One of the country’s prime oystering grounds, Willapa Bay is sheltered from the Pacific by the Long Beach Peninsula and fed by the Nasalle, Willapa, and North Fall Rivers. There are very few towns or even villages on this stretch of US-101, which winds past tidal marshes, cattle ranches, and extensively clear-cut forests—which billboards proclaim to be “America’s first industrial tree farm,” giving dates of harvest, planting, and reharvest on a roughly 40-year cycle.
At the northeast corner of Willapa Bay, on the south bank of the Willapa River, stand two towns that jointly embody the natural resource-based history and economy of the Pacific Northwest: Raymond (pop. 2,882) has the lumber mills, while South Bend (pop. 1,637) calls itself the “Oyster Capital of the World.” South Bend’s other claim to fame is its landmark Pacific County Courthouse (Mon.-Fri.), which since 1910 has loomed like a mini Taj Mahal on a hill just east of US-101. Step inside for a look at the 30-foot stained-glass dome above the rotunda, and wander through the lushly landscaped park next door.
If you want to stretch your legs, Raymond and South Bend are linked by the nice Willapa Hills Trail, a walking and cycling path that follows an old railroad right-of-way along the Willapa River, amid some engaging roadside metal sculptures of people canoeing, bird-watching, cycling, fishing, and generally enjoying the great outdoors.