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Discovery Trail Traverse Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Captain William Clark and decaying sturgeon, Discovery Trail (bobcat)
Beards Hollow view, Discovery Trail (bobcat)
Seaview Creek, Discovery Trail (bobcat)
The gray whale skeleton formerly exhibited on the Discovery Trail, now replaced by a Joshua Blewett sculpture (bobcat)
Skunk-cabbage spathe, Beards Hollow (bobcat)
Route of the Discovery Trail, Ilwaco to Long Beach (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Ilwaco Waterfront TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Clark's Tree
  • Hike Type: In and out or car/bus shuttle
  • Distance: 8.2 miles one way
  • Elevation gain: 280 feet
  • High Point: 175 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No, except near Long Beach


Hike Description

The Long Beach Peninsula’s Discovery Trail is really a linear monument to the arrival of Captain William Clark at the Pacific Coast on November 19th, 1805. Over the years since the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial, most of the trail has been paved save for a short, steep section between North Head Road and Beards Hollow. The coastal part of the pathway winds through low dunes with numerous sandy user trails heading off to the beach. The main paved trail marks the median high tide line and separates state property on the west from private property on the east. A boardwalk between Bolstad Street and Sid Snyder Drive gives a higher view and a chance to do some whale watching. The inland section of the route, running up and over a low hill crest, joins Ilwaco with Beards Hollow and is the least frequented section.

Two shorter hikes can take in very different sections of the Discovery Trail:

1) From the Ilwaco Waterfront Trailhead, hike up into the low hills through secondary coastal forest to reach a viewpoint. Then drop to the wetland at Beards Hollow and hike out past O'Donnell's Island to the beach. This is an in-and-out hike.

2) Do a loop starting at the Seaview Trailhead and heading up the Discovery Trail past numerous points of interest and interpretive signs. End your hike at Clark's Tree and loop back using the beach. This hike takes in the elevated boardwalk section of the trail (You could also do this loop beginning at the Breakers Trailhead).

The official beginning of the trail is on the Ilwaco waterfront at the condor statue, a life-size replica of a monster with 9 ½-foot wingspan shot by one of Clark’s party on the beach. From here, walk west along the waterfront admiring the picturesque harbor. After you reach Howerton Way, follow this road as it curves around to First Street. At First and Main, make a right to inspect the Discovery Garden, with plants used by the local Chinook Indians and a beautiful wall sculpture depicting poems composed by fishermen. After the garden, you'll be walking west on Main Street, which crosses Second Street and then heads steeply up a hill to a trailhead sign next to a private driveway. There is no parking allowed here – to begin the trail from the Ilwaco end, you must park down in the town.

A wide boardwalk snakes along the wooded slope of a hill. Through the trees to your right, you'll see the extensive wetland of Fords Dry Lake. The paved trail undulates along the slope under spruce and hemlock before dropping into a boggy hollow. As you rise steeply up a slope, you'll see a clearcut on your right. The trail reaches North Head Road and crosses it. Take a gravel tread up to a junction. A spur leading right reaches the road and then a viewpoint with interpretive signs and a vista of North Head and the beach. Back past the junction, the path winds around under some large Sitka spruce and then drops steeply to a boardwalk across the wetland at Beards Hollow. An interpretive sign explains that waves once crashed where the boardwalk now bridges stagnant swamp water. At the Beards Hollow Trailhead, go right to resume the trail.

The route now follows an old road bed on a paved trail raised a couple of feet above swamp waters. Skunk-cabbage blooms profusely here in the spring. Beaver activity may be evident in this avenue of alders, willow, and elderberry, and frogs chirp shrilly among the bulrushes. You'll pass around a large rock, once known as O’Donnell’s Island, now stranded amongst the vegetation but a sea stack in Lewis & Clark’s time. Look for small caves at its base. Where the Discovery Trail bends right, walking paths head left to the rocky south end of Long Beach (If you’re doing the trail as an in-and-out, you can head to the beach from this point and return via the paved path). Wander through an open area of dune grass and then cross a creek on a culvert. After entering a low thicket of Sitka spruce, shore pine, willow, alder, and Scots broom, you'll come to the Seaview Trailhead, which has restrooms.

The Discovery Trail heads north in the dunes from here. Eventually, you'll break out of the dune thickets and pass a driftwood sculpture of three dolphins. Past this point, the trail reaches the Sid Snyder Street Trailhead. This is one of several beach access points for cars. A boardwalk begins here, giving a chance for hikers to get elevated views to the beach (The paved trail parallels the boardwalk, first on the west and then on the east). Interpretive signs inform about history and wildlife. A Joshua Blewett sculpture of a pod of gray whales decorates a dune. (This used to be the site of a complete gray whale skeleton, commemorating Clark’s sighting of a whale carcass on the beach. The skeleton was the victim, over the years, of souvenir-collecting vandals.) A willow swamp separates the boardwalk from the western developments of Long Beach. The end of the boardwalk comes at the Bolstad Street Trailhead, where there are restrooms and picnic tables.

The paved trail continues past a statue of Clark and the ten-foot rotting sturgeon he found on the beach. After crossing a footbridge over a creek, you'll pass the Chatauqua Lodge Trailhead. Soon the path comes to Clark's Tree, a sculpture in memory of Clark’s northernmost passage on the beach. The seaward side of the tree replicates the message Clark carved on a similar piece of driftwood. From here, the Discovery Trail curves right to the Breakers Trailhead. You can also walk out to the beach and make a loop.

Those using public transportation (Pacific Transit System) can pick up a bus on the main highway to take them back to Ilwaco (Every 45 min – 1 hour, Monday to Friday; less frequently Saturday; no service on Sundays or major holidays).


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Dogs on leash.
  • Share trail with bicycles.

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Oregon Coast and the Coast Range by William L. Sullivan
  • Washington State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Marge & Ted Mueller
  • Washington Hiking by Scott Leonard
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Megan McMorris

More Links


Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.