PACIFIC COUNTY (South Bend/Long Beach)
This is among the earliest counties in Washington to be carved from a much larger unit; it is also sparsely populated and undeveloped, untouched by major industry apart from fishing, oyster farming, tourism, and what remains of the logging industry. This may be a good thing, as the county wraps around one of the world's largest and purest saltwater estuaries (Willapa Bay), which is the county's most enduring claim to fame. Its rural, natural character may ensure the continued purity of its shallow tidal waters and ocean beaches.
Cranberry Coast/South Beach Area
The lesser known South Beach on the Washington coast is often overlooked for Ocean Shores to the north and Long Beach to the south. It offers 18 miles of sandy beaches stretching from the fishing port of Westport to the historic town of Tokeland jutting out into the north end of Willapa Bay. Along the way, thousands of acres of cranberry bogs started by Finnish farmers 150 years ago give this stretch of the coast a weathered, broken-in feel that makes for great camping Northwest style.
- Grayland Beach State Park (Pacific Co.'s BEST EQUIPPED/BEST CG FOR RVs and BEST CG FOR GROUP CAMPING):
Gray land as far as the eye can see... and this is only the second longest beach in Pacific County.
Overview: This newer, well-designed campground is located 31.8 miles northwest of South Bend in the town of Grayland on 412 acres with 7,449' of Pacific Ocean shoreline, open year round; GPS 46.78889, -124.09167.
Facilities: This park is nicely equipped with bathrooms, showers, flush toilets, running water, picnic tables, fire grills, an amphitheater, good cell phone reception, camp hosts and an RV dump.
Recreation: The beach lends itself to kite flying, beach combing, clamming, crabbing, surfing, and deep sea fishing.
Campsites (120 sites, including 96 with hookups, 4 ADA sites, 16 yurts - some pet friendly, 10 of which are ADA-accessible, reservable): The campground is divided into interconnected loops of 10 sites each (Loop 3 contains 2 yurts), plus two beach strips with small loops, back-in sites, pull-through sites, and 10 of the 12 yurts.
Trip notes: The Pacific County ocean beaches are unique in that they are 100% sand, and seem endless, with few landmarks to give a sense of time or distance. Long Beach has been dubbed “World’s Longest Driving Beach,” and the South Beach (incorporating Tokeland, Grayland and Westport) is close behind. A campanion from Boston was enamored with Grayland, as this beach is diametrically opposed to the rocky Atlantic beaches. This park seems especially inviting for groups, if an entire loop were reserved. The campground itself rivals the best on the Washington coast, with modern facilities and five different paths to an incredible ocean beach. There are no bad sites, and privacy is guaranteed.
Local Attraction: Don’t forget to explore the tiny town of Tokeland, including the historic Tokeland Hotel opened in 1889. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Grayland Beach State Park is a series of interconnected camping loops and yurt spurs on a seemingly endless beach
For more photos of Grayland Beach S.P. click HERE
Willapa Bay Area
Willapa Bay covers over 260 square miles of tidelands, separated from the Pacific Ocean only by the narrow 30-mile Long Beach Peninsula. Early settlers called it Shoalwater Bay, named for its shallow, slow-moving, ever-changing character.
- Bay Center/Willapa Bay KOA (Pacific Co.'s MOST UNIQUELY WASHINGTON CG):
The peninsula and small island town of Bay Center cranes its neck right out into the middle of Willapa Bay, surrounding itself with tidewaters and the briny hint of shellfish.
Overview: Located 14 miles southwest of South Bend and 1 mile southwest of Bay Center on 5 acres with 1000' of saltwater shoreline, open April 7 to November 8; GPS 46.621376, -123.953483
Facilities: Familiar KOA facilities include bathrooms with showers and running water, picnic tables, fire pits, a playground, laundry, Kamp Store, game room, horseshoes, pet area, Wi-Fi, cable TV (limited channels), camp hosts, and an RV dump. There are also personal touches here, from pet hitches fashioned from driftwood to local marine details in the landscaping.
Recreation: Kayaking is extraordinary and unique on the tidal estuaries of the Bone, Palix, and Niawakum Rivers, with its wildlife viewing. These coastal wetland and estuary ecosystems are the highest quality examples remaining of native coastal salt marsh communities in Washington. Softshell clam digging on muddy or sandy beaches where these streams meet the Bay include cockles, bent-noses, butters, and gapers. On the gravelly bayshore itself, clam digging includes the Manila clam.
