June 19 – July 10
We finished up our time on the Oregon Coast with a long stay at Fort Stevens State Park on the far northern tip of the state, followed by a return to Cape Lookout State Park a few hours to the south. Cape Lookout was a last-minute addition. When a site came up for 11 days in the full hook-ups section that included the busy 4th of July weekend, we couldn’t pass it up.
The time we spent at Fort Stevens State Park was a mixed bag. On one hand, the beach there is awesome, as are the miles of paved bike trails, and the nearby town of Astoria. On the other hand, staying at a park of this size during peak season was probably not the best decision on our part. In short, it was busy, noisy, constantly chaotic, and not a good fit for our non-vacationing, non-retired, full-time RVing lifestyle.
Honestly, none of this came as a huge surprise to us. We’ve been doing this for a long time and are not naive to the downfalls of campground life. However, after taking a few years off from summer travel we were excited to finally move around again and wanted to go full steam ahead. Also, after so much isolation this past winter, I thought it would be great to be surrounded by happy camping families. And it was…until it wasn’t. I like campgrounds for the nature aspect, not because I enjoy spending my weekend parked five feet away from a 20-person, family reunion.
We arrived at Fort Stevens late in the day on Saturday. The campground area is very large and laid out thoughtfully in loops, but when all 385 campsites, yurts & cabins are occupied, there is no escaping the madness. Our site was on a corner next to the bathroom path. The site itself was nice with a large yard and wooded space behind us, and the path meant that we had no RV on one side – but we did have a steady stream of bathrooms users walking past. We also had two families (which included 4 adults, 5 kids, 1 truck, 1 van, and two tents) in the site next to us who decided that walking through our site was the best way to reach the bathroom.
Our second site was in the C loop and backed up the bathroom and a large electrical box. Normally, our rule is to get a site as far from the bathroom as possible, but when you make all your plans last minute, you take what you can get. There was no public path near our site, so we didn’t see people walking past, but the four large outdoor lights on the side of the building lit up our whole site like a Walmart parking lot. Black-out curtains in the bedroom for the win.
We stayed in this site over the weekend and even though one side was completely open to the neighboring site, it was far more peaceful than whatever had been going on over in the O loop. The very best part was that we got to share this site for a night with our friends Kristin & Katy.
They, along with their two dogs and a cat, are on an extended summer road trip and were going to be spending a few days in the area so we made plans to meet up first in town and then again at the state park.
When I asked at the check-in building about having friends at our site, I was told it would be $5 for the day or $7 if they want to spend the night. No room at our site? No problem, we can move our truck to one of the overflow parking areas. Great! Except that I suspect this lax policy about vehicles and people (no one asked how many people or cars we would have total) is a big part of what makes this campground such a crazy place. Almost every site was overflowing with people, tents, and various types of RVs parked on the grass and into the street, which all contributed to the zoo-like atmosphere.
Despite all of this complaining we actually do like Fort Stevens State Park and would love to return at a less busy time of year. Outside of the campground areas, the park itself is huge with a very long, very beautiful beach, a historic area full of military relics, a disc golf course with ocean views, miles and miles of paved bike paths that wind through the woods, and even a small lake for swimming and kayaking.
We made it our mission to experience all of this during our stay. Despite the chaos in the camping area, we found that the rest of the park was fairly tame if you timed it right. Most families with kids tend to be at their campsite and at peak loudness later in the afternoon and evening, leaving all the other areas nearly empty. On the afternoon we played the disc golf course, we only saw one other group on the course. Likewise with the bike paths. Any biking we did after work was delightfully serene.
Speaking of biking, probably the most fun we had at Fort Stevens was biking on the beach. Twice we went out at low tide and biked in the hard-packed sand for miles. The beach here is very wide at low tide and even though you can drive on the beach, there is plenty of room for bikes, people, and trucks.
