It's something I say I'll do at the end of every spring -- when the air clears of pollen and smells of barbecue, when everyone and everything moves at a slower pace. Each year as I sit, scheming up summer adventures with friends, I'm the one to say, "Let's go camping!"
They've all learned to ignore me now when camping plans start to get serious, because I usually cop out with the following claim: "I'm afraid of bears."
Call me crazy, but rolling into a ball and acting dead while a 2-ton bear toys with my body like a rag doll doesn't quite comfort me. Sure, there are other alternatives -- particularly bear spray or a 12-gauge shotgun. Problem is, I'm afraid of those, too.
But this summer, I'm bound and determined to get over my fear and check out some of the best camping spots in the Inland Northwest. Here are a few I'm willing to try:
Upper Priest Lake
Though populated by hordes of summer homes and wooden yachts, there is still a lot of natural beauty left in this North Idaho sanctuary. Upper Priest Lake is accessible, not surprisingly, by the Upper Priest River. Getting there is the tough part -- it's a seven-mile one-way hike, or a two-to-three-hour paddle. Either way, you're bound to see moose, bear and all sorts of birds on your way.
Upper Priest itself is nearly four miles of pristine blue waters surrounded by mountains and lush forests. The entire area is owned by the state of Idaho and the U.S. Forest Service, and it has no human development. Though a popular destination for many Inland Northwesterners, the area remains a popular camping area for serious backpackers, too. There are a number of pack-it-in, pack-it-out campgrounds on Upper Priest -- but be prepared to get a spot on a first-come, first-served basis. Check out priestlake.org for details.
Referred to by many as the alternate to Priest Lake, Sullivan Lake is a popular spot for both casual and long-term outdoor adventures. Located near Metaline Falls, the lake never seems to get overcrowded.
Sullivan is a great place to check out the wildlife native to Washington -- from endangered caribou and threatened grizzly bears, to bighorn sheep, mountain goats and gray wolves.
The area is also great for hiking. Hall Mountain provides a relatively easy hike with great views of the lake and plenty of opportunities to see herds of bighorn sheep. For more difficult hikes, strap on your boots and give Grassy Top Mountain or the scenic Crowell Ridge a try.
Riverside State Park
Sure, it's just minutes north of Spokane, but the park is still a recommended campground for campers of all skill levels. It's a great area for quick one-night camping outings or for simple day hikes and family picnics. Riverside has it all: camping, hiking, bird watching and the rushing Little Spokane River.
The area is also blessed with the Indian Painted Rocks -- an area that boasts actual Native American petroglyphs. Access to this area is from 8 am to dusk only, and camping is not allowed.
Field Spring State Park
Located in the Blue Mountains near the southeastern corner of Washington, the 492-acre park has it all for campers of all types. According to local camping buffs, the park would be a great place to overcome, or hone, a fear of the bear and elk that live in the park area.
Regardless, Field Spring offers great places to fish and hike, as well as camping for backwoods-buffs or car campers.
The park boasts an elevation of 4,500 feet atop Puffer Butte, an area that offers a spectacular view of three states and the Grand Ronde River.
Your Own Backyard
This is one of my favorite kinds of camping. Call me a wimp, but it really is fun. For me, getting the car packed up and getting out of town to camp is a little difficult. So why not just pitch a tent in the backyard, or lay out the sleeping bags under the stars? There's always a chance to rush inside if the bugs get to you, or if you need to use actual plumbing. Backyard camping is a great way to try out new gear, and, of course, avoid a run-in with the kind of wildlife that outweighs your car.