Campsites (58 sites for tents and RVs up to 65', including 42 with partial or full hookups 20/30/50 amp, 4 cabins, 2 yurts, reservable): Sites run the gamut from poor to good privacy, all surrounded by a tall canopy of conifers and deciduous trees, with lush foliage between some sites. Sites are back-ins and pull-throughs, with some pull-through patio sites available. Pads are typically gravel or natural material.
Trip Notes: When camping on Willapa Bay, keep a few things in mind: this is not Hawaii; this is not the coast of Maine; this is not even the ocean. Rather, this is a primal, evolving, and endless stretch of pristine tidewater that can be glassy and still one moment, and a series of delicate, brackish tidepools and rivulets the next. This is in fact one of the largest and most well-preserved saltwater estuaries in the world. It was the feature story on several episodes of Charles Kurault's television program "Sunday Morning" on CBS. It is an area that lead him and his viewers to look over the primitive landscape and think deeper thoughts about the creation of the cosmos and life itself. But it is not for everyone. Less reflective individuals might better appreciate one of Pacific County's ocean beaches. That having been said, this lovely KOA park is nicely laid out, providing many amenities in a very isolated and unique environment. The service from owners Iris and Ken is exceptional, not based on the awards they have won, but from details ranging from helping people park their RVs to running a well-stocked Kampstore with prices comparable to a regular store. The Park is somehow cozy and rustic without being primitive: showers, laundry room, and sites are all well-maintained, even in inclement weather. You'll feel at home here.
The Bay Center/Willapa Bay KOA rests on one of the largest and most well-preserved saltwater estuaries in the world
For more photos of Bay Center/Willapa Bay KOA click HERE
- Bruceport County Park (Pacific Co.'s BEST BIKE-IN CG):
The sole inhabitants of the once promising town of Bruceport are seagulls and campers. Decades of erosion destroyed the town, but created indescribable camping vistas of one of a kind Willapa Harbor.
Overview: This rolling campground is located 5 miles southwest of South Bend on 42 acres on a bluff overlooking Willapa Bay with limited saltwater shoreline, operated by Pacific Co. Parks at 141' elevation, open mid-May to Labor Day weekend; GPS 46.68615, -123.88775.
Facilities: Ample amenities include bathrooms with showers, running water, picnic tables, fire rings, a covered shelter (reservations required), camp hosts, and an RV dump.
Recreation: The Bay offers oyster harvesting (license required), plus kayaking on the tidal estuaries of the Bone, Palix, and Niawakum Rivers.
Campsites (45 sites for tents or RVs up to 30', including 8 sites with full hookups 30/50 amp, 5 group sites -- A1, A2, A13, A14, A15 -- requiring reservations): Tall "Older Growth" spruces and firs line the campground, with a large rolling grassy pasture in the middle. Pads are on grass or native material. Note that while the signs say "RV Park" this is a better campground for tents or small trailers, as the hookup sites are side-by-side and in full sun (some RV campers may prefer the better-appointed Willapa Bay/Bay Center KOA just south). Several sites have a view of Willapa Harbor. Both fans and critics will point out that each site is unique in size and shape with privacy depending upon occupancy. A short trail leads down to the shoreline. Bicyclers have the advantage here, as the park is just off Highway 101, close to services in South Bend/Raymond, and most sites are first come, first served. It lies 5 miles beyond Willapa Hills Trail S.P., making it a camping destination for bicyclers and hikers coming from as far away as Chehalis.
Trip Notes: The park has a beauty and uniqueness not typical of county parks. Keep in mind that views are of the Harbor, not the more tidal Willapa Bay to the south. While beach viewing is available via a beach trail, beach walking on the muddy shore is limited. It is, however, the best forested campground in the county, where sea and shore sit marvelously on top of one another.
Local Attractions: Visit the historic Pacific County Courthouse in South Bend with its stained glass dome and gardens. The Carriage Museum and metal sculptures along Highway 101 in Raymond are also worth a look-see.
Many sites at Bruceport Park have views of one-of-a-kind Willapa Bay
For more photos of Bruceport County Park click HERE
- Long Island Campgrounds Boat-In (Pacific Co.'s BEST BOAT-IN CGs):
Long Island is the Pacific Coast's largest estuarine island, with a 270-acre stand of old growth timber older than 900 years. You may feel like you're camping in pre-historic times, but civilization is just a paddle away.
Overview: This mist-covered 7-mile-long island is located 30.4 miles south of South Bend and 5 miles northeast of Long Beach within the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge on 5640 acres, open year round; GPS 46.45205 -123.96423.
Facilities: Surprisingly good facilities include fire rings, picnic tables, and access to solar-powered toilets. Trails inside the island complete the grand tour.
