Free Camping by Hanford Reach National Monument
Vernita Bridge crosses the Columbia River just outside of Hanford Reach National Monument, about 20 miles west of Richland, WA. The land underneath and surrounding the bridge (on the north side of the river), is owned by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife, but is managed by the State of Washington, Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW). Dispersed camping is permitted at Vernita Bridge, as long as you don’t obstruct the boat ramp.
Vernita Bridge, Camping, Mattawa, WA
Dispersed camping close to Tri-Cities, WA can be found on the north side of Vernita Bridge, about 20 miles west of Richland. The bridge crosses the Columbia River just outside of Hanford Reach National Monument. As such, this unique campground and boat launch offers close proximity to the famed nuclear power visitor center, as well as beach-side camping along some of Washington State’s best salmon fishing.
The town of Mattawa lies only 10 miles to the north, and offers a small grocery store and gas station. Otherwise, the City of Richland is located about 25 miles to the east and has all of the modern amenities.
Spring, Summer, and Fall are ideal times to camp at Vernita Bridge. The salmon tend to swim upstream from May to August. So, if you want to camp when its quiet, try getting here outside of that window.
The grounds surrounding Vernita Bridge are not developed by any means. There are access road to various places along the river, but the State has not made any attempts to maintain this area. You can effectively park your RV anywhere, even right in the middle of grasses.
Keep in mind, however, that being this is located next to a body of water, you can expect plenty of gnats, mosquitoes, moths, and mayflies.
You can actually camp directly underneath Vernita Bridge. There’s an access road taking you there. The camp space there is large enough to accommodate any size RV or trailer, though you’ll have to make a 3-point turn to get yourself out. Camping underneath the bridge may subject you to additional road noise, but you’ll gain some really good shade from the mid-day sun.
That’s an important consideration because Summer temperatures at Vernita Bridge can reach 100+ degrees F.
Pros and Cons
Pros: Close proximity to Hanford Reach National Monument, salmon fishing along the riverbank, not crowded
Cons: Far from shopping and dining, lots of bugs, hot temperature in Summer
None. There is gas at the gas station in Mattawa, but no propane there. The closest dump station with potable water is at the rest area on the other side of Vernita Bridge.
Cellphone Signal Strength
Verizon 4G cellphone signal comes in fair at about 2-3 bars.
Insects, Pests, & Wildlife
A fair amount of flying insects and mosquitoes were seen, along with mayflies. Coyotes were heard signing on numerous nights, and we believe they tend to live inside the thick brush and trees along the riverbank. As such, stay close to your dogs when walking them.
Camping at Vernita Bridge requires purchase of a Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife “Discover Pass”. You can purchase this pass in the town of Mattawa at the gas station (the only gas station there). A one-day pass costs $11.50 while an unlimited annual pass costs $35.00. Note: We camped here for two weeks and never saw a WDFW official come by to check on us.
Mostly peaceful. You will see a fair number of trucks towing boats on the weekends, but they tend to be respectful and won’t bother you. You won’t find many campers here. The entire two weeks we stayed here, we found no other RVs, except for an occasional van staying overnight. There are some secluded campsites located underneath the bridge.
Safe or Sketchy?
Seems pretty safe boondocking here. We left our camp to go into Richland numerous times, and never encountered a problem leaving our trailer unattended.
How Crowded Is It?
Not crowded at all. Not many people come here for camping. It’s mostly used by afternoon boaters.
Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife
North Central Region
WDFW North Central Region:
Tel: (509) 754-4624