Long Island is a relatively secluded island in Willapa Bay (pronounced “Will-uh-puh”) in the southwest corner of Washington State. It has several free first-come first-served campgrounds, and some trails traversing much of the island.
It tends to be less visited than other places because it is only reachable by shallow draft boat (like a kayak or canoe); access requires careful consideration of the tides as the bay becomes massive mudflats at low tide; the mosquitos can be fierce; and there are bear and cougar on the island. There are also herds of elk, and lots of newts on the interior trails. Hunting is allowed (in the Fall only?).
As much of the bay is mudflats at lower tides, it’s very important to plan with the tides.
Per the FAQ, the window for traversing the bay can range from about 3 hours to 5 hours, depending on the tides.
The closest place to launch is from the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge boat launch across from the southeast corner of the island. The boat launch is free and overnight parking is allowed. (The bathrooms at the parking lot have never been unlocked when I’ve been there.)
I have not visited it, but there is another boat launch at Nahcotta Boat Basin on the Long Beach peninsula. This requires a more open crossing, but this would give a different perspective, and would be modestly closer to the Sand Spit Campground.
There are five campgrounds. All require approximately 6′ tides to access. (At lower tides, you’ll be dragging your boat across mud flats — possibly a long distance, and the mud flats can be dangerous.)
All the campgrounds have toilets, and each campsite has a fire ring and a picnic table (in various states of repair). Trail and campground map.
- Pinnacle Rock Campground on the southwest corner is the closest to the boat launch (around 2 miles) and thus the most heavily used. The northern three campsites (which are uphill from the campground sign) are separated from the bathroom by a small stream, which makes for a delicate trip to the bathroom, especially at night. The other two are just a bit south of the bathroom. I camped up on the bluff at the end of April, 2022; it was fairly rainy and windy, and we didn’t have a problem with mosquitos. Easy to walk north along the beach, or to take the trail to the interior of the island.
- Smoky Hollow Campground is the next one up the west side of the island (around 3.5 miles from the boat launch), and the one with the most mosquitos, possibly because of a neighboring swamp. The one time I camped here in July of 2021 and it was just overtaken by mosquitos. Easy to walk north or south along the beach, or to take the trail to the interior of the island.
- Sand Spit Campground is the third and final campground on the west side (about 4.5 miles from the boat launch). I camped here in April of 2022; it was rainy and windy and we had no problem with mosquitos. Easy to walk north along the beach to explore the spit, or to walk south along the beach. You can also take the trail (north of the campsites) to the interior of the island, but be aware that the entrance to the trail is rather overgrown and marshy. Once you get a bit higher, things are better.
- Sawlog Campground is on the east side (and 3 or 3.5 miles from the boat launch). I hiked to this one (from Smoky Hollow) in July of 2021; it has some nice campsites, but it was swarming with mosquitos, and the coastline is not walkable around here. Reportedly this campground is mostly used by hunters during the hunting season.
- Lewis Campground is the final campground (around 5 or 5.5 miles from the boat launch), also on the east side, and is the most northern campground. I have not visited this one; there is no trail to it that I’m aware of (no official trail, at least), and it too is reportedly mostly used by hunters during hunting season.
- The Willapa National Wildlife Refuge site has useful information about camping and hiking on Long Island/
- WWTA FAQ on Willapa Bay
- Seattle Times article (from 2016) on kayak camping on Long Island
- Trip report by Alex Sidles (from 2021) on kayak camping on Long Island from 2021
- Willapa Harbor organization with some resources about the area