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Plan a Vacation Getaway in Scenic Wahkiakum and Pacific Counties

Tour Scenic Southwest Washington

Allow 6 Hours for this Driving Tour From Cathlamet to Chinook, WA... and Back

CLICK HERE for Regional Maps or a Street Map of
Cathlamet, Puget Island, Skamokawa and Wahkiakum County


This Loop Tour follows the Lewis & Clark Trail from Cathlamet to Station Camp, where the Corps reached its objective of arriving at the Pacific Ocean. The route is clearly marked by Federal Lewis & Clark Scenic Byway road signs. You'll be traveling on three highways, including SR4, SR401, and Highway 101.

Begin the Loop Tour on SR4, facing west, at the intersection of SR4 and SR409 in Cathlamet, Washington. Although SR4 runs from east to west, it has lots of twists and turns. So, it might be easier to think of the landmarks on the road in terms of river-side vs. the inland-side. Usually, the mileposts are on the "river-side" of the road.

First Stop: Cathlamet (WA) and Elochoman Slough Marina
Just one-tenth mile from the starting intersection is a river-side scenic overlook, overlooking the Elochoman Slough Marina, the Town of Cathlamet, Puget Island, and the Oregon hills in the distance. The parking area at the scenic overlook is small and on a blind curve. It might be easier and safer to stop here on the way back to Cathlamet, when, in the late afternoon, one of our spectacular sunsets can be seen to good advantage. This photo is the view from the scenic overlook with the Elochoman Marina in the foreground, the Town of Cathlamet behind the Marina, and Puget Island in the distance. The hills on the horizon are in Oregon, across the Columbia River.   Cathlamet Marina  
Stop Two: Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge
for the Columbian White Tailed Deer
Deer Refuge Kiosk Two miles from Cathlamet WA is the entrance to the Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge for the Columbian White Tailed Deer. There is an Information Kiosk on the water side of SR4, where there is plenty of parking and and a viewing area. The Refuge Headquarters is 0.3 miles up Steamboat Slough Road in Skamokawa WA and is easily seen from the highway. Stop in for maps, brochures and birding lists.
white tail deer In the Lewis and Clark Journals, Lewis noted that these deer were a separate species and observed their hip-hoppity gait. The deer live in the bottom lands and are protected as a threatened species. Julia Butler Hansen was the first Congresswoman in Washington State. She lived in Cathlamet and was instrumental in establishing the 4,400 acre Wildlife Refuge.
duck ponds at wildlife refuge Take note of the duck ponds at the Wildlife Refuge. Take the five mile loop through the Wildlife Refuge - it's on the slough side of the Refuge on the dike road. During the summer months, note the purple martin bird-houses in gourds and see the "old man's beard" lichen growing in the trees. After one of our February rains, the winter waterfowl birding is particularly good. Alternatively, there is a small boat launch into Brooks Slough at Milepost 39 on SR4. Parking is limited, with no services, but exploring the Deer Refuge via the waters of the slough is fantastic.
Stop Three: Skamokawa, Washington
The 5 mile drive around the back of the Wildlife Refuge ends in the Town of Skamokawa (Ska'mok away). Almost directly across the intersection is the entrance to the River Life Interpretive Center located in Redmen Hall. The driveway is steep and curving with parking at the top. The Hall is a restored 1896 Queen Anne style schoolhouse. It features a permanent exhibit of the Lewis and Clark stay in this region. Revolving exhibits feature local artists and authors. There is a book store and gift shop. The River Life Interpretative Center sits on a rocky knoll. Skamokawa Valley Road curves around the base of this knoll and passes by the Wakiakum County Fairgrounds. Redmen Hall
Stop Four: Skamokawa Vista Park
Skamokawa Vista Park
Although most of the driftwood is long gone, some impressive examples still exist at Skamokawa Park.
To find the entrance to Skamokawa Vista Park, cross the bridge that spans the mouth of the Skamokawa Creek, then turn toward the river. After passing the driveway to the Methodist Church on your left, you'll see the gate to Vista Park. This full-service campground for RV's and tents is right on the Columbia River. It offers day use facilities, picnic tables, showers, public restrooms, small boat launch facilities, and fantastic views of the Columbia River. This is a wonderful spot for walking along the river beach. Lewis and Clark stopped near here. The river has changed a lot since their visit and dredging has added to the beaches.
Stop Five: Loop Road
About 10.5 miles from Skamokawa WA, at SR4 Milepost 18 is the west access to Loop Road. At this intersection is a small Roadside "Pocket" Park, the W.N. & H. Alta Meserve Memorial Park. Beside the Gray's River, it has picnic tables and a porta potty.

