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Willapa Loop

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Auto Tour Map of Willapa Loop, by John King

Explore Southwest Washington’s Hills, Rivers, Farms and More

By John King

The name Willapa appears on a variety of features in Southwest Washington, including a range of hills, a river, a bay and a village. It derives from Ah-whil-la-pah, a band of Chinook peoples who lived along the river that now bears their name. Our Willapa Loop Auto Tour explores this corner of the Evergreen State, a well-watered region of rolling green hills, steady-flowing rivers, century-old farms and lumber towns whose bustle depends on the vicissitudes of the forest products industry. Fishing towns are scattered along the Columbia River’s lower reaches and the oyster industry remains important on Willapa Bay. The auto tour begins on Interstate 5 at Centralia and follows a counterclockwise itinerary west to the Pacific Ocean, then south along the coast returning eastward along the Columbia River. Roads are two-laned (except for 41 miles of interstate between Kelso and Centralia) and paved. The route comprises about 230 miles and takes about five hours to complete. Including stops, this route makes a good day trip from Seattle or Portland, Oregon.

Rainfall is plentiful in Southwest Washington, especially in the coastal counties. Snow is relatively rare at these low elevations, although icy roads are a wintertime possibility. The drier summer months from late June through September offer the best weather — morning coastal fog frequently yields to afternoon sunshine.

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