Oswald West State Park
Most of Neahkahnie Mountain and the prominent headlands of Cape Falcon are encompassed within the 2,500-acre gem of Oswald West State Park. Whether or not you believe in the stories of lost pirate treasure buried somewhere on the mountain, there is real treasure today for all who venture here in the intangible currency of extraordinary natural beauty.
The state park bears the name of Governor Oswald West, whose farsighted 1913 beach bill was instrumental in protecting Oregon’s virgin shoreline. That same year, Neahkahnie Mountain was the site of another shipwreck in somewhat mysterious circumstances.
Several hiking trails weave through the park, including the 13 miles of the Oregon Coast Trail linking Arch Cape to the north with Manzanita. From the main parking lot on the east side of U.S. 101, a 0.5-mile trail follows Short Sand Creek to Short Sand Beach, a relatively sheltered beach that’s popular with surfers year-round. Rain forests of hemlock, cedar, and gigantic Sitka spruce crowd the secluded boulder-strewn shoreline.
From Short Sand Beach, hike north on the three-mile old growth–lined Cape Falcon Trail to spectacular views.
From the trail to the beach, it’s also possible to turn south and hike to Neahkahnie Mountain, about four miles one way, with some stiff climbing. Shave about 1.3 miles off the hike by starting a mile south of the main Oswald West parking lot, where there’s an access road to the Neahkahnie Mountain Summit Trail on the east side of the highway. It’s not well marked; look for a subdivision on the golf course to the west.
Drive up the gravel road 0.25 miles to the trailhead parking lot and begin a moderately difficult 1.5-mile ascent. Allow about 45 minutes to get to the top. The summit view south to Cape Meares and east to the Nehalem Valley ranks as one of the finest on the coast.
Visitors who remember camping among the old-growth trees at Oswald West should treasure the memory. Because of the instability of the ancient trees, the campground is now closed. Instead, head to Nahelam Bay State Park.
Just south of Manzanita and occupying the entire sandy appendage of Nehalem Spit is scenic, sprawling Nehalem Bay State Park (503/368-5943 for information, 800/452-5687 or www.reserveamerica.com for reservations, year-round, $24 tents or RVs, $36 yurts, $3 day use for noncampers), a favorite with bikers, beachcombers, anglers, horse owners, and pilots (yes, there’s a little airstrip and a fly-in campsite). Sandwiched between the bay and a beautiful four-mile beach stretching from Manzanita to the mouth of the Nehalem River is a vast campground with hot showers.
Sites are a little bit close together with few trees to screen the neighbors; dunes separate campers from the ocean. As big as this park is, it does fill up in summer, so reservations are recommended (particularly July–Aug.). To get there, turn south at Bayshore Junction just before U.S. 101 heads east into the town of Nehalem.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel