Did you know that Tacoma Power operates multiple campgrounds on the lakes behind its hydroelectric dams southwest of Mt. Rainier? I didn’t think so. I have been RVing throughout the State of Washington my whole life and had never stumbled across them in person or print. They must be a secret to most for they were practically empty when we had a chance to visit them in early June. If it were not for joining our friends on a recent camping trip, we might have never discovered them.
There are four dams 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.
There are campgrounds at Mayfield Lake, Mossyrock, Alder Lake and Taidnapam parks, offering spacious well-maintained treed 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 3,500 acres have 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 500,000 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.
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.
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 78,000 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.
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 16,000 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 nearly 25,000 homes.
Tacoma Power offers camping opportunities nearly year-round at Alder Lake, Mossyrock and Taidnapam parks. They are closed only from December 20 to January 1. Mayfield Lake Park is open from April 15 to October 15. For information, visit Tacomapower.com/parks.
Dave Helgeson and his wife, Cheri, promote RV and manufactured home shows in Western Washington. They spend their free time traveling and enjoying the RV lifestyle. Follow his blog, “Adventures in RVing,” at rvlife.com.