NW Trails: Long Beach Peninsula’s Discovery Trail

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December 30, 2016

Honoring Lt. William Clark’s Historic Hike

Story and Photos by Craig Romano

Photo at right: Hand-carved by Seaview artist, Josh Blewett, the gray whale and calf commemorates the three whales the Lewis and Clark Expedition documented on their arrival to the Pacific Ocean.

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Explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark spent three wet, miserable November weeks in 1805 at the mouth of the Columbia River, exploring Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula before setting up camp on the Oregon side for more weeks of soggy misery.

Modern day Long Beach Peninsula, however, is now a favored hiking, biking, kiting and running destination for many intrepid explorers.

Situated on the longest contiguous stretch of beach in Washington state, the Peninsula is a 28-mile sandy strand capped by two Washington State Parks — Cape Disappointment to the south and Loomis Lake to the north.

It also borders Willapa Bay, the largest undeveloped estuary on the West Coast with 260 square miles of water surface. Along the southern end of the Peninsula is Long Beach, a quaint, walkable seaside resort with late 20th century charm.

When Lewis and Clark and the U.S. Army Corps of Discovery Expedition arrived at Cape Disappointment on the northern banks of the Columbia River and set up a temporary camp on Nov. 15, Lewis immediately set out with a handful of Army Corps members to scout out a possible site to build a winter camp.

Once Lewis and his men returned, Clark and a few members of the U.S. Army’s Corps set out on Nov. 19 to explore the land north of the cape.

Two bronze sculptures show Clark finding a sturgeon that had been stranded by the tide. Sculptures created by Jim Demetro from Battle Ground, Washington.

The Discovery Trail, an 8.2-mile mostly-paved pathway, replicates the walk that Clark and his men took up the south end of the Long Beach Peninsula. Along much of the trail are historic displays including magnificent bronze sculptures commemorating this historic hike.

You can access the Discovery Trail from 10 different trailheads, including the Bolstad Arch, a man-made arch acknowledging the northern end of the Peninsula on Bolstad Street in Long Beach.

Ilwaco

The south end of the trail begins in the small fishing town of Ilwaco on Baker Bay at the mouth of the Columbia River. From there it takes off for a coastal journey north ending at the Breakers — a neighborhood of condominiums north of the town of Long Beach. There are a couple of side trails too, if you want to extend your mileage.

Start your adventure at the condor monument on the Ilwaco waterfront. California condors — North America’s largest land bird — once ranged this far north and Lewis and Clark recorded seeing several of them.

Walk west along the street known as Waterfront Way past shops and businesses to First Avenue, then turn left onto Main Street. Cross Second Avenue and continue west on a steep paved drive to an actual trailhead (there is no parking here). Now on a paved path, begin a generally uphill route skirting the extensive wetlands of Fords Dry Lake. Watch for newts on the trail —they’re prolific here.

Cape Disappointment

The trail eventually crests a bluff and then crosses North Head Road (State Route 100) and enters the 1,882-acre Cape Disappointment State Park.

Start descending through salt-sprayed groves of old-growth Sitka spruce. The trail then traverses a high bluff before dropping down to Beard’s Hollow Trailhead, which was once a cove and is now a thriving wetland.

Here you can branch off on a newly paved trail to the historic North Beach Lighthouse on the edge of the headland and explore the lighthouse and other trails in the state park—or continue on the Discovery Trail rounding the headland and reaching the coast.

The path heads north through mounds of sand with views of ocean waves across grassy rolling fields. Cross Beards Hollow’s outlet creek on a bridge and continue hiking across dunes and through colonizing forest and patches of
Scotch broom.

Bones from a beached whale were cleaned and preserved by the City of Long Beach in early 2000s and reassembled to replicate the whale skeleton found by Clark.

Long Beach

Pass a couple of spur trails leading to trailheads in the Victorian seaport of Seaview, a mile south of Long Beach. Slow your pace as you come to several interpretive panels and a dolphin sculpture. After you reach the busy Sid Snyder Drive Trailhead, the trail parallels Long Beach’s elevated boardwalk which is worth doubling back to explore.

The Discovery Trail soon comes to its most famous and intriguing features. First, reach a gray whale skeleton and sculpture. Then after darting under the boardwalk and passing the Bolstad Arch Trailhead, come to bronze sculptures of Clark overlooking a 10-foot long sturgeon; and finally a 20-foot tall basalt monolith — all commemorating Clark’s hike.

From here the trail continues north over dunes, leaving the crowds behind. Beyond the Chautauqua Trailhead you’ll reach a 19-foot bronze sculpture replicating “Clark’s Tree,” where the lieutenant inscribed “William Clark. Nov. 19, 1805. By land from the U. States.” It was at this point he returned to his camp on the Columbia River.

The Discovery Trail continues a little farther, turning east to leave the dunes and soon reaching its northern terminus at 8.2 miles at the Breakers Trailhead at 26th Street NW. Now retreat to your camp — or a cozy lodge for the evening!

Getting You on Your Way

Discovery Trail Trip Details

Distance: 8.2 miles one way with 200 feet of vertical elevation

Trailhead Directions:

Southern Trailhead in Ilwaco: Trail begins at the Waterfront Walkway between Advent and Pearl avenues

Northern Trailhead in Long Beach: From the junction of US 101 and SR 103 in Seaview, drive north for 2.9 miles on SR 103, then turn left onto 26th Street to trailhead parking at the Breakers, an established condominium division.

Notes: Maps available online at www.funbeach.com; Dogs must be leashed; trail open to bicycles; both Loomis Lake State Park and Beards Hollow Trailhead at Cape Disappointment State Park require a Discover Pass.

Contacts: Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau — www.funbeach.com

Read more information about Long Beach Peninsula: www.outdoorsnw.com/2012/escapes-long-beach-wash

Craig Romano is the Trails Editor of OutdoorsNW and is the author and co-author of 16 Northwest hiking guidebooks including the newly released Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula Second Edition (The Mountaineers Books), which includes detailed information on this hike and many more on the Long Beach Peninsula and throughout the Olympic Peninsula.

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