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Fort Worden was a military base designed to protect Puget Sound. The area is now a state park with year-round camping. The remnants of the military base spread across the property, begging for exploration.

Northwest Weekend: Port Townsend

Visit the charming peninsula for year-round camping, lots of hiking options and a glimpse into the military history of the Northwest | by Jessi Loerch

My life needs more camping. I’ve hiked year-round for many years, but my tent hasn’t gotten a lot of use aside from the summer months. This year, I’ve made it my goal to camp at least once a month.

So, on a recent winter morning, I found myself sitting around a campfire with my family and eating s’mores for breakfast, months earlier than we would normally dream of camping.

I’ve always loved Port Townsend. It’s surrounded by water, the people are friendly, the setting is beautiful. Our inaugural camping trip of 2017 was a simple and lovely trip to this charming little city. We stayed at Fort Worden, which had something to keep each of us entertained. My husband, Jerry, loved crawling around on the old military structures. My 6-year old daughter, Hazel, liked playing on the beach and scrambling on the large rocks around the old base. I liked the winding trails and fantastic bird watching opportunities.

Proximity to the Salish Sea is an important part of the Port Townsend culture. The ferry from the city runs to Coupeville on Whidbey Island.  Photo by Lorna and Darrell Smith.

We also took the chance, while we were in the area, to swing by Fort Flagler on Marrowstone Island. The park looks across the water to Port Townsend. It’s excellent for history buffs, bird watchers or kids who want to play on the beach or the little playground near the beach campground.

Hazel scrambled over the playground while I wandered the beach, watching a number of shorebirds, ducks and even a few bald eagles. I was fascinated to look at the remnants of a huge net that once stretched across the mouth of Port Townsend Bay, protecting the bay from the possibility of hostile submarines or missiles during World War II. Later, while we checked out the higher part of the park, we enjoyed watching the paraglider who was floating above a bluff, taking in what must have been a stunning view.

That evening, rather than cooking dinner in camp, we took advantage of the many restaurants in Port Townsend for a lazy meal at The Old Whiskey Mill. Dining out felt a little like cheating, but I got a lot of buy-in from my family by splurging on dinner in a nice, warm restaurant. When my daughter asked for hot cocoa, the waitress asked if she should put a marshmallow on it. When she came back, it was with a huge cup of cocoa with several toasted marshmallows on top. Those marshmallows made one kid very happy.

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The old military fort, Fort Warden, is an incredible exploration opportunity near Port Townsend. Photo by Brandon Fralic.

That night, we checked out the beach in the dark, then slipped into our tent when it started to sprinkle. I listened to the waves as I fell asleep. In the morning, I woke to the sound of a bald eagle calling somewhere above our tent, followed by many small birds twittering in the bushes.

Hazel dragged us out of the tent earlier than I would have liked. I emerged bleary and slightly cranky. However, when I saw the sunrise lighting up the sky in brilliant pinks and oranges, I forgave her. We made a fire and huddled around it with our morning coffee and cocoa. And we all ate s’mores for breakfast. I think I could get used to this yearround camping thing.


Fort Worden is just north of Port Townsend and has two campgrounds. The lower camp is more exposed but has some protected sites at the back. Both camps have sites for tents or for RVs. The park has heated restrooms and showers. If you don’t feel like sleeping outside, there are a number of historic buildings, small and large, that can be rented. Note: The sites in the lower campground are full utility and are more expensive.

Fort Flagler also has two campgrounds. The beach camp is open year-round; the upper campground opens on May 1. The lower camp has excellent, wide-open views. Most sites are exposed, but a few are tucked toward the back with more protection and would be suitable for tents. The upper camp is good for tents and has a few sites for RVs as well. Fort Flagler also offers historic buildings for rent.

Fort Townsend State Park: Camping is available beginning April 1.

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The lighthouse at Fort Worden. Photo by Brandon Fralic.


Fort Worden State Park: 11 miles of hiking trails, including 2.5 miles of ADA-accessible trails. The park also has more than 2 miles of beachfront. At low tide, you can walk from Fort Worden to Port Townsend on the beach. Trails wind through the forest and around the many historic military structures on the site. The beach and trails offer particularly good bird watching.

Fort Townsend: About 6.5 miles of trails criss-cross the park, some with beautiful water views and some winding through the forest.

Fort Flagler: 2 miles of beach trails and 5 miles of hiking and biking trails. Look for paragliders hanging out high in the sky. A loop hike offers a good sampling of the park.

Note: Bring your binoculars. The bird watching is excellent, and you may see some marine mammals if you are lucky.

Blackcapped Chickadees are one of the many bird species you can spot on a trip to Port Townsend. Photo courtesy of United State Fish and Wildlife Service.


Port Townsend is a short distance from Fort Worden. Consider walking into town or riding a bike. Here are a few places to try:

Sirens: A pub that’s popular with locals and visitors alike. It has great drinks and food and a lovely view of the water. 21 and over.

The Old Whiskey Mill: A family-friendly pub with a varied menu. Try the poutine with truffle béchamel and parmesan cheese.

Better Living Through Coffee: Perfect for coffee lovers. Excellent coffee, cozy atmosphere and a view of the water. (Bonus: You can paddle a kayak up to it.)

Propolis Brewing: Unique beers created using foraged ingredients and wild fermentation. The result is almost more like drinking wine or cider than beer.

Port Townsend Food Co-op: Local groceries.

Chimacum Corner Farmstand: This isn’t in Port Townsend, but it’s well worth a stop on your way. It’s a tiny store that features fruits and vegetables, as well as lots of local food and drink, including some excellent cider. 

This article originally appeared in the Mar+Apr 2017 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.