Washington: Long Beach and SW Washington State Parks
Begin your journey where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Ilwaco, Washington. From there, explore singular state parks, outstanding beach resorts, and communities along Washington’s southwest coastline. This auto tour also loops over to Vancouver, Beacon Rock, and the Columbia River Gorge.
This tour takes you up and around the Long Beach Peninsula on SR 103, then heads up US 101 to the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, South Bend, and Raymond. From Raymond it continues north to Westport, Grays Harbor, and Aberdeen. It then heads east to Elma where it loops down on US 12 to I-5 and Centralia, Chehalis, Kelso, and Longview. You can continue south to Vancouver then east along the river to Beacon Rock State Park and the Columbia River Gorge or head west on the Lewis and Clark Scenic Byway returning to the Long Beach Peninsula.
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This self-guided tour begins at the mouth of the Columbia River at Cape Disappointment State Park, a spectacularly scenic park and a key destination of the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. The 1,882 acre state park features the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Its interactive exhibits, trails, and park ranger programs commemorate the national significance of the linking of America from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
From the interpretive center, enjoy panoramic views of the Pacific, the Columbia River, and the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. Nearby North Head Lighthouse also offers breathtaking views of
the Pacific and the beach extending 20-plus miles north. This state park offers yurts, cabins, unique vacation homes, as well as campsites, and group camp accommodations. You’ll see old growth temperate rain forests, salt water marshes, and coastal tidelands in addition to dramatic viewscapes of the Pacific Ocean and the mouth of the Columbia River. Visitors can launch their boats at Bakers Bay, dig for clams at Benson Beach, and catch salmon and crab off North Jetty. Ride a bike, walk, or run the eight-and-a-half mile Discovery Trail from Ilwaco over the Cape Disappointment headlands to Beards Hollow and through the dunes to Long Beach.
Along the Columbia, explore the Meglar Rest Area (Dismal Nitch) near the Astoria-Megler Bridge where in 1805 the Corps, realizing they could go no further westward in their dugout canoes, moved from Dismal Nitch to the more sheltered summer residence of the Chinook Indians, Lewis and Clark Campsite (Station Camp) near Chinook. Once rested, Clark led a party of men over the Cape Disappointment headlands and up the beach to a mile north of present day Long Beach where they celebrated their arrival at the Pacific Ocean. On November 22, Clark carved his name in a tree and
added,“by land from the U.States in 1804-1805.”
At nearby Fort Columbia Historical State Park you’ll see where coastal guns protected the bay during World War II as well as earlier wars. There are 6,400 feet of scenic freshwater shoreline at this popular historic attraction.
Long Beach Peninsula
This 28-mile long peninsula is one of the Pacific Coast’s most enjoyed vacation destinations. William Clark explored its sandy beaches in 1805. Five state parks including Cape Disappointment, Fort Columbia, Loomis Lake, Pacific Pines, and Leadbetter Point are focal points for a variety of fun and year-round activities.
From the fishing village of Ilwaco you can head north to explore other unique, coastal communities including Seaview and its Victorian-era architecture, festive Long Beach with kite shops, horseback riding, ice cream stands, and more, serene Klipsan Beach, and the peaceful village of Ocean Park, then continue north to the Willapa Bay side of the Peninsula to Nahcotta, Oysterville, and Leadbetter Point State Park for great bird watching. Friendly volunteers at the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Center at the junction of SR 103 and US 101 in Seaview can point out outstanding restaurants, fresh seafood markets, and other points of interest. For more information: www.VisitLongBeachPeninsula.com.
The tour route then heads east and north on US 101 to the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. Walk along the Willapa Interpretive Trail and see Long Island, home to an ancient grove of red cedars.
South Bend is the home of the Pacific County Courthouse, known for its magnificent art glass dome. Raymond, at the mouth of the Willapa River, greets visitors with 200 life-sized steel statues of people and wildlife along US 101 and downtown. The Northwest Carriage Museum is also here. The five-mile Willapa River Trail connects Raymond and South Bend. And the western trailhead of the Willapa Hills State Park Trail begins near South Bend.
North of Raymond, take SR 105 west to Grayland Beach State Park for the beach loop campground trails that lead to grassy dunes, wind-bent shore pines, and the Pacific. Continuing north is Twin Harbors State Park and its classic Washington State Park coastal vacation experience.
Westport is a fishing village home to The Maritime Museum. Explore the Westport Lighthouse at Westport Light State Park.
Continue north on SR 105 around Grays Harbor to the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport in Aberdeen. Step aboard Washington’s tall ships—the Hawaiian Chieftain and the Lady Washington. At Hoquiam you can explore the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge.
Take SR 109 west to Ocean City State Park for a 257-acre camping park with ocean beach, dunes, and shore pine.
This self-guided tour route then goes east from Aberdeen on US 12 to Lake Sylvia State Park, located in a former logging camp above the historic town of Montesano. A large swimming and fishing lake draws families here, and the old logging roads are now bike trails offering a great way to get out and experience nature. Up the road is Elma, gateway to Grays Harbor. Take US 12 south along the Chehalis River to Grand Mound, home of the Great Wolf Lodge and Water Park.
At Grand Mound take I-5 south to Centralia for the Centralia Rollerdome, the Centralia Factory Outlets, and the Historic Downtown District.
At Chehalis you can access the eastern trailhead of the scenic 56-mile Willapa Hills State Park Trail—a gravel trail experience for hikers and joggers. The Chehalis-Centralia Railroad and Museum is also located in Chehalis. Rainbow Falls State Park offers camping in the heart of an old-growth forest and a rainbow-crowned waterfall. The Matilda Jackson State Park Heritage Site, a wonderful day-use park, is also near Chehalis.
Going south on I-5 is Lewis and Clark State Park, offering hiking and horseback riding through a stand of old-growth trees on the historic north spur of the Oregon Trail.
The Mount St. Helens Visitor Center and Seaquest State Park at Silver Lake are less than 10 minutes from I-5. They are great places to learn about the historic Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption. Seaquest State Park connects to the Visitor Center by way of a pedestrian tunnel. Hiking and biking trails abound at the park which also offers camping and overnight accommodations.
To get to Castle Rock, take the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway (SR 504) east to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and the Spirit Lake recreation areas. Castle Rock features an historic downtown with shops, antique stores, and restaurants.
To arrive in Kelso, take SR 4 and the Lewis & Clark Trail Scenic Byway west to the ocean as you parallel the Columbia River to its junction with the Pacific. Along the way you’ll see Longview and its famous Nutty Narrows squirrel bridge, Cathlamet and its art gallery and shops, and picturesque Skamokawa. At Kelso, you can visit the Cowlitz County Museum featuring a Toutle River pioneer cabin and historic Native American artifacts.
You can also take I-5 south from Kelso to Vancouver and the Columbia River Gorge. At Vancouver you will experience Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, headquarters for the British Hudson’s Bay Company. Today, visitors can go parasailing on the Columbia, stroll along the scenic waterfront with its large outdoor sculptures, and promenade on the grounds of historic Fort Vancouver.
Just east of Vancouver is the Columbia River Gorge, one of America’s great natural wonders. East of Vancouver on SR 14 is Camas and its tree-lined downtown accented with 1890s street lamps, bronze sculptures, and boutiques. Continuing east, Washougal is home to the Pendleton Woolen Mills.
Beacon Rock State Park is further east on SR 14. It is one of the most spectacular sites on the Lewis and Clark Trail. The huge rock is actually the core of an ancient volcano. The park offers hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding, interpretive trails and markers, camping, boating, and a trail to the top of Beacon Rock.