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Featured Northwest Lifestyles Outdoor Activities Washington

Tacoma Power’s spacious campgrounds

By Dave Helgeson

Editor’s note: The following article is reprinted with permission from the Northwest RVing Blog hosted by MHRV (Manufactured Housing and Recreational Vehicle) Show Association. For information, go to https://northwestrving.com/

Did you know that Tacoma Power operates multiple campgrounds on the lakes behind its hydroelectric dams southwest of Mt. Rainier? The campgrounds are comparable to those operated by Washington State Parks, but not as well known, especially to those new to RVing.

There are four dams operated by Tacoma Power creating four reservoirs. LaGrande Dam and Alder Dam impound the Nisqually River, creating LaGrande Reservoir and Alder Lake. On the Cowlitz River, Mayfield Dam and Mossyrock Dam form Mayfield Lake and Riffe Lake. Due to the steep, rugged terrain that surrounds it, LaGrande Reservoir is not publicly accessible.

Many of the Tacoma Power sites offer hookups.

There are campgrounds at Mayfield Lake, Mossyrock, Alder Lake and Taidnapam parks, offering spacious well-maintained shaded campsites. The sites range from spaces for tents to pull-through spots with full hookups. Sites include fire rings and picnic tables. Group sites are available for family reunions and other gatherings. Neighboring day-use areas include playgrounds, horseshoe pits, volleyball courts, swimming areas, picnic shelters, playfields, boat launches and more. These features by themselves would be enough to attract most RVers, but if you enjoy more than just sitting around the campground, let’s explore what else you can do.

Fish and Wildlife
Tacoma Power hydro projects support major fish and wildlife programs. Tacoma Power owns two fish hatcheries and is working toward restoring salmon and steelhead populations while producing and planting fish for anglers. The publicly owned utility’s acreage contains elk, deer, wood ducks, bats and thousands of other critters that depend on high-quality habitat.

Alder Lake is known for its kokanee fishery. Tacoma Power stocks hundreds of thousands of kokanee each spring to provide sport for visiting fishermen. Other fish caught include rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, perch, catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, and bluegill. Some years the Nisqually River and other Alder Lake tributaries are open for fishing all season long.

The expansive lakes created by the dams lend themselves to all types of boating activities, including water skiing, tubing, windsurfing, sailing, riding personal watercraft and power boating.

Varied Activities
In the vicinity of all the parks are a multitude of geocaches just waiting to be discovered, leading you to other secret locations in the area. Some will lead you on a short hike; others are accessible via bike, and some along the edge of the lakes may require you to boat in. If you plan to travel between the two river systems on Highway 7, there are caches to be found just off the highway as well.

State and national forest lands adjoin several of the parks, offering even more areas for adventurous campers to explore. Trails along the shores and through the forest offer outstanding areas for hiking and mountain biking. For those who want a great workout, try hiking or biking to the bottom of Mossyrock Dam, the state’s tallest dam, and back up to the top!

Bring your binoculars. The tree-lined, fish-packed lakes provide a great habitat for osprey and bald eagles. It’s fun to sit on the shore and watch these magnificent creatures scan the waters searching for their next meal and then extract it with exacting precision. Many other species of birds thrive in the area as well.

Scavenger hunt. Taidnapam Park not only has year-round camping and a day-use area, but it also has a fun, free, family-friendly scavenger hunt featuring a special character: Frank the Fish!

As the “tail” goes, Frank the Fish has many forest friends, but when a storm hit the park, they went missing and we need help finding them – their faces are in the trees around the park! Starting Memorial Day weekend and running through Labor Day weekend, children can stop by the park booth and get a map on which they can mark the locations of Frank’s friends as they find them. All children who finish the scavenger hunt can exchange their map for a small prize.

Frank’s Forest Friends include everything from a grumpy old troll to 11 friendly faces in the trees. The locations change each year, creating a delightful family tradition that can be revisited for years to come.

Tocoma Power Mossyrock Dam.

Dams and Hydro Electric Plants

For those who enjoy history and statistics, the dams will prove to be a great point of interest during your camping stay. Completed in 1968, Mossyrock Dam stands 606 feet from bedrock. It generates enough electricity to power more than 87,000 homes.

Completed in 1963, the Mayfield Dam complex includes a 250-foot high, 850-foot wide, concrete arch and gravity design that impounds Mayfield Lake. Both the Cowlitz and Tilton rivers contribute to the lake. It generates enough electricity to more than 63,000 homes.

Measuring 330 feet high and 1,600 feet wide, Alder Dam was one of the tallest dams in the nation when completed in 1945. Two 25,000-kilowatt turbine generators in the powerhouse produce enough electricity to serve 18,000 homes.

Located two miles downstream from Alder Dam, LaGrande Dam is 217 feet high and 710 feet wide. Completed the same year as Alder Dam, LaGrande Dam provides water to a unique powerhouse built in 1912. The powerhouse was updated in 1945 by adding a 40,000-kilowatt generator to the original four 6,000-kilowatt units. The dam generates enough electricity to power over 27,000 homes.

Camping opportunities are available nearly year-round at Tacoma Power parks.  While popular with other Northwest RVers, you may just find an open campsite when state, county and federal campgrounds in the area are full. Visit Tacoma Power Parks and Recreation website page for complete information.

Dave Helgeson

About the Author: Dave Helgeson, [email protected] Dave Helgeson is the MHRV show director. He and his wife love to travel across the west in their RV. Dave writes about all things RVing but loves to share destinations and boondocking advice.