Forum Index > Trip Reports > Long Island/Don Bonker Cedar Grove – Giant Tree Bushwhacking Adventure
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lcometto
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PostWed Sep 18, 2019 6:45 am 
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Last weekend, I was absolutely thrilled to finally visit and explore the ancient tree groves of Long Island – a place that looks like its something out of a dream. This trip was part of my attempt to document and build a comprehensive guide to the best giant tree forest hikes of western Washington: http://www.lucascometto.com/cascadia-olympic-peninsula. Please check it out!

Long Island, located in the southwest corner of Washington State, contains the greatest concentration of giant western red cedars left in western Washington outside of Olympic National Park. As part of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, the island contains no roads and no road access, helping it preserve its wonderful collection of old-growth. In order to reach it, I rented a kayak and paddled across the Willapa Bay. You can only make this trip during high tide so your entry and exit here are very dependent on the tide chart. After docking the kayak at the southern tip, I made the three-mile hike to Smokey Hollow Campground.

Don Bonker Cedar Grove, Long Island
Don Bonker Cedar Grove, Long Island
Long Island
Long Island

Besides the wildlife and the clamming/oyster harvesting on the beaches, the main Island attraction are the giant trees. The cedars are part of the 274-acre Don Bonker Cedar Grove, situated in the middle section of the island. As they have for nearly 1,000 years, these giants rise as titans in a forest of dense vegetation. A very short loop trail takes hikers into a small section of the Grove, crossing trees in various states of growth and decomposition. Some of the oldest specimens testify to ancient fires that burned through here long ago.

Don Bonker Cedar Grove, Long Island
Don Bonker Cedar Grove, Long Island
Don Bonker Cedar Grove, Long Island
Don Bonker Cedar Grove, Long Island

The largest and most impressive trees, however, are not located near the official trail but rather about 1/4 of a mile south in a stand that clings to a hillside. Two of those are pictured below and estimating by their width, they must be at least 800 years old. These absolutely massive cedars grow off-trail in this region and are among some the absolute largest that I’ve seen. Getting close to them is difficult, however, because it requires intense bushwhacking. Indeed, the vegetation was so thick at points that only bushwhacking a few dozen yards and photographing from the hill’s elevated position was as close as I could get.

Don Bonker Cedar Grove, Long Island
Don Bonker Cedar Grove, Long Island
Don Bonker Cedar Grove, Long Island
Don Bonker Cedar Grove, Long Island

Perhaps the island’s most charming characteristic is the fact that its official trail is completely carpeted by grass. Mile after mile of verdant, green trail greets hikers. This, combined with the fact that many trees here are contorted into strange shapes gives the one the experience of a hiking through a lush “Lost World.” It’s one of the most unique places in Washington and hardly gets mentioned in travel guides, which is a real shame.

Long Island
Long Island

I never made it to the northern part of the Island so I can’t say if the groves farther up are as spectacular but for big tree hunters, the southern section of this island (at least) is definitely a bucket list destination!

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IanB
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PostWed Sep 18, 2019 8:35 am 
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Really cool to see photos and read about this destination!

Thank you for sharing.   up.gif

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Ski
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PostWed Sep 18, 2019 9:31 am 
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up.gif

the cedar grove is the only really big growth on the island - Weyerhauser logged the rest of it over the years. the "trail" (now overgrown with vegetation) is their old roadbed.

there's another small grove of big cedars like that up along 101 just north of Ruby Beach.

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"I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. 
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each."
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Pyrites
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PostWed Sep 18, 2019 10:07 am 
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Nice trip. Did defects of old age save these trees?

Best.
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Ski
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PostWed Sep 18, 2019 11:12 am 
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^ No... they're healthy specimens.
What spared them from the saw is the topography - they're down in something of a gorge where it would have been difficult to yard them out.
If you look at maps - Google Earth and USGS topographical - and read the contour lines - you get a good picture of why that tiny little remnant of old forest was spared while everything around it on island was cut.

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"I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. 
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each."
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lcometto
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PostWed Sep 18, 2019 6:35 pm 
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IanB - glad you like it! It's an incredible place and surely one of the most unique in Washington.

Ski - I appreciate the info on it being the only grove! It's really too bad about all the early logging. And you're right about the topography. The cedars that I mention are larger than the trees right next to the Cedar Trail are on an incline. It's no doubt what spared them.

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raising3hikers
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PostWed Sep 18, 2019 7:14 pm 
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did you happen to see an old, dead cedar with exceptional girth? (maybe 20'+ in diameter)  when my family visited the island several years ago, we were in awe of the old cedars.  nice job doing some more old growth tree finding up.gif

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Eric Eames
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lcometto
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PostWed Sep 18, 2019 7:54 pm 
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Eric - I didn't but I wish I had! Was it near the Grove Trail or somewhere else?

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iron
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PostThu Sep 19, 2019 11:26 am 
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lcometto wrote:
It’s one of the most unique places in Washington and hardly gets mentioned in travel guides, which is a real shame.

perhaps a blessing in disguise.

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man, you go through life, you try to be nice to people, you struggle to resist the urge to punch 'em in the face, and for what?

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lcometto
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PostThu Sep 19, 2019 2:28 pm 
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Iron - very true. Part of the island's appeal is its distance from the hiking mobs.

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Ski
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PostThu Sep 19, 2019 6:55 pm 
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It's quite popular with the kayak crowd, who can access the camping areas around the island rather easily.
The big issue with backpacking/camping on the island is that there's almost a complete lack of available drinking water, unless you know where you can find the tiny little ephemeral rivulets that trickle down into Willapa Bay and you have a good filter (and are okay with drinking water with a lot of tannin in it, like what you'd find up at Ozette.)
The other downside, of course, is that it's a long drive from anywhere, and the nearest motel room is a dive in South Bend (which was cheap, but definitely not five-star accommodations.)

Another point to consider is that that "trail" is actually the old roadbed, and was a pain to walk on 20 years ago. Now that the surrounding forest has grown up and the road surface is covered with 3-4 inches of rotted duff, it's a lot easier to walk on now.
The first time I went there it was still bare, dry, dusty gravel road and those trees lining the road you walked on to get to the grove were tiny saplings only 10-12 feet tall. Brutal.

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"I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. 
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each."
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Doppelganger
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PostMon Sep 23, 2019 2:03 pm 
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Always wondered if there were any structural remnants to be found at the north or south ends of the island, it sounds like the High Point house was razed to the ground in the 50's and there is no trace of it to be found or seen now.

I've also always wondered if Clarke Slough and the terrain to its north ever worked together to preserve any extra stands, there does seem to be some terrain tucked in there that would be supremely challenging to access without roads or trails. Clarke Slough almost bisects the island and the western headlands make beach travel appear less enticing, leaving one to pick and thrash their way overland towards Diamond Point or their chosen Clarke Slough peninsula to commence grove hunting and exploration.
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Cyclopath
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PostTue Sep 24, 2019 5:46 pm 
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I get up in Connecticut, my grandparents lived on Long Island New York.  I was so confused by your trip report. I always look at the photos first before reading the text, and I kept thinking "there's nothing this beautiful on Long Island!"

I especially love the photos of the green road bed.
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lcometto
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PostTue Sep 24, 2019 8:12 pm 
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Cyclopath, I totally understand. I lived in NYC for nine years so when I think Long Island, I still think: the LIRR and the Islanders.

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