Recreation: Kayaking is a given, but so is wildlife viewing for elk, deer, bald eagles, raccoons, porcupines, and their furry friends. Shellfish gathering can turn into a culinary delight, with Manila clams and Willapa oysters at your disposal (state shellfish licensed required).
Campsites (20 campsites in 5 campgrounds, registration is required, no drinking water, FREE of charge): This is uncrowded and little known. It is imperative that campers be aware of the extreme tidal nature of Willapa Bay. Both boating in and boating out must be done at high tide. A 6 foot tide is often required for safe passage. Be sure to bring a tide table, which are available at most Long Beach area stores.
Trip Notes: Once you have camped here, you never stop thinking about coming back. The challenge is that you need more than just a boat. Granted the Island is a ridiculously short passage to the mainland, but the tidal nature of the Bay makes it imperative that you arrive at your campsite right at high tide in order to avoid being stranded. Then again, being stranded sounds better all the time.
Word of Caution: Bow-hunting season is open for 3 weeks in September. At these times, campers must register at the Wildlife Headquarters across Highway 101 from the boat launch. The permit should be attached to your campsite post. Registration is not required at other times.
Local Attractions: Other parts of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge include the amazing Leadbetter S.P. at the tip of the Long Beach Peninsula, where you can hike from the salt water marshes on the Bay side to the 30-mile long ocean beach on the other. As a teenager, I spent many summer weekends walking around the entire park. Another must-see is the Salmon Walk at the Wildlife Refuge Headquarters, where you will likely launch and de-launch your boat. Click here for directions from Olympia.
Ever-evolving Willapa Bay is an endless stretch of pristine tide water one moment, and a series of delicate, brackish tidepools and rivulets the next
For more photos of Long Island Campgrounds Boat-In click HERE
Long Beach Peninsula
At 30 miles long, and as narrow as one mile wide, the Long Beach Peninsula proudly proclaims itself the "World's Longest Beach." With land at a premium, camping is largely restricted to tight RV parks and small groups of cabins -- with tent camping limited to the large State Parks and private camping resorts. But as they've said since the sixties, the beach goes on...
- Cape Disappointment State Park (Pacific Co.'s MOST APPEALING CG TO THE SENSES and MOST EVERYBODY-ORIENTED CG):
This is the land largely reclaimed from the sea at the point where the tumultuous 4-mile wide Columbia River dumps into the normally peaceful Pacific Ocean. Many ships have met their end here, but campers over many decades have been able to face nature head-on, experiencing the sheer beauty and violent nature of land versus ocean and river.
Overview: This iconic campground is located 43.8 miles southwest of South Bend and 3 miles west of Ilwaco on 1882 acres with over 2 miles of ocean and Columbia River shoreline, open year round; GPS 46.29139, -124.07083.
Facilities: Good facilities include bathrooms with showers (4 ADA), picnic tables and fire grills, a Camp Store and restaurant, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center Museum, 2 amphitheaters, a boat ramp, 135' of boat dock, camp hosts, and an RV dump. This park also includes not one, but two lighthouses within the campground: the iconic postcard star 65' North Head Lighthouse perched 194' above the Pacific Ocean, and the older, 53' Cape Disappointment Lighthouse resting 220' above the Columbia River.
Recreation: Both lighthouses are accessible by 8 miles of hiking trails within the park. Trails include the McKenzie Head Interpretive Trail (0.25 miles, the Benson Beach Trail (0.45 miles), the North Head Trail (1.5 miles), the Coastal Forest Loop Trail (1.5 miles), and the extensive Discovery Trail. Beach combing is popular along kid-friendly Waikiki Beach and Benson Beach. Ship watching and salmon fishing are popular off the jetty. Razor clam digging is excellent along the Long Beach Peninsula. An appropriate fishing license is required for both fishing and clamming. Check with the WDFW before setting out.
Campsites (220 sites for tents or RVs up to 45', including 60 with full hookups and 1 with water & electricity 50 amp hookups, 5 ADA sites, 5 H/B sites, 3 cabins & 13 yurts, reservable): Sites are in two general areas. Near the entrance, sites border small Lake O'Neil, but have little foliage, less privacy, and are smaller. Their popularity stems from close proximity to Waikiki Beach, which is popular with families. Sites in the 5 Loops are forested with pine, Douglas fir and spruce, and rest among former sea stacks once surrounded by water. These sites are larger and more private, with good access to 2-mile long Benson Beach.
