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Coast Weekend Road Trip: Cathlamet and Skamokawa

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Family 2

A family walks along the shore of the Columbia River in Skamokawa Vista Park.

The name “Skamokawa” is a Chinook word meaning “smoke on the water.” In similar nature, “Cathlamet” originates from the Chinook word “calamet,” meaning “stone,” because the town was situated off a rocky river bed.

The two Washington state towns, located about an hour east of the North Coast, are rich in history. Around 1805, the Lewis & Clark Expedition found the two areas, which were home to the Kathlamet and Wahkiakum tribes.

Deer

A deer jumps through a field on Puget Island.

About 100 years later, both Skamokawa and Cathlamet were recognized as official towns in Washington state. Now, the towns are each home to roughly about 500 residents.

Throughout Cathlamet, Skamokawa and surrounding areas, you’re sure to find remnants of the area’s history. You’ll also find outdoor recreation and unique places to visit. While you can fit a lot into a day trip, you’ll likely want to come back again soon, if not stay a night or two.

Where to explore

Both Cathlamet and Skamokawa are situated off the Columbia River, making for a fun combination of on-land and off-land activities.

How you get to the area will determine how you should spend your time. If you take the Wahkiakum County Ferry from Oregon, you’ll start your day at Puget Island, south of Cathlamet. If you drive from the Long Beach, Washington, area (or from western Washington), you might be better off to start your day in Skamokawa.

Once you’re in Skamokawa, stop by Skamokawa Vista Park. The park is full of fun activities to enjoy like lounging at the beach, playing basketball or camping. There also are historical ships available to view outside.

Refuge

A view of the Columbia River from the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-tailed Deer.

Farther east into town, pull off the road by the General Store Hotel. The store is worth a stop on its own but even better, you can stop by Skamokawa Gardens next door, which is home to a lively variety of plants. In this same area, you can rent a kayak from Columbia River Kayak Tours or go hiking in the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the White-tailed Deer. Either activity will be worth your time as you’ll see wildlife and nature.

Another worthwhile feature is the Skamokawa Creamery, where you can buy locally-made goat products (and hopefully see some baby goats from afar).

View from above

A view of Cathlamet and the Columbia River, seen off Washington State Highway 4.

Once you’ve finished up in Skamokawa, Cathlamet is your next stop. Just about everywhere is within walking distance, so you can easily park your car downtown and not get too tired.

Birnie Creek

Birnie Creek is connected to the Columbia River. The creek can be viewed from Strong Park and Waterfront Trail in Cathlamet.

While in town, go for a walk downtown to see an old saloon and historical buildings and monuments. Then, head down to Strong Park and Waterfront Trail, located next to the Wahkiakum County Museum. The park holds historical features, like a ship and train car. You can also walk along the river in the park, which features views of unique boats and wildlife.

Church

An art sculpture, left, and Cathlamet Pioneer Church.

Once you’ve explored Skamokawa and Cathlamet, head over to Puget Island. The island is mostly covered with residential homes and farms but it’s still worth a drive (or bike ride) around the area. While there, you’ll likely get to see white-tailed deer roaming the area (make sure to watch out for any deer that enter the road).

Where to eat

The dining options between the two towns is limited but satisfying. In Skamokawa, check out the Duck Inn. Located off the Columbia River, this timeless restaurant offers breathtaking sights and arguably breathtaking food too — you won’t be disappointed by your portion size. The inn serves traditional American dishes and has a full-service bar to enjoy.

Downtown

Downtown Cathlamet features a handful of shops and eateries, like Finders Keepers and Maria's Place.

In Cathlamet, you have a few more options. If you’re in the mood for pizza, head over to the Pizza Mill, located off 3rd Street. You can also head over to Maria’s Place for Mexican food, BackRoadZ for burgers or River Mile 38 Brewing Co. for drinks.

Where to stay

There are a few places to stay in both towns. In Skamokawa, you can camp at Skamokawa Vista Park or stay in Skamokawa Resort or Twin Gables Inn.

Broken ship

A broken ship, seen from Strong Park and Waterfront Trail.

In downtown Cathlamet, you can reside in Hotel Cathlamet or Bradley House. On Puget Island, you can camp at the South Welcome Slough Campground & Moorage.

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