted for Fort Flagler State Park to camp, explore and relax by the waterfront (with a last minute booking no less) as we welcomed in the 2013 season of summer camping.

A picturesque setting that's only an hour and a half from the Seattle/Tacoma area (by ferry or driving around the sound), Fort Flagler is host to a myriad of activities ranging from combing the beach to watching the spectacular sunset to exploring the miles of trails that lead to mysterious and exciting abandoned military buildings from the early 20th century.  With close proximity to tourist-friendly Port Townsend, Fort Flagler is a near perfect weekend getaway for families with children of all ages.

We arrived on a Friday afternoon just in time to enjoy exploring the beach before we retired to our campsite to cook dinner and roast marshmallows.  The next day (Saturday) was spent exploring the incredible waterfront trails and defense batteries, encountering many deer and woodland critters along the way.  The trail can be tiresome for littles, so bring plenty of water and snacks and be sure to take lots of breaks (and maybe send Dad for the car when you get to the military housing quarters at the other end).  At the bluff peak we watched two paragliders take off into the blue and napped in the sun for a few before making our way to the park museum that housed many interesting historic artifacts to do with life at the fort in the early 20th century.  The rest of the afternoon was spent on the expansive lawn near the beach playing soccer and eating burritos, in between bouts of crab hunting and shell collecting along the shore.

The first camping trip of the season is always either the most under-prepared or over-prepared event or the summer.  This year I definitely bent toward underprepared.  Forgetting bug spray was a mistake I'll never make again when camping in the woods!  The kids hid in the tent and played games until mosquito hour was over (from about 6:30 until 8!) while I zipped up my hoodie and dodged the little bloodsuckers while frying up grilled cheese sandwiches.  As with any state park campground, the sites were fairly close together and the company you keep is always a crap shoot.  The young party a few doors down made quite a ruckus until 2:30 AM or so, and everyone but me slept just fine.  But the next night was quiet and quite lovely to wake up to in the morning (the pancakes were much prettier on day three than day two).

We left fairly early on Sunday morning and visited nearby Port Townsend on the way outta town to enjoy some pizza and pick up some souvenirs.  We were home by 6 PM to water the garden and chat with the neighbors before slumping in front of the laptop for a movie, followed by an epic slumber in our own beds.

Best camping sites: Plenty of great spaces to choose from, but 12 is the creme de la creme - an expansive, grassy site right on the bluff that's surrounded by flowering shrubs, plenty of privacy and an incredible view of the sunset.

Sites 1 - 14 also have views or are nice and close to the water, 24, 30 and 33 are expansive and private in a more wooded setting.

Littles:  Critters everywhere, combing the beach.
Middles:  Riding bikes and scooters around the campground, playground.
Bigs:  Exploring the forts, walking to the on-site store for ice cream and treats.
Mom & Dad:  Amazing sunsets, quiet and remote location that's easy to get to.

Watch out for:  The marine air can be chilly at nights, so bring warm clothing and good quality sleeping bags.  As with all camping in the woods, there can be lots of mosquitoes, so be prepared.  Families with smaller children or wanderers/explorers, may want to choose a spot further away from the bluff in the upper campground for less worry.  Plenty of spots in sites 33 and up offer room to roam and  loads of privacy and are quite beautiful in a more forested setting.

Nearby alternative campgrounds:  Fort Townsend, Fort Warden.

Closest store/town:  Nordland General Store, Nordland, WA.  Stop in for supplies and enjoy a great wine and beer selection, local cheese, organic coffee and old-fashioned kid favorites like Lemonheads.  Be sure to visit on your way out of town to chat with friendly locals and enjoy an iced mocha for the road.  There's also an on-site store at the campground essentials like firewood, bug spray, replacing broken flip flops.

What to visit nearby:  Port Townsend has quirky waterfront shops that families will appreciate, including two toy stores full of Legos, Schleich animals, stuffies, and games.  Eat at Waterfront Pizza's quaint upstairs dining room to please everyone in the family - plenty of books and crayons will keep kiddos busy.  Along with your family size pizza, order the Caesar salad for a unique twist on an old classic.

Rugged to Glamping Rating (scale of 1-5):  3 - Plenty of room to spread out if you find one of Fort Flagler's many spacious and picturesque camping spots, but be sure to bring the bug spray!  Mosquitoes abound.  Steer clear of the bluff sites if camping with little ones, be sure to snag one if camping with older kids!

How to get there: Directions and map can be found here.

(Thank you to S. Holland Smith, my darling husband, for letting me use a few of his photos in this lot.) :)

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