Trip Notes: I have long since encouraged campers to "experience Washington from the Ground Up." Here, however, campers will experience Washington from the ocean up. Our sites (151-152) were nestled at the base of the highest sea stacks, when the construction of the North Jetty stabilized the shifting sand, adding 600 acres of land to the Park. Camping on former ocean, these rocks towered over us, inviting climbing by our 11-year old camper who magically persuaded me to join him. There is obviously some kind of mojo at work here. My dog Boca and I walked the entire length of Benson Beach, mesmerized by the lighthouses that framed the beach like bookends. Magic, indeed.
Washington History: This campground is part of the greater Lewis and Clark National Historic Park, which continues into NW Oregon. This was the spot where Lewis and Clark first viewed the Pacific Ocean. Later, the area became a major military defense on the Columbia River, as evidenced by nearby Fort Columbia S.P., which was active from 1896 until the end of WWII.
Local attractions: Nearby Fort Columbia S.P. attests to the area's military past, which has been largely obliterated at Cape Disappointment S.P. (formerly Fort Canby). Leadbetter S.P. and Wildlife Refuge at the end of the 30-mile Long Beach Peninsula is second to none for wildlife viewing, with saltwater marsh on the bay side, open ocean on the other, and a major nesting place for many bird species, including the Snowy Plover. The beach town of Long Beach includes arcades, shops, restaurants, and Marsh's Free Museum, featuring the Jake the Alligator Man, a two-headed goat, and the World's Largest Frying Pan.
Waikiki Beach sits just below the precipice that holds Cape Disappointment lighthouse. Parents can watch their children here from a single vantage point.
For more photos of Cape Disappointment S.P. click HERE
Radar Ridge/Naselle Valley Area
The Finnish influence in Pacific Co. is evident from north to south -- and that brings us to the Naselle Valley. Finnish immigrants began sailing up the Naselle River in the 1880s to clear mammoth trees for farms, with trees always "falling, falling, falling." Like the people, the campgrounds are few, but the thick forests above the Valley, where the campgrounds sit, have survived the tenacious swing of Scandinavian axes.
- Snag Lake Campground (Pacific Co.'s BEST RUSTIC and BEST FREE CG):
Radar Ridge, a now defunct Cold War Aircraft Control Warning (AC&W) facilitiy, gives panoramic views of the Naselle River Valley, Willapa Bay, the Long Beach Peninsula, the Pacific Ocean and the Columbia River. But half-way up the hill is the perfect little campground on the perfect little pond in the woods that provides both good fishing and unspoiled camping.
Overview: This tiny campground is located 5 miles west of Naselle, operated by the DNR at 100' elevation, open year round; GPS 46.423762, -123.821788.
Facilities: Minimal amenities include a vault toilet, picnic tables, fire grills, and a boat ramp (single wide). Two fishing platforms allow fishing poles to maneuver the snags, which attract fish seeking food and shade. No drinking water or garbage service is provided.
Recreation: Fishing is popular from April through October (the ponds are stocked) for rainbow trout and cutthroat. Most campers make the short drive up to Radar Ridge to take in panoramic views of SW Washington and NW Oregon. Trails connect Snag Lake to Western Lake, which is also stocked for fishing.
Campsites (8 sites: 2 drive-in and 6 walk-in, no reservations, FREE with Discover Pass): The two drive-in sites are big enough for small self-contained RVs for those who dare taking them up the 4-mile rocky road. The walk-in sites, however, are the star, located in good forest that also has good visibility of the Lake. All sites are well shaded, and most are very private. A low, even breeze seems to keep mosquitoes in check, but come prepared.
Trip Notes: Most reviewers refer to this as "a snag-filled pond in the woods." They nailed it; but watch the faces of the little boys running along the trails with fishing poles, and even the adults roasing their catch over charcoal, and the charm of this place will sink in.
Washington History: Radar Ridge was a fully manned U.S. Air Force facility built to stave off Soviet threats during the Cold War following WWII. It operated from 1950 until 1964, and became the site for radar weapon testing of U.S. aircraft and as well as "war games" for practice in case of enemy attack. It was one of three such sites in Washington. At the summit, satellite and radar equipment are still used for area businesses. At the base, the former officer quarters have been converted into the Naselle Youth Camp, a state juvenile rehabilitation institution. The lakes were later developed by the DNR for local recreation.
Snag Lake Campground sits near Radar Ridge, a one-timeCold War radar weapon testing site. Now it gives the best views of the Naselle River and beyond.
For more photos of Snag Lake C.G. click HERE
OTHER CAMPGROUNDS: There are no Hike-In Campgrounds in Pacific Co. that we can recommend at this time.