Saturday, August 28, 2010

Kayaking on Lake Wynoochee

Lake Wynoochee was the last attraction in Grays Harbor county that I had been wanting to visit. I spotted it on the map and had been thinking about it for three years. What held me back was wondering about the conditions of the roads, which are dirt roads for many miles. This turned out to be no problem at all - at least during summer. The dirt roads were well-maintained without a single pothole. We approached from the west over the Donkey Creek Road near Humptulips, WA, which is paved half of the way. When we reached the lake, I could see that a paving project was underway from the southerly direction towards Montesano, so this lake will be more accessible in future.

There is no development at Lake Wynoochee. You will only find the dam that forms the lake and a fine campground. Not a single building stands along the shore (leaving out the dam) - just forested hills all around. The campground has a nice day use area with picnic tables, a beach, a swimming area with floating platform, and a boat launch. There are no other services here: no food, no gasoline. You must bring everything you need with you.

I thought I would see a view of the Olympic peaks from the lake, but the hills blocked the view. The hills were pretty enough.

After a quick swim and picnic, we launched our kayaks: Austin in the single and James and I in the double. It had been chilly at the coast where we set out, but it was warm this day at the lake. A breeze kept us comfortable.

Austin led the way: across the lake, into a dead end cove we thought might be a river, north up the far shore to a point where we landed for a rest. This turned out to be a primitive campground with a couple families. On the whole lake this day we saw maybe six other boats and at most 12 families. And this is an enormous lake.

We played along the shore for a while. James likes chucking rocks whenever we find any body of water. We watched a tiny frog jumping around the pebbles, and then we noticed that there were dozens of these frogs all around. They must have been newly hatched babies.

We were running late on time, or we might have explored further north. I've read that a river enters the lake at the north end and two miles beyond that is a bowl waterfall - one of the few west of the Cascade mountains. That will give us a goal for next time.

We recrossed the lake with the setting sun in our eyes, found relief at mid lake where the hills blocked the sun, and enjoyed the premature twilight cast by the hills. We watched the sunlight march up the hills on the opposite shore and cast beautiful patterns of shadows and light.

The dam is also worth a quick stop - you reach it just before the campground. From the bridge in front of the dam you can look down on Wynoochee canyon, which must have been a sight when the water flowed freely. Just beyond the bridge is a nice visitor's center with a good view of the dam, photos of its construction, and the best restroom in the area.

Next time we'll come better prepared with more food, water toys, and an earlier start. Perhaps we'll kayak to the end of the lake and hike to the waterfall.

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Bob Kelly