Get away to picturesque Cathlamet
Editor's Note: Patti McCoy, a member of the West Linn Adult Community Center, shares information about a weekend getaway she took to Cathlamet, Wash. Enjoy her recount of the excursion as this week's entry from the WLACC.
Nestled on the northern banks of the mighty Columbia River and ascending the hillside between Longview and Astoria is the charming turn-of-the-century village of Cathlamet, Wash. A two-hour drive from West Linn, this picturesque little town — population 532 — is the second-oldest in Washington state and something of a time-honored gem.
Cathlamet is named for the Chinookan word "kalamet," meaning stone, as this tribe lived along the rocky river shore. Cathlamet's first documented sighting by a foreign explorer came in 1792 by Lt. William R. Broughton, an officer of Capt. George Vancouver's fleet.
By 1805, Lewis and Clark would lead their Corps of Discovery into this area. Captain William Clark wrote about trading here with two Native American tribes, the Kath-la'met and the Wah-kia-kum. Upon seeing the ornately carved tribal canoes, Clark wrote, "One of those Canoes is large, and ornamented with Images on the bow & Stern. That in the Bow the likeness of a Bear, and in Stern the picture of a man."
He was immensely impressed with how well people from a Kath-la'met village piloted their canoes across the choppy Columbia. "The Indians left us and Crossed the River, which is about 5 miles wide through the highest Sees I ever Saw a Small vestle ride," Clark wrote. "Certain it is they are the best canoe navagators I ever Saw."
Forty years later, Scottish immigrant James Birnie retired from the Hudson's Bay Company. Moving to this lower Columbia area with his wife Charlotte and 10 children, he founded a trading post called Birnie's Retreat in 1846. His establishment launched what we know today as Cathlamet, a community that would be accessible only by water into the early 1900s.
Whether for a daytrip or a longer stay, Cathlamet offers a self-guided historic city walking tour, biking, hiking, birding, shopping, canoeing, kayaking, camping, marina facilities, the Wahkiakum County Historical Museum, the Strong Park Trail Loop, the famous 1890s Pioneer Church, a seasonal farmers market and a host of festivals and special events.
Late November signals the start of the holiday season with the Holiday Bazaar and the Christmas Lighting Festival. February brings the Crab & Oyster Feed on Puget Island, a short bridge crossing away from Cathlamet. Cathlamet's tranquil Elochoman Slough Marina is home each spring to the Hook the Hawg Spring Salmon Derby and the fascinating Wooden Boat Show each summer.
May offers visitors a nearby Cinco de Mayo party and the Mother's Day Car Show & Tea, as well as the Great White Tail Run (10K, 5K, or 2 mile walk/run) through the beautiful Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge. In July, visitors will enjoy the annual weekend festival Bald Eagle Days, filled with a parade, fireworks, train rides, sidewalk art contest, live music and arts and craft vendors.
Another fun destination during a trip to Cathlamet is a visit to Puget Island, a 7.5-square-mile island in the Columbia River across from Cathlamet. The Julia Butler Hansen Bridge connects Cathlamet and Puget Island, and Wahkiakum County Ferry operates the last ferry on the lower Columbia River, carrying vehicles across to Westport on the Oregon side of the Columbia.
Visitors to Cathlamet can sip and nibble their way around town with stops at Vanwinkle Espresso, River Mile 38 Brewing Co., PJ's Café & Breakfast, Maria's Mexican Place or Sharon's Pizza Mill. And picturesque Cathlamet offers several lodging options, from a hotel and some bed-and-breakfast establishments to camping and RV parks.
The historic Hotel Cathlamet, built in 1926 and remodeled in 2010, is a classic example of an old-town Main Street hotel. Just blocks from the Columbia River, the hotel offers 17 rooms. Elochoman Slough Cabins also offer lodging in town. The Villa at Little Cape Horn, a bed and breakfast not far from Cathlamet, affords panoramic views of the Columbia River and frequent wildlife sightings. And birders have found pleasant refuge at Rog's Retreat at Stockhouse Farm, a cottage on Puget Island.
Visitors choosing to make the journey to Cathlamet will be amply rewarded with its rich history, diverse activities and helpful residents, as well as good food and lodging.
Join friends for lunch at the West Linn Adult Community Center this week. The menu features chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, carrots and peach cobbler on Friday, Dec. 1; hamburgers, potato salad and broccoli with ice cream cookie bars on Monday, Dec. 4; and birthday brunch with sausage-and-egg sandwiches, hash browns, bacon and fruit salad on Wednesday, Dec. 6. Cost is $5 per person.
The WLACC is located at 1180 Rosemont Road. Call 503-557-4704 for more information.
Patti McCoy is a member of the Friends of the West Linn Adult Community Center and a volunteer in The Little Shop on Rosemont, located inside the center. A boater and traveler, she has resided in West Linn for 31 years.