The first time we rode about 4 miles before being stopped and turned around because the Camp Rilea Training Center was conducting live ammunition practice on the beach. Okay, no need to ask twice. We’re turning around! The second time we were able to bike all the way south to Sunset State Park beach and back.
I surprised myself by actually liking the idea of allowing vehicles on the beach. Normally, I would lament the prevalence of “car culture” which places more value on those in cars than those on foot (as people who like to walk a lot we are often disappointed in the lack of sidewalks and safe places for pedestrians). But because the beach here is so big, allowing vehicles on some areas of the beach and not on others seems to work well. It definitely helps spread people out along the beach instead of creating a giant pileup only steps from the parking lot because that’s as far as dad was willing to walk while carrying 4 beach chairs, a cooler, and a car-sized inflatable flamingo.
Of course, I might feel differently if we didn’t have a vehicle that allowed us to drive out on the beach. Because let me tell you, the soft sand at the entrance to the beach makes this a place where you do NOT want to bring your Honda Civic – or really any vehicle that is not high clearance and 4WD.
We took advantage of the vehicles allowed on beach rule one sizzling hot Sunday during the great PNW heatwave 2021 (the first one that is). Astoria reached 101 that day and tied the previous highest temp recorded in 1942, but then dropped back into the 70s the next day. Up until then, we hadn’t experienced any temperatures warmer than maybe the mid-70s once or twice all spring and summer, so one day of heat was actually a welcome change for us.
We went to the beach around 10 am when the tide was low and drove a few miles from the entrance to claim our spot above the high tide line. After setting up our chairs and shade cloth (better known as an extra camping tarp), we hung out until the heat was too much and then moved our chairs closer to the water. For the first time since arriving at the coast months ago, we put more than our feet in the water. No actual swimming because the water was still freezing cold, but we waded out a bit until our legs were numb from the cold and then quickly retreated to our chairs.
As the tide started to come in, the beach “road” moved closer to our sitting area, and eventually, we decided it was time to go. The beach was fairly packed with people and cars by this time, especially as we got closer to the entrance.
The last site we stayed in at Fort Stevens was in the N loop. Similar to the O loop, the sites here are somewhat close together and lacking in any privacy. We only stayed a few nights mid-week and were thankfully spared any large gatherings in sites immediately adjacent to us.
Back at Cape Lookout, we eagerly settled into site D11 for what would turn out to be a relaxing and fun 11 days. Cape Lookout is much smaller than Fort Stevens which means it doesn’t have as much of a zoo-like quality to it. This is an older park and the sites are more suited to tents and small or medium-sized RVs. Our site was plenty long enough for both the trailer and truck but the layout was strange with the picnic table and firepit located behind the parking area. We didn’t use it because there was plenty of space on the front side in the grass.
Once again, there was a path to the bathroom right next to our site, but the way it was angled and behind us made it far less obtrusive than the one at Fort Stevens.
Since we had spent a week at Cape Lookout only a month ago, this stay was on the low side for adventure with most of our time outside of working hours spent simply walking on the beach. Not exactly a hardship when the beach looks like this.
Other activities in and around the campground included a celebration of local berries from the farmer’s market and a hike on the Cape Trail.
One afternoon we went into town for beers at De Garde Brewing where they specialize in naturally fermented and sour beers. Since we’re big fans of both it was a much-anticipated visit. We tried four different beers and they were all excellent. I especially enjoyed the dark purple one below. 5 stars for De Garde!
Over the long holiday weekend, we were determined to put the kayaks in the water. After contemplating all options we decided on a paddle up and down the Nestucca River. We put in at the Little Netuscca River boat ramp and paddled through the wildlife refuge, into the main river, and past town. It was a grey overcast and somewhat windy day, but overall a very enjoyable paddle that took us past many different sites. One note of caution, if you use the boat ramp on the Little Netuscaa be aware that the Netuscca Wildlife Refuge may not be passable at low tide. We encountered several very shallow areas on the way back.
