Willapa Bay

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Report from Ken

N 46 24.77'
W 123 56.40'

Mary, John and myself left Tacoma at the crack of noon for Long Island, Willapa Bay. Because the tide height is such a critical element of any kayak trip in this area, and because the low was scheduled to occur right in the middle of the day, there was no point in getting an early start. (Which didn't seem to bother anybody.)


Lewis Slough, just before sunset

1 of 12

2005 Azimuth Expeditions. All rights reserved

After getting on the water at the boat ramp just across from the island, we traveled counter-clockwise around, staying as close as we could to the lush, green shore. The tide was rising and the mud that characterizes this area was quickly being covered by the incoming seawater, so we were able to get up and into some of the sloughs that dominate the northeastern side of Long Island. Sawlog Slough was our first route-finding adventure, winding our way through the green passages of marsh grasses and reeds toward the campsites that are tucked up into the woods deep in the backwaters. We didn't stop here though; we were headed a little further up.

Lewis Slough is larger than Sawlog, and the intricate waterways are home to a wide array of wildlife. Almost at the tip of the island, at the western edge of Lewis Slough, was where we were planning to spend the night. The Lewis Slough campground consists of 3 heavily grassy campsites, 2 malodorous outhouses and a view across the slough down the top coast of Long Island. We made shore at about 7pm and set up camp before the light faded.

In the morning, we left the camp on foot to walk the trails and old logging roads down-island. Our goal was to make it to a grove of ancient cedars that remain on the island, but with a late start and a pace suited to a Sunday outing, we only got as far as the Sandspit campground, about 4 miles away. In retrospect, we probably could have made the grove, but we needed to time our return to get off the island on the evening's high tide, so we erred on the side of caution.

(The Grove of the Ancient Cedars is a magnificent spot, however. We've been there on other occasions and it's well worth the time it takes to get there. Closest point for kayakers to land and take the hike into the grove is the Smokey Hollow Campground, not too far from Sandspit.)

Along the path, we came across ample bear sign, not just scat in the trail, but areas of significant tree scratching. In one part, there must have been hundreds of small trees that bore the scars of bear claws in their bark. Didn't see any bear though. We did come across a porcupine, quills standing at attention as he trundled off into the forest cover to get away from us. And, at many points along the way, we encountered Rough-skinned newts in the boggy ground at our feet, doing their best to waddle their way from one side of the trail to the other.

Coming out to the beach at Sandspit was like exiting a long green tunnel into daylight. The wide-open space of the bay, with the Long Beach Peninsula lying across the expanse of mud and water felt so big, compared with the trail we'd been hiking for the previous two hours. We shared lunch at the Sandspit campground, enjoyed the view, then got back on the trail for the return trip.

To get back on the water required getting messy. Very messy. We didn't have the time to wait for absolute high tide, so we started our put-in a bit early, about 6:45pm. Carrying our fully-loaded boats across the mudflats to the water proved to be a sporting proposition, and although nobody actually fell, it was a lot like skating day in Hell. When we actually got floating again, and headed back to our starting point, it felt like redemption.

Elk were feeding in the flats as we took our boats out of the water, just ahead of the approaching rain. The trip had been a short one, but still well worth the effort. Long Island is a place of great natural beauty and an outstanding kayaking destination.

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