Kayak Camping with the McBrides

Trail to the Cedar Grove on Long Island 2 miles, limited elevation gain

Pass-none     Difficulty-1/5     Rating-2/5


Ever since we got our kayaks we thought doing a kayak camping trip would be awesome! We wanted our kayak trip to basically be a backpacking trip, but instead of hiking we would paddle in kayaks. It was something that we thought would be really cool, but we weren’t sure when or how we would make it happen. Doing anything in the water with kids is a little nerve racking so we wanted to make sure we were comfortable in the kayaks and we wanted to make sure the kids were comfortable in our kayaks. We also wanted to make sure that where we went we would feel safe going with the kids.  We knew we wanted to do this trip this summer or it may never happen. We were really excited about it!

While we were looking into kayak camping we were also in talks with Chris’ family about doing a backpacking trip with them. There were a few options for backpacking with the McBrides, but then it dawned on us…Instead of backpacking with the McBrides, why don’t we all go on this epic kayak trip with them. Bryan, Brianna, and Michael have been on several backpacking trips (this summer alone they hiked on Mt. Graham, hiked in the Gila Wilderness, and hiking in Colorado) so we thought it might be a fun change of pace for them. Nadine was also going to go with us and we thought this might be a really fun experience for all of us. We talked to them and they were excited about the idea of kayak camping with us!

Since we decided to go on a kayaking trip we needed to figure out kayaks for everyone. Chris and I have two kayaks that fit 4 people total (2 people each). In our two kayaks we knew that we could fit our kids in with us as well. so we could have two adults, and one kid in each kayak, that equals 6 people in the kayaks. We weren’t going to have 6 people, we would have 8 people so we needed at least one more tandem kayak. We talked about renting a kayak for a few days, but that would be a couple hundred dollars a day. Chris was browsing Craig’s List for kayaks and found one just like our other two. I told him that we should just buy it and we could try to sell it later, so we bit the bullet and we bought it! Now we had 3 kayaks and could fit up to 6 adults and room for three little kids in with us! 

Since we had our kayaks we were basically all set for our kayak trip…now we just needed to find a place that would be fun and challenging for the adults, but also where we felt safe enough to take our kids with us. Luckily google is a great tool and I stumbled across this article talking about a guy and his wife that did a kayak trip. The author wrote a piece on it in the Seattle times in  this article. It sounded like it could be the perfect spot for us! I showed it to Chris and he agreed that it looked like a lot of fun! I was still nervous about it, but Chris assured me that if we wanted to kayak camp, this looked like a great option for us. It was settled we were going to kayak to Long Island (WA) in Willapa Bay to The Pinnacle Rock Campground. This campground is the first of three designated camping spots on the island (you can only camp in designated camping spots.) It has picnic tables and an outhouse. There is a SMALL stream running by the outhouse into the ocean, but that is the only fresh water we saw.  If we were really ambitious we could backpack to some of the other campgrounds on the island, or if the pinnacle rock campground was full, we’d have to keep on paddling. We read that these campgrounds were empty most of the year, but there was a chance they could fill up.

What is cool about Willapa Bay and (and also makes it tricky to get to) is that at high tide there is water all over, but at low tide the tide goes out super far and there is just mud flats everywhere.  If you paddle out against the tide it makes for a tough paddle. If you don’t time the tides just right then you will get caught in the mud flats. This also makes for a great place to dig for clams! Chris made sure to plan our departure at just the right time so we could time the tides just right which made for more planning work than our typical backpacking trips,  but this place seemed worth it.

We talked to the McBrides about paddling here, we showed them pictures, and they were up for the challange! Long Island/Willapa Bay was a go!

Willapa Bay is about 3-4 hours away from our house (depending on traffic). Since we had to paddle at high tide we had to leave the house by late morning (if we left too late and we missed the tide we would have to wait to paddle in the middle of the night or wait until the next day.) We knew we needed to stop and eat on the way so we could all have a good meal in our belly’s before we left, but we also knew we needed to not dilly dally. We actually timed it pretty great and we were in the water with time to spare! We loaded our kayaks up with all of our backpacking stuff, we had to make sure that our sleeping bags, and clothes were in waterproof bags, we had to make sure things were packed in the kayak just right to distribute the weight just so (which again made this more challenging than a normal backpacking trip). Once everything was packed in the Kayaks we put the kayaks in the water and cast off. On the way to our campground Chris and Nadine shared a kayak. Bryan, Michael, and Ryan were in a kayak. Brianna, Lillian, and I were in the last kayak. Brianna and I definitely had the best deal in the lot! We got a lighter kayak to make room for a kid, and we had the smallest kid. Ryan and Michael were especially smooshed so we took a small break for Ryan to stretch his legs and we were able to readjust. (After a mini freak out that someone’s legs were falling asleep…Ryan…) After our break we reloaded so Michael and Ryan both had better spots and we were off again. Once Michael had more room the boy kayak was in good shape!