Spending the 4th of July on the coast when the rest of the state was (and still is) under a fire ban meant that we were some of the lucky few in the PNW who got to see fireworks this year. Well…maybe it was more than just a lucky few since it seems that half the state of Oregon also came to the coast for the 4th. After a delightful experience watching fireworks from the beach for over an hour, I can’t say I blame them.
The fireworks closest to us were at Bob Straub State Park about 45 minutes to the south and just outside the tiny town of Pacific City. We knew it was going to be busy and didn’t want to deal with parking or sitting in traffic after the fireworks ended. So to avoid all that we parked at a beach access area north of Pacific City and walked down the beach for several miles, up and over Cape Kiwanda (aka a giant pile of sand), and found a spot to sit on the town beach for the main event.
The amateur fireworks started about an hour before dark and continued long after the official show was over. In fact, from our vantage point at the main Pacific City beach, the fireworks set off from Bob Straub were quite small and far away as compared to the ones set off by our neighbors on the beach. What a great time this was! We haven’t seen the 4th of July fireworks in many years and this was such a treat.
And with that, we wrapped up a 10-week stretch on the Oregon Coast. Only about half the places we stayed were planned ahead of time and the rest were filled in as needed using Tim’s handy reservation site (a whole post with details on how we made this happen coming soon).
While we love the Oregon coast, it did get a little busy for our liking as the summer progressed. But I suppose that is the new normal everywhere these days, which means next summer will look very different for us. In any case, as always, we are grateful that we got to enjoy what is undoubtedly the best coastline in the whole country for such a long stretch of time. We will be back!
Even at the RV parks we stayed in the area were packed with lots of families – seems like every person brought ten more with them! Looks like you still found some great biking and hiking opportunities – how fun to find miles of hard sand to ride on the beach!! Those are the best fireworks pics I’ve seen in years – what a wonderful spot to watch them (even if you had to climb that crazy high sand dune). Beautiful beach journey pic. I wish we had spent longer on the coast this year, there’s never too much beach time!
I think after so long of not gathering, this is the summer that every family is making up for it by going camping. Also, with the squeeze on sites this year, it’s easier to throw up another tent on your site rather than trying to get a second site. Despite all of that, the time we spent on the coast was magical. As you said, there can never be too much beach time!
Years ago we had Ft Stevens pretty much to ourselves, how times have changed. How fun to have all that beach to ride your bikes on. I’m not a big fan of driving on the beach, the salt is hard on the car, but I can get behind a bike ride!
Wonderful pics, thanks for sharing!
I think we’ve reached the point where every state park is busy all the time! Good point about the salt on the beach being hard on vehicles. Same with the bikes. We had to wash them well after both rides because of all the flying sand and salty water. I told Tim that if we lived near the ocean I would want a beach-only bike because I can see that riding it on the beach often could lead to some issues. Still so much fun!
We are looking forward to hitting the Oregon coast in our upcoming full time adventures. Like you we enjoy the natural, quiet places. Now that your coast trip is wrapping up, what park would you recommend is the best to find that peace and quiet and will accommodate a 42ft 5th wheel? We also though about volunteering as park hosts on the coast as well.
I would recommend checking out Bullards Beach State Park. The sites there tend to have a bit more room in between as opposed to some of the bigger parks (like South Beach, Nehalem Bay & Ft. Stevens). We saw lots of larger RVs there too so I think you would have more site options. Also, the area is great with so much to explore close by!
We feel exactly the same as you about Fort Stevens…awesome bike trails, hiking trails, beach, history, but the camp sites leave a lot to be desired. We even saw elk while hiking near the batteries!
Cape Lookout looks terrific, we never made it there…I’ll have to remember it some year in the future when we visit OR.
Yeah, I think the campground is just too big for a state park. That many sites so close together is really unappealing. Fortunately, the rest of the park makes up for it, although I doubt we’ll make it a priority to return any time soon. Cape Lookout is really special. We’re very happy that we spent so much time there this summer.