Make a Day of It: Running in and around Ilwaco and Staying at the SALT Hotel & Pub

Run Oregon loves running – that’s no surprise. But we also love the Pacific Northwest and all that it has to offer. Running is a part of us, but it does not fully define us. In our “Make a Day of It” feature, we aim to showcase some great local non-running events and highlight where to run and how to make the most of your experience!

The next installment of this series is the SALT Hotel & Pub and the areas around Ilwaco, Washington.

Location: Ilwaco is a small town located on that little jagged part of Washington state that forms the upper boundary of the mouth of the Columbia River, just north of Fort Stevens State Park in Oregon. It’s about 25 miles from Astoria, 110ish miles from Portland, and 5 miles south of the resort town of Long Beach. Most of the commercial parts of Ilwaco are located on Highway 101, or on Howerton Avenue, which includes the marina and port.

The running: Considering its population base of just over 900, it may be surprising that Ilwaco – plus nearby Long Beach – put on six races in 2017, all from May to July. (Clearly, I should have checked the race calendar before scheduling my visit; I happened to drive up one week too late for one race, and one week too early for another.)

Discovery Trail: Probably the biggest draw for recreational running in the area is the Discovery Trail. Spanning 8.3 miles from one end at the port of Ilwaco to the other end at the northern part of Long Beach, most of the trail is asphalt with a view of the Pacific Ocean. The part that starts from Ilwaco, however, includes generous forest cover and some striking landscape.

It was 90 degrees when I arrived on a late Saturday afternoon, so I really appreciated the pleasant coolness of the forest. The first couple of miles of the trail from Ilwaco have rolling hills, plus occasional bridges. After a long, traffic-clogged drive from Portland, it felt fantastic to get out and enjoy the quiet woods.

Eventually, though, the forest runs out, and it’s the ocean lover’s turn to enjoy the sights:

To put this in context, I took this picture at 6:05 p.m. a few days after the summer solstice. Sunset is well past 9 p.m. this time of the year.

There are occasional mile markers on this trail, but I didn’t start at the beginning at the port, so the mile markers ended up not syncing with my GPS plot.

This is the part of the trail that follows the coast and is paved. I’ve run the northern part of it during an earlier trip to visit Long Beach, and I remember that that part was more crowded with walkers, runners, and cyclists. This southern part was much less jammed. I encountered a few groups of people during my 6 miles (round trip), but most of the time I felt like I had the path to myself.

Except when I had to share with a furry friend. This little guy stayed still long enough for me to switch my smartphone over to camera mode, zoom in as much as possible, and take this picture. When I started running again, though, it scurried away.

At this point, I had already turned around and was heading back, so I was starting to think about dinner at the Pub at the SALT Hotel. While checking in, I’d had a chance to look over the menu, and there were quite a few items that had attracted my attention – more on that below.

Black Lake: Another area that the SALT Hotel owner recommended for running was Black Lake. Located a few long blocks north of the marina and port area and shaped kind of like a reclining chair, this is a 28 acre lake stocked with fish for summer fishing. There’s a trail that almost circumscribes the lake completely; the parts that it does not are paved roadways.

Like the Ilwaco part of the Discovery Trail, the Black Lake Trail is a true trail (not paved), and it’s got a decent amount of rolling hills.

I tackled this trail the next morning, and the combination of hills, its being my fourth day in a row of running, and pollen allergies made it an interesting challenge.

Fortunately, it was nowhere near 90 degrees on Sunday morning. In fact, I woke to overcast clouds and 55 degrees. Woo hoo!

Whereas the Discovery Trail was well-delineated, the Black Lake Trail was more narrow, somewhat overgrown in parts, and sometimes left me wondering if I was still on the trail or just blazing my own way. Two things kept me from worrying: first, I periodically came across signs that I was on the right path. Not necessarily actual signs, although there were some of those too, but signs like a strip of orange cloth tied to a tree branch, or a footbridge, or a wooden bench, or (sadly) pieces of trash.

Second, I generally wasn’t far from seeing the lake from the path.

If you like mountain biking, there’s a steep path for that too.

This is a small lake, which means there’s a lot of standing water, so it’s not free from annoying bugs like mosquitos. I got away without any bug spray, possibly because it was cool that morning, and also because I tend not to be as much of a mosquito magnet as my wife is.

