Fall Creek Trailhead and Campground


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Location:

Fall Creek is in the Capitol State Forest roughly 1 1/2 hours south of Tacoma.  (55 miles from my house.)

Directions:

From I-5:

It can be a bit tricky finding this campground for the first time.  Stay on the main roads and allow time to find it during the day.  Thanksfully, these are all good dirt roads.  Maps of the forest can be found at:

http://www.dnr.wa.gov/dataandmaps/maps/pdf/cap_for_both.pdf

http://www.capitolforest.com/trailmappage.html (Better and in colors)

Note: There is a large turnout at N46 57.635 W123 06.137 that would make for a very good observing spot in its own right.  The turn left is the first major road on the left after this spot. 

Description:

Fall Creek Campground is a small horse camp (8 sites) in the Capitol State Forest and is maintained by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.  It is free to camp here!  However, sites can not be reserved, so it's best to get here early if you want to find a spot.  (This campground is not used as heavily as the ORV campgrounds elsewhere in the forest.)  The campground itself is heavily forested and only one site has any significant view of the sky.  That site is located at N46 56.617 W123 07.677 and offers a decent view of the zenith to -15 degrees through a relatively narrow opening in the trees.  So, Spica was visible just over the tree line, and I could see from Arcturus in the east to just past Regulus in the west.  I had good views of the galaxies in Leo and Virgo from this site. 

The Day Use Site / Trailhead is a large parking lot surrounded by trees that block the view to some extent, however Polaris and the top of Sagittarius are both visible.  The nice thing about this site is that there are no artificial lights anywhere, allowing eyes to become fully dark adapted.  With my 80mm f5 refractor I was able to get both halves of the Veil Nebula in one field, see considerable structure in the Lagoon Nebula, and easily see the Whirlpool Galaxy and its companion.  I really like camping at the campground and observing at this site.  Its not the darkest in the state, but it is very conveniently located and is great for short trips.

Note: There are ORV areas not far from here and they can be noisy sometimes.  (Also, the occasional group goes to party and can be noisy.)  There is also an old rock quarry in the area that is sometimes used for shooting.  The noise can be disconcerting, but the quarry is a 20-30 minute drive away, so there are no safety concerns.

Note 2: Don't be put off by the term "Day Use Site."  This is just an isolated dirt parking lot.  You shouldn't set-up a large campsite with tent, table, firepit, etc.  But, it's perfectly fine to set-up scopes here for the night.

Site Amenities:

The campsites have fire rings, picnic tables, and there are several outhouses in the campground.  There is no electricity or running water.  I get excellent cell phone reception here.  (There is a hill covered with various antennae nearby.)

Photos:

Fall Creek Day Use Area

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fallcreek

Light Pollution Map:

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Last Updated: 1/6/08