Meserve Memorial Pocket Park
The W.N. & H. Alta Meserve Memorial
"Pocket" Park.
  Woodpecker pecks on tree closeup
This is a closeup from the tree where the woodpecker pecks wood.
Stop Six: Gray's River Covered Bridge
Grays River Covered Bridge
Gray's River Covered Bridge
After visiting Meserve Memorial Park, turn onto Loop Road and visit the Gray's River Covered Bridge. There's a sign on this road that provides information about the Covered Bridge. This Bridge has been restored and you can drive your car over/through it. There are some size and weight limitations for larger vehicles. After crossing the bridge, there is a small parking area with picnic table and a porta potty. This is where you can turn around to return to SR4 to continue this Loop Tour. Loop Road does continue on (you'd be traveling east), providing access to private homes and farms, and eventually intersects with SR4.
Stop Seven: Deep River, Washington
Deep River (WA) is located at SR4 Milepost 11, about 3.7 miles west of Rosburg, WA. This river is noted for being the second shortest river in the U.S. A river is defined as having a source and a mouth, the mouth empties into another body of water, and is bigger than a stream or creek. Deep River is just 1 mile long.
Stop Eight: Naselle, Washington
Naselle Pioneer Lutheran Church
Naselle Pioneer Lutheran Church.
The Town of Naselle WA is located at SR4 Milepost 7. This little community is spread out along the highway. SR4 ends at the intersection with SR401, where there is an information kiosk. The Naselle Pioneer Lutheran Church (see photo), located across from the Bank of the Pacific, is still an active congregation after more than 100 years.
To continue this Loop Tour, return to the intersection of SR4 and SR401, facing west. Turn left onto SR401, toward the town of Ilwaco.
Stop Nine: Knappton
Milepost 3 (on SR401) is the site of the Knappton Cover Heritage Center, the Lower Columbia's "Ellis Island." On the National Register of Historic Places, this fascinating museum is house in the old quarantine hospital - one of 5 remaining buildings left from the US Public Health Quarantine Station era, 1899-1938.

There is also a significant piling field in the 7 acres of tidelands that housed the operations dock building.

The river at Knappton is part of the officially designated Lewis & Clark Canoe Trail, as well. The L& C Expedition canoed through the river there on Nov. 10, 1805 and again later in Nov. on their return trip upriver before crossing over to Oregon.

Also at Knappton: Milepost 4 (on SR401) is the site of the formerly bustling Knappton Lumber Mill. The historic plaque on a rock marks the site and points to the 1,000-plus pilings in the water, where the lumber mill was located. The nearby boat launch is not in very good shape.
Knappton Cove Heritage Center
Knappton Cove Heritage Center
Map and Directions

