Willapa Bay Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the window around high-tide that I can target for safely crossing to Long Island and/or going up the Naselle River?

A: Large areas of Willapa Bay are tideflats, so it is important to consult a tidebook for trip planning. Tides in the south half of the Bay, around Long Island, are approximately one hour later than for coastal beaches. Tidebooks calibrated for Tongue Point, Oregon (near Astoria) are very close to tides in the Bay. The paddling window varies somewhat depending on the height of tide. During low neap tides (a tide of minimum range occurring at the first and the third quarters of the moon), only three hours of high water can be expected. During high spring tides, there will be a 4-5 hour window. In the winter the highest tides tend to be mid-day, while in the summer the highest tides will be during mid-night. Be sure to secure boats so that they do not drift away during the night.

Q: At what tide level does the Bay become unnavigable?

A: The tidal range in the Bay is from an extreme low of -2 feet to an extreme high of +12 feet. When the tide drops to the 5 foot level it is time to head for shore, or risk getting stuck on tideflats far from land.

Q: How far upstream can you kayak on the Naselle River?

A: The distance from the boat ramp at the Willapa Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on Hwy 101 (near the south end of Long Island) to the Naselle River is approximately 3 miles. From the confluence of the Long Island and Naselle channels one can paddle about 6 miles upstream, just past the bridge in the town of Naselle, where the water becomes too shallow for kayaking. There are 7 rivers of varying length draining into Willapa Bay. All offer excellent protected paddling through extensive salt marsh, home to abundant wildlife. These are relatively short coastal rivers that quickly become shallow beyond tidewater. Shorelines are typically steep and muddy, with few take-out points. The best planning strategy is to paddle upstream with the flood current, returning to the launch point on the ebb current. Check the Willapa Bay map and access page for launch options.

Q. Can you recommend the best local source for checking wind/water conditions and forecasts for the Willapa region?

A. The NOAA Columbia River weather buoy offers timely information for this area:
NOAA Buoy Station 46029

Q. Do the 5 designated campsites on Long Island fill up?

A. Long Island is not heavily used by recreational boaters, but certain holiday weekends are predictably busy: Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. There is strict enforcement of camping only in designated sites, and no camp reservation system, so it may be necessary to paddle further to another site if a camp is full. Pinnacle Rock camp near on the southwest corner of the Island is the most popular, and most likely to be full, since it is the nearest to the boat ramp adjacent to the Refuge Headquarters. One mile to the north on the west side is Smoky Hollow camp, offering good tent capacity and a relatively short hike to the popular old growth cedar forest. Another mile north is the Sandspit camp, having space for about 8 tents, and offering the least amount of mosquitoes due to the absence of nearby marshes. On the east side of the Island are Sawlog Slough and Lewis Slough camps, both are popular with bow hunters in the Fall, but not much used by paddlers due to horde of mosquitos and the long hiking distance to the cedar forest.

Q. What’s the best map for me to use? A NOAA chart or something else?

A. The NOAA chart for Willapa Bay is a good source of information since it shows channels and the extensive tidelats. But it is large and difficult to carry in a small boat. Photo-copies of the relevant sections may be an option. The WWTA website provides a map of the Willapa Water Trail, showing launch sites around the Bay. The Willapa National Wildlife Refuge provides an informative brochure with map of Long Island, available from the Headquarters on Hwy 101 (not open on weekends). The brochure may be requested from: Recreation Director, Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, 3888 State Route 101, Ilwaco, WA 98624-9707 Phone: 360-484-3482

Q. Is Long Island the best place for primitive camping?

A. Yes, and one of the few places, too. There are not many camping places around the Bay. Long Island has 5 designated camping areas with fire rings, tables and toilets.

Q. Is the southern part of the Bay the best kayaking place?

A. The south end of the Bay is undoubtedly the most popular paddling area because Long Island offers campsites and the protected old growth cedar forest. But the north end of the Bay and the rivers draining into the Bay provide excellent opportunities for exploration and wildlife viewing.