Willapa Bay and Coastal Detour
Highway 105 to Willapa Bay
Between Hoquiam and Raymond, US-101 cuts inland from the coast, while an alternative route, Hwy-105, loops to the west past miles of cranberry bogs (and occasional wild elk) through the salmon-fishing town of Westport. Once called “The Salmon Capital of the World,” and still a prime place for watching migrating gray whales, Westport is a busy port—and one of Washington’s few good surfing, clam-digging, and surf-kayaking beaches. The whole place comes to life during the Labor Day seafood festival, but any time of the year the best stop is Brady’s Oysters (360/268-0077), at the foot of the Hwy-105 bridge from Aberdeen, where you can buy fresh-shucked bivalves by the half gallon.
At the south edge of the peninsula, absorb more coastal character at the Tokeland Hotel (360/267-7006, from $99), off Hwy-105 on the north shore of Willapa Bay, a truly historic landmark that has been welcoming visitors since the 1880s. Expect old-fashioned lodgings (shared baths), a cozy family-style dining room serving classic dishes (pot roast with mashed potatoes, and such), and unforgettable ambience.
Raymond and South Bend
One of the country’s prime oystering grounds, Willapa Bay is sheltered from the Pacific by the Long Beach Peninsula and fed by the Nasalle, Willapa, and North Fall Rivers. There are very few towns or even villages on this stretch of US-101, which winds past tidal marshes, cattle ranches, and extensively clear-cut forests. Billboards proclaim Willapa Bay to be “America’s first industrial tree farm,” giving dates of harvest, planting, and reharvest on a roughly 40-year cycle.
At the northeast corner of Willapa Bay, on the south bank of the Willapa River, stand two towns that jointly embody the natural resource-based history and economy of the Pacific Northwest: Raymond (pop. 2,920) has the lumber mills, while South Bend (pop. 1,651) calls itself the “Oyster Capital of the World.” South Bend’s other claim to fame is its landmark Pacific County Courthouse (Mon.-Fri.), which since 1910 has loomed like a mini Taj Mahal on a hill just east of US-101. Step inside for a look at the 30-foot stained-glass dome above the rotunda, and wander through the lushly landscaped park next door.
If you want to stretch your legs, Raymond and South Bend are linked by the nice Willapa Hills Trail, a walking and cycling path that follows an old railroad right-of-way along the Willapa River, amid some engaging roadside metal sculptures of people canoeing, bird-watching, cycling, fishing, and generally enjoying the great outdoors.