It was a perfect time to readjust. As soon as we were readjusted we got some wind with some waves. We then went around this cape on the island and as soon as we turned the point the waves got huge and the wind was crazy. We were all getting soaked and Chris and Nadine’s kayak was taking on a decent amount of water. The waves would crash into us and they would push us closer and closer to the rocks. We would fight it and if we fought the waves we would get a boat full of water. (This sounds a lot scarier than it was! The water we were paddling was only knee deep and we were close to the campsite so we could have gotten out if we felt it was dangerous. The most dangerous thing about it was getting too cold, because the water was probably in the 50s. We also wanted to make sure the kids were still having fun!) Chris was stressed because he didn’t want people to have a negative experience. Brianna and I were just cracking up the whole time. We were having a blast! It was a lot of fun to try to fight the waves, and also try to get the waves to work for you. We were wet, but we were having a blast!

Almost as soon as it started we saw the campsites and a few minutes later we were in the clear! On the way in the campsite we saw an animal on land scurry into the water. (Our best guess was that it was an otter or a beaver.) We finally pulled into the campsite (about 2 hours after we started) and we were finally able to fully take in the view. It was SO beautiful out!  The sun was shining (for the only time of our trip) and we all had high spirits! We unloaded the kayaks, we walked around to the few different campsites to find the perfect one for our group and we set up camp. (We also changed out of our wet clothes). We walked around on the beach and explored our small section of the island. We were completely alone and it felt great! Later we cooked up dinner and went to bed.

This is one of the better nights sleep I’ve had camping. I brought my kindle so I could read it until I was tired enough to sleep. Lillian and I are bed mates and she kept me warm when I got a bit chilly. It was great!

The next day we had breakfast and we decided we would go on a hike on the island. It was awesome. I guess a long time ago there used to be logging on this island and so the trails we hiked were old, over-grown logging roads. The trails were wide and easy to follow and wound through old growth forests. We were hoping to see some elk or other animals, but sadly our group gave plenty of warning of our approach so we only saw tracks. We hiked to this old growth Cedar Grove. It was really pretty to walk through these old tress and imagine the things that they lived through. We had the whole island to ourselves at this point and we were the only humans around. This hike was a good easy one with no elevation gain. It was about 2.5 miles round trip and everyone did great on it!

We made it back to our campsite and it looked like a different world. The water was gone! It was so crazy to see such a difference in the landscape. We had seen pictures of it and read about it, but to see the water actually gone was crazy! In the distance we could see people walking towards us. We were sad to lose our solitude.  Since there was only mud it was the perfect time to dig for clams. We were all excited to do this, but were all skeptical of eating them. We changed out of our dry clothes and put on our damp clothes that we kayaked in. We walked down to the beach and started walking out to an island. It was crazy to see gravel all the way out to the island just like there was a dirt road to it. Since we were newbies we  were digging in the mud for the clams and we were having no luck. The people we saw walking towards us in the distance were two men. They didn’t time the tide right and their boat was stuck so they walked in to find a campsite and they would go back and get their boat when the tide was higher. They came over to us and told us the secret to finding clams…digging (raking is more accurate) in the gravel. The clams were just in the first 3 inches of gravel. After this trick we hit the clam jackpot!

We cleaned the clams (soaking them in fresh water for about 20 minutes then rinsing them off) so that the dirt inside of the clams would come out and we wouldn’t be eating gravel. Then we simmered them over the fire on a pot we brought in Curry Simmer Sauce from Trader Joes. (We put in the clams in a single layer in the pot, added about an ince of the simmer sauce and cooked them over the fire until they popped open. If there were some that didn’t pop open they were bad and we threw them out.) They were amazing! Nadine is the only one who didn’t like them (and Ryan) but everyone else liked them more than they thought they would. They were so good that Michael and Chris went out and got more. We were also able to get a few oysters to try and they were even better than the clams. (If you go clamming be sure to have a fishing licence with the shell fish options!) Dinner was so good that night and it was definitely a high light of the trip!

That night we decided that we would wake up early and go out on the early morning high tide. We decided to do this instead of the afternoon tide because the morning water seemed to be so much more calm than in the afternoon. Plus food. Brianna and I wanted to eat some good food on the way home! We woke up the next morning and were happy our new neighbors kept their distance and we felt like we still had the island to ourselves. We had breakfast and packed up our camp and loaded our kayaks. This time Chris, Michael and Ryan were kayak buddies and Bryan and Nadine were kayak buddies. Since the water was so calm we were able to fly home. We even tried to keep it slow and enjoy the scenery, but we still made it back in less than an hour (opposed to our 2 ½ hours the day before.) It was so calm and so easy going back! We were all so glad we left earlier in the day for the calm water!

We made it back to the car feeling super accomplished! It was so much fun to go on a kayak camping trip! I highly recommend it and I highly recommend Long Island in Willapa bay!













































































































































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