Willapa Bay - Nahcotta to Long Island
Willapa Bay is also known as "Shoalwater Bay" on some old maritime charts and lies north of Astoria, Oregon and south of Westport, Washington. The bay is a tidal estuary and was originally settled in part due to its abundance of oysters. That industry has waxed and waned over the past 150 years but there are still oyster fishermen working the bay and you can buy fresh oysters at, where else?, Oysterville at the far northern end of the Long Beach peninsula.
Nahcotta, WA is a small retirement community adjacent to Ocean Park and was once a stop on the railroad that ran between Ilwaco, WA and Oysterville 100 years ago. The station still exists on Sand Ridge Road south of the marina. Launch at the marina's launch ramp or beach ($5 fee).
Because Willapa Bay is tidal, and because it is shallow, paddlers need to be aware of the tides and currents. Check the Internet or your tide tables. Vast areas of this bay are exposed at low tide and boaters have been stranded for hours waiting for the water to return. It is not advisable to attempt to walk due to quicksand.
The stretch of water between Nahcotta and the northern tip of Long Island is swept by currents running generally north and south with the ebb and flood of the tides. As always, opposing current and wind can create a nasty set of steep waves. Use caution and dress for the water temperature (usually 50F) not the air temperature.
Paddle east from the launch ramp past the oyster dredges unloading at the pier and dodge the pole markers outlining the limits of various oyster beds (marked as "oyster racks" on chart 18504). Long Island's northern tip lies only 1.8nm away on a heading of 080magnetic. There are tiny beaches on Long Island for a snack break and even a camping beach some 2-1/2nm south on the western shore.
There is an historical copse of ancient cedar trees at Smoky Hollow (marked on chart #18504) within walking distance of the beach on Long Island south of the camping beach. Watch out for low tide!
You can paddle to the southern end of Long Island where a narrow channel separates the island from US Highway 101 and a wildlife area with parking and launching ramps. You can arrange to have someone pick you and your gear up here. Or you can launch here and return if you wish or if the winds are brisk
On a day trip be sure to keep your eye on the tides and winds. Willapa Bay is very shallow and at low tides there are precious few navigable channels; even by kayak. This area was settled by Europeans as early as the 18th Century and eventually displaced the native Chinook tribe of native Americans. The Chinooks have been trying to reinstate their tribal status for the past 40 years.
A plethora of camping, motel, hotel, and B&Bs lie along the road between Ocean Park and Long Beach (west of the Peninsula Highway).
There are bathrooms and parking at the Nahcotta Marina and restaurants nearby.
No facilities whatsoever at Long Island.
Bathroom facilities and parking at the Wildlife Refuge along 101.
Major Washington State Park at Ilwaco (Fort Canby).
Oysters and a fascinating cemetery in Oysterville which was the county seat until the residents of Raymond, WA rowed across the bay and stole the county documents.
This is a major tourist area so nothing is free except you can drive your car on the beach between Ocean Park and Long Beach. Reservations recommended at Cape Disappointment State Park. $5 launch fee at the marina.
From Astoria, Oregon drive north on US101 to Alternate 101 near Ilwaco. Turn left 1/4 mile later (at the stop sign) and drive west to the flashing light marking the intersection of 101 and Sandridge Road (also known as the Peninsula Highway). Drive north about 11 miles to the Nahcotta Marina.
NOAA marine chart #18504, Willapa Bay.
Atlas and Gazetter for Washington State (detailed maps of roads and towns)