Cape Disappointment: If I’d had time to go on a third run, I would have headed out to Cape Disappointment. That would involve a longer run, part of it on a road, but the lighthouse is pretty awesome to check out. You can drive to a parking lot pretty easily from Ilwaco, or you can run along the beginning of the Discovery Trail and reach a spur where turning right continues on the Discovery Trail, and turning left takes you on the road toward Cape Disappointment.

The accommodations (SALT Hotel)

The SALT Hotel has 21 units (two floors), with queen beds or 4 bunk beds, and at least one room with a king bed. Thanks to the Orr family, who bought the property in 2015, my wife and I were able to spend a complimentary night in the unit with the king size bed.

I think this is technically a motel or inn based on the guideline that hotel rooms open to interior hallways while motel/inn rooms open to exterior walkways. It is priced like a motel, with rooms ranging from $80-145 a night. However, inside it feels much nicer than a standard motel. Let’s start with the bed. It’s hard to tell in the photo I took, but it’s hotel-style bedding, with nice sheets and a foam mattress. This level of quality extends to the bath towels, too: thick, fresh, and soft – and four of them, too, rather than just two!

You know what is annoying about some hotel rooms? Lack of available power outlets, requiring contortions to find them behind beds, desks, or other mostly immovable objects. Well, that was not a problem in this room. There were four double outlets within easy reach in the room. That’s one of the indicators of the attention that the owners put into the remodeling/renovation they undertook in 2015; the room is comfortable and functional. One thing the room could use would be screens on the windows; even on a hot day like the Saturday when we arrived, the ocean breeze was refreshing, but without screens, a mosquito might have gotten in (because my wife got a few bites on the trip, either from being in the room or during our walk).

Coffee is available in the lobby from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and per my wife (the coffee drinker of our household), it was good coffee.

For in-room entertainment, there’s an HDTV with the usual selection of basic cable stations, plus network affiliates. I didn’t really watch TV other than to check out the picture quality (very good), but I did notice that the Portland area Fox affiliate (KPTV) was available. Also, there were three books placed in the room, including All the President’s Men and ‘Tis by Frank McCourt. Because Ilwaco is a small town, and most places seemed to close around 5 p.m., you are pretty much on your own for evening fun. After dinner at the Pub (see below), my wife enjoyed a pleasant walk around the marina/port, and we would have liked to have visited the used bookstore and art galleries, but they were all closed.

Note: if you really feel the need to get out at night, Long Beach is just 5 miles north on Highway 101, and it has plenty of restaurants and taverns that stay open until 10 p.m. or later in the summer, plus a Funland arcade, and an all-purpose ice cream/candy/convenience store Scoopers. Feeling the desire for ice cream, my wife and I did head up to Scoopers that night, and boy, that place was so full of customers it was printing money!

The eating (the Pub)

Another way in which the SALT Hotel elevates itself above the typical motel/inn is the presence of an on-site restaurant, the Pub. It was located literally about 30 feet away from our room, on the second floor. At 7 p.m. on a Saturday night, it was boisterous but not so packed that we had to wait to be seated.

Wow, the food was excellent! (The fish and chips plate came with two pieces, but we had already started to divide things up when I took the picture.) The servings were pretty generous; the salad, clams, and single fish and chips plate was enough for my wife and me to share, and that’s after I ran six miles. There are enough interesting-sounding items on the menu that I could easily imagine eating several meals there on a longer visit.

More about the SALT Hotel & Pub*:

Elemental hospitality, out of the elements.

Salt is an ideal place for your coastal adventure. Simple, modern rooms to rest and relax. Onsite pub, overlooking the Ilwaco harbor, serving local beer and seasonal food.

Minutes from nature in every direction. To the North: 5 min from the Seaview Beach Approach & 7 min from the tourist town of Long Beach. To the South: literally 15 ft from the Port of Ilwaco & mouth of the Columbia River. To the East: 17 min from Fort Columbia State park & 24 min from Astoria. To the West: 2 min to the terminus of the Discovery Coast Trail & 10 min to Cape Disappointment State Park.

*”More About” information taken from the company’s website. We like to let their own stories speak for themselves, because we review companies that have real personality and passion about what they do.

Many thanks to SALT Hotel & Pub for allowing us to check out their property! Please read our transparency page for info on how we do our reviews.

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