Coastal Oregon has a large number of high-quality state parks. There are nearly 80 state parks—19 with campgrounds—easily accessible from U.S. 101 in Oregon. Parks are located at all of the coast’s most beautiful places, making access easy and affordable. Each of these itineraries makes for a great weekend trip, or you could combine them for a weeklong adventure.
A dramatic start to a tour of the coast’s parks begins at the point where the Columbia River enters the Pacific, at the northern edge of the huge Fort Stevens State Park. Miles of bike and hiking trails lead past abandoned gunneries (this was originally a Civil War military station); along the beach, the skeletal remains of the Peter Iredale shipwreck are a focal point. The campground here is the state’s largest—stay here if you want showers and a kid-friendly atmosphere; for more solitude and almost no amenities except for those provided by nature, head south and inland a bit to camp at Saddle Mountain State Natural Area, at the base of a fantastic hiking trail.
Get up early and drive south past Cannon Beach to Oswald West State Park, where trails through an old-growth forest lead to Short Sands Beach, Cape Falcon, and Neahkahnie Mountain. Plan to spend the night a few miles south by the dunes at Nehalem Bay State Park, just a beach walk south of the lovely town of Manzanita.
Head south to Tillamook and pick up the Three Capes Scenic Loop. Take time to explore the parks at Cape Meares (bring the binoculars and look for puffins on the rocks here) and Oceanside. The 2.5-mile Cape Lookout Trail takes you out onto a narrow, steep-sided finger of land jutting into the sea. It’s one of the coast’s most dramatic hikes, and particularly popular during the late-March whale-watching season. South of Cape Lookout, visit Cape Kiwanda to climb up on the bluff and run down the sand dunes.
As you pass through the more developed areas of Lincoln City, Depoe Bay, and Newport, be sure to stop at some of the day-use parks along the way. Boiler Bay, a mile north of Depoe Bay, is a great place to ponder the power of the surf; at Yaquina Head, at the north end of Newport, spend a couple of hours visiting the lighthouse and exploring tidepools. Beachside State Park, a Siuslaw National Forest campground, is between the towns of Waldport and Yachats.
Hike the trails and explore the dramatic rocky beach at Cape Perpetua, then continue south to the Oregon Dunes. Hikes in the dunes can be either random (even disorienting) explorations or can follow more defined routes. The blue-topped posts marking the John Dellenback Trail, about 10 miles south of Reedsport, guide you through a narrow band of coastal evergreen forest and 2.5 miles of 300- to 400-foot-high dunes to the beach.
Here you’ll have your choice between a number of Forest Service campgrounds between Florence and Reedsport, including those at the Waxmyrtle, Carter, and Taylor Dunes Trails, and a couple of state park spots (Tugman and Umpqua Lighthouse) south of Reedsport.
Head to the western edge of the continental United States and pitch your tent at Cape Blanco State Park. Along with the trails around the cape and down to the beach, be sure to visit the historic lighthouse.
Take your time on the trip south from Cape Blanco. The 1,756-foot-high Humbug Mountain is one of the highest mountains rising directly off the Oregon shoreline. A 3-mile trail to its top yields both great views of the coastline and a chance to see wild rhododendrons 20-25 feet high. Rising above the rhodies are bigleaf maple, Port Orford cedar, and Douglas and grand firs.
In the far-south stretch between Gold Beach and Brookings are the many roadside pullouts along the 12-mile Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. Drop in for a walk along the beach, or hike the Oregon Coast Trail between a couple of coves. At the north end of Brookings, Harris Beach State Park is a bustling campground near another lovely beach.
Excerpted from The Sixth Edition of Moon Coastal Oregon.