Willapa National Wildlife Refuge

We were all really excited to visit the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge near Ilwaco, Washington on our recent vacation. The refuge is made up of units near and along the Long Beach Peninsula. The variety of habitats from old growth forest, to marshes, and open ocean make this refuge a great place for bird watching, hiking, and just enjoying the coast. The Cutthroat Climb at the Headquarters Unit was a huge hit with the Younger Fives. You will definitely want footwear that can get wet during the spring. The Leadbetter Unit at the tip of the Long Beach Peninsula was great for birding along the bay, but the trails to the ocean were all flooded past thigh level. We ended up visiting the refuge on several days and would love to return to do some camping on the island portion of the refuge.

Cutthroat Climb at Headquarters Office

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Leadbetter Unit

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Learning About the Dangers of the Bar – Columbia River Maritime Museum

With our vacation rental house being situated right on the Columbia River we were eager to visit the Columbia River Maritime Museum and learn all about the famous Columbia River Bar and why it is designated as one of the most dangerous ports of entry in the United States. Today’s very rainy weather made it the perfect day to spend our time investigating the exhibits inside and outside of the museum.

While the exhibits were well put together and informative we did find that the organization of the museum was lacking. The exhibits didn’t seem to be organized in any sequential order, so walking from exhibit to exhibit felt disjointed. However, the museum did a great job of providing information about the history of the Columbia River where it meets the Pacific Ocean. From the original Native American tribes, to the earliest explorers, through to today’s busy shipping industry that moves goods up and down the river.

There was a lot of information regarding the booming fishing industry that operated in the area and the large number of canneries that were set up along the shores. However, some of the most fascinating exhibits dealt with why the Columbia River Bar is so dangerous to ships and detailed the large number of shipwrecks that have occurred over the years. We enjoyed learning more about how the pilot boat system works and we were impressed to learn that every large trade vessel going up and down the Columbia River must have a specially trained pilot aboard. One for going through the Columbia River Bar and a separate for traveling the river.

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Although there were a few hands-on exhibits in the museum, the Younger Fives’ favorite part of the museum was getting to tour the Lightship Columbia which was anchored out in the Pacific Ocean about 5 miles from the mouth of the Columbia River for almost 30 years. We were met aboard by a very helpful museum employee who answered all of our questions about how the Coast Guard helps ships navigate through the bar and up the river. We were then able to explore the inside of the ship where the crew would sleep, eat, and relax when not actively working to help ships navigate between the Pacific Ocean and Columbia River.

All in all the Columbia River Maritime Museum was worth the visit. It wasn’t the most interactive museum that we have visited in our travels and the organization was definitely lacking. However, the wealth of information that it provided regarding the dangers of the Columbia River Bar was just what we were looking for.