Reed Island
Reed Island

Camping on Reed Island on the Columbia River

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One of the great aspects of camping is that it is a guarantee of adventure. Camping for me is a never-ending learning experience, and our trip to Reed Island in the Columbia River was full of learning and adventure.

The Washington State Parks agency describes Reed Island as a 510 acre marine park that offers bird watching, boating, beach walking, camping, and a heron rookery. Avid campers like myself are smart enough to interpret this description as “a formidable Columbia River island, overgrown with trees, grass, and brush, which is attainable only by boat and has been known to have mosquitoes the size of herons.” Needless to say, we were going prepared for this one-night excursion by packing our kayaks to their weight limit and making a quick stop for not one but two bags of marshmallows.

My friend Eric, an avid outdoorsman, brought two kayaks and two kids. I brought my trusty sit-on-top kayak and two kids. The first obstacle was the kayak launch from Cottonwood Beach. Actually, the launch itself was pretty easy — getting the kayaks to the beach is a quarter of a mile trek. Eric, of course, owns a kayak dolly so he had to make two trips, but he got to wheel his kayaks. My boys and I decided we didn’t need to wait for the dolly and carried the 60-pound kayak laden with 60 pounds of gear to the launch. We only stopped four times — not bad for a 40-year-old man and an 11-year-old kid. In case you’re keeping track, the 7 year old didn’t help.

Fishing Reed Island
Fishing Reed Island

Launching the kayaks was the usual, “Last one in a kayak has to push off scenario,” and we instantly became pirate captains with an unruly crew of hooligans. Luckily, the passage was a quick 300 yard paddle without any real current or head wind. The landing went off without a hitch as the kids simultaneously leaped from the kayaks, claiming the island for themselves, God, and country.

Reed Island is good for being a great kid-sized island. You can see from shore to shore and know that you’re on an island. Which is great especially if you bring a second pair of dry clothes for the kids, which I did not.

Lesson One: Always bring an extra set of clothes for the boys.

Finding our campsite was easy because there is only two suitable campsites on Reed Island — and we couldn’t find the second one.  Pitching camp was a piece of cake. Eric and I were both quick with the tents in case it rained, and he smartly brought a Hennessy Hammock tent for himself (Note to Self: Bring own Lawson Hammock next time). Eric handled the fishing rods while I marshaled the hooligans into wood gathering and fire starting. As for the fishing, the numerous stumps around the island killed the fishing quickly by eating all our bait in about ten casts. No worries there — fire will entertain boys for hours. Especially if there are marshmallows involved.

Lesson Two: Always bring two bags of marshmallows.

Mercifully, night fell and we retired to our tents. Everything, went really well with the boys falling asleep quickly. By quickly, I mean camping time quickly, which is equivalent to less than a hour. Since the mosquitoes were the size of small bees, the mesh netting actually kept them out of the tent. You really can’t ask for much more than that when camping.

At about 4 a.m. a deer decided to wander around our campsite — an not particularly quietly. I poked my head out of the tent and said “Hey!” in a really harsh whisper. The doe swished its tail at me and went back to grazing. I mumbled, “At least keep the noise down a little.” She ignored me and brazenly tromped around the campsite until sunrise.

Mudding Reed Island
Mudding Reed Island

First thing in the morning, the boys decided to jump in the river and see how far they could dig themselves into the mud along the banks. I laughed it off, thinking, “Camping is dirty adventure.” Breakfast, however, caught us without enough potable water. Even on an island you can run out of water.

Lesson Three: Always bring more water than you think you’ll need, even when camping on an island. Better yet, bring a water filter.

The trip back to the mainland was about the same as the day before.

Island camping complete.

So what does Reed Island really offer? I think the Washington State Parks agency should change their description to: “Reed island is a 510-acre mosquito nest, with stumps that will ruthlessly eat your fishing bait, and home to large and noisy wild animals that are completely unafraid of humans. You can only get there by boat — beware unruly pirate children.”

The most important takeaway, though, is that we camped on an island. I’ll remember this trip every time I drive by, and far into the future, all the kids will remember this trip, too.

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