Pilings at Knappton Mill Site
Pilings at the Knappton Mill Site.
Stop 10: Point Ellice
Astoria Megler Bridge
Astoria - Megler Bridge.
Continue another 8.8 miles to the Megler State Rest Area, Washington State Department of Transportation. The Information Center has pamphlets and brochures, plus there are picnic tables and public restrooms. You'll get a great view of the Megler-Astoria Bridge, which is just another mile away. This is also Point Ellice, where the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery had a difficult time trying to round this point due to the rough waters and churning tides.
SR 401 dead ends at Highway 101 and the entrance to the Megler-Astoria Bridge. Follow the sign toward Ilwaco, unless you'd like to take a detour and cross the 4-mile long bridge to Astoria, OR.
Stop 11: Station Camp
At Milepost 1 on Highway 101 there is a sign with historic information on the water side of the road. It relates the story of the "Columbian River Explorers". Station Camp Kiosk
Station Camp Kiosk.
Stop 12: Milepost 2, Highway 101
St Mary's Catholic Church
St. Mary's Catholic Church.
At Milepost 2 (Hwy 101), on the inland side, is the historic St. Mary's Catholic Church, which marks the site of McGowan, another community that used to thrive along the Columbia River. This Church was built in 1904 and faces the water and storms of the Pacific Ocean. It is maintained in its original condition and has no utilities. Services are held by kerosene lanterns in the summer and on other special occasions. Almost adjacent to St. Mary's Church is the site of the Lewis & Clark Station Camp. Parking and picnic tables are available here along with a detailed interpretive sign.
Stop 13: Fort Columbia State Park
Drive through the tunnel to Milepost 3 (Hwy 101). Fort Columbia State Park is on the water side of the road. Visit the Officer's Houses and World War II military defense embankments. The park celebrates a military site that constituted the harbor defense of the Columbia River from 1896 to 1947. The fort was fully manned and operational through three wars. There are also picnic areas, public restrooms, hiking trails, and a museum.
Stop 14: Chinook
Chinook County Park is between Milepost 3 and 4 (Hwy 101) on the water side. This is a day-use-only park with picnic tables, water, public restrooms, and a small boat launch. (Check the tide tables). The Port of Chinook day-use marina (and bait shop) is also nearby. Just past Chinook County Park, on the inland side of the road, is the Chinook Salmon Hatchery, 1.5 miles up Houchen Street (look for the street sign). Built in 1893, this is the oldest hatchery in Washington state. It has a self guided tour and Learning Center. The Town of Chinook Information Kiosk is at Milepost 4.5. It describes the local history. Look for the Kiosk between the firehouse and the Post Office, where there is parking available.
Stop 15: Willapa Bay
Willapa Bay
Map of Willapa Bay
At Milepost 10 on Hwy 101, turn right onto Alternate 101, heading north toward Raymond and Aberdeen. In another mile or so, there will be a fork in the road, and you'll turn right again, and will actually be traveling east to north-east along Hwy 101.
For the next 30 miles, the road wanders through the back estuary and the mud flats of Willapa Bay (pronounced: Wil'lap pa). The Bay, which will be on the left, is a breeding, hatching, and growing place for a multitude of marine creatures. The scenery along this road is breathtaking.The Headquarters for the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge is at Milepost 24 on Hwy 101. There's parking, an information kiosk, public restrooms, and a boat launch. Again, check the tide tables, especially if you're planning to go canoeing or kayaking.
Stop 16: Heading Back
As you leave the Willapa Bay Refuge Headquarters, continue on Hwy 101, traveling toward Raymond and Aberdeen (due northeast). The intersection of Hwy 101 and SR4 is about 13.7 miles from the Willapa Bay Headquarters. Veer to the right and follow the sign pointing east toward Cathlamet and Longview. As you approach the town of Naselle once again, watch for the resident elk herd. (Be glad that you don't have elk in your back yard!) Elk at Willapa Bay
Stop 17: Home in Cathlamet
Downtown Cathlamet
Cathlamet, a charming Columbia River town.
As you return to Cathlamet, don't forget to watch for the scenic overlook just before the intersection of SR4 and SR409 (Main Street, Cathlamet). It will be on your right this time (on the water side) -- making it easy to just swing off the road and enjoy the view.Then, have dinner in Cathlamet and then stretch your legs with a walk on Puget Island.
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