Hate Hiking on Crowded Trails? You’ll Likely Have This Uninhabited Island of Ancient Cedars To Yourself

This solitary trail to 900-year-old cedars is hidden on an uninhabited island only 15 minutes from Astoria.

(Martin Cizmar)

Some people hike to get away from the rest of humanity. There's nothing worse for them than climbing up to a waterfall to discover a gaggle of people posing for selfies, and if there are more than three cars at the trailhead, they start grousing that their pristine woodland is basically a shopping mall.

For them, there will always be the ancient cedars of Long Island, a trail through 8 square miles of uninhabited forestland where you're likely to hike for three hours along well-maintained trails without seeing another soul.

None of the trails around Willapa Bay in Washington's lightly populated far southwestern corner are especially busy to begin with. The boggy estuary has its own understated beauty, but lacks the churning white surf and towering waterfalls that attract the selfie sticks.

Add in the need to make a short paddle, and you've weeded out almost everyone.

Long Island sits off the southern shore of the Willapa Bay, a salt marsh famed for its oysters, clams and birds. According to stories told by native people in the area, the island was a refuge when European disease decimated the native population. But, on the near side, it's only a few hundred yards from from the mainland. It took me less than 10 minutes to paddle each way in a kayak. On one occasion I saw a group of otters bobbing along the route.

The trick is timing. At low tide, the water here recedes to reveal a mud flat—50 feet of slippery, sinking muck that can't be safely or pleasantly navigated by either foot or boat. So you'll need to consult a tide chart, and plan your trip so that you begin and end when the tide in the bay is no lower than 4 feet high.

Depending on the time of year, that gives you a window of about six hours—twice as long as you'll need for this hike. If you're hoping to explore the full island, making your way to the epic clamming flats situated around Pinnacle Rock on the western shore, wait for a day with two daylight high tides; pack food, a shovel and toilet paper; and consider planning to wait out the low tide on the island.

There's a boat ramp at the refuge headquarters and a parking lot at which to leave your car right across the highway. You can see the island's boat ramp—it'll be a flat, shiny white spot to the southwest, about 10 o'clock if you're facing the bay from the mainland ramp.

Once you're across the bay, drag your boat up past the highest water mark and then put your phone on airplane mode, as you'll lose the signal after a few minutes walking up the path and into the trees.

Thanks to the efforts of former congressman Don Bonker (D-WA), this whole island is a national wildlife refuge. Before that it'd been logged by gyppos, who took down many of the massive red cedar trees that once covered this island and much of the coast. One last majestic stand of those cedars survived on the eastern shore of this island, and is the object of your hike. To get to these 900-year-old trees, you'll be following the logging road built to haul away their brothers. It's now soft and mushy, lined with ferns as it passes through the thick underbrush, like something out of a Tolkien novel.

The path is covered in moss and clovers, appearing solid until you step the wrong place and sink. Other than that, you can't go wrong on it—the road is frequently cleared by the forest service and the two turns you take to get to the cedars are very clearly marked.

If it's a wet day, you'll come across huge, pulsating yellow slugs that look like they emerged from radioactive green goo with Splinter and the Turtles. If you're there in the middle of the day, there's an eerie stillness other than the sucking under your shoes and unfamiliar bird calls. In the twilight hours, herds of elk are a frequent sight.

After about 40 minutes of hiking, you'll start to see massive cedar stumps along the trail, slashed down before the logging project was abandoned. About 10 minutes later, you'll see a sign beckoning you off the main road toward the cedar grove. This area is darker, lined with large stumps and heavily shaded by young, thin cedars growing next to them.

After an hour of hiking at a steady clip and without any breaks, you'll arrive at the grove, marked with a large sign dedicating the trail to Rep. Bonker. The trail around the cedars is narrow and winding, never going straight for longer than 20 feet and overgrown with roots. It crosses several small footbridges that traverse the little streams that feed these massive trees. The trail loops back to the sign, bringing you back to the young cedars.

Follow the footprints back to your boat—they're your own.

GO: From Astoria, take U.S Highway 101 north into Washington and drive for about 10 miles until you get to the headquarters of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. The boat launch is across the highway from the parking lot. Paddle southwest to the landing ramp on the island to the west and follow the marked trails to the cedars. There are primitive campsites on the western side of the island for overnight stays.

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Hate Hiking On Crowded Trails? You'll Likely Have This Uninhabited Island of Ancient Cedars To Yourself

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