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Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Oregon Coast Part II: The Campgrounds

The long beach of Cape Blanco

Oregon is a funny state.

For us, it's always been our "drive-over" state: we've crossed it in one day on our way to Alaska, Idaho, and of course Washington; we've dipped in and out when traveling in the most northern parts of California and along the western edge of Idaho. I feel bad we haven't taken the time to explore it more thoroughly because it truly is a beautiful place.

It's quirky too. As of January 1, 2018, Oregon passed a law allowing you to pump your own gas in certain areas. Yes, you read that right, Oregon had a ban on self-serve gas pumps, and still does for most of the state. And I tell you, nothing feels as emasculating as sitting in your full size 4x4 truck with 4" lift kit, winch bumper and heavy duty brush guards while an elderly woman struggles to lift the pump high enough to reach the gas filler. The state has various reasons not to allow the average citizen to pump their own: health hazard, fire hazard, and requiring proper training are a few. All I know is if all gas stations in Oregon suddenly went fully self-serve tomorrow, there would be a steep learning curve for many. Twice I saw big burly guys standing bewildered in front of the pump, not sure where to put their credit card. The elderly attendant helped one of them, gently taking the card out of the guy's hand and sliding it through the reader. She was kind about it, but I believe I saw a hint of a smirk on her face.

We were pleasantly surprised by the lack of crowds in Oregon. We were dumbstruck to find an open campsite on a holiday weekend, a feat that could never happen in California. Finding a campsite without a reservation in our home state anytime between Memorial Day and Labor Day is a frustrating and discouraging experience. Unless you know where and when you want to be and have the forethought to reserve a site six months in advance, you are out of luck. Far too many people and not enough campgrounds make for a sad trip if you're not prepared to camp off the grid–if you can even find a place that allows that. (Unfortunately, there are now more restrictions on camping on BLM and National Forest lands for various reasons we won't get into here. Far too depressing.)

Oregon State Parks rely on volunteers to host the campgrounds and from what we saw, they take their jobs very seriously. There are rules to camping which most people follow on their own. Oh sure, over the years we've occasionally had trouble with people using generators during quiet hours and maybe a few groups that get a little loud around a campfire. Never have I felt more confident that our camp neighbors would be good citizens than in Oregon. We were greeted when we rolled in, handed the rules when we paid, checked on 10 minutes after setting up, and hailed every half hour by the old guy in the golf cart "just checking up on things." The place was spotless and organized and patrolled as closely as any military zone.

It feels funny to write this (being pretty close to a member of this group ourselves) but it was strange to travel in a place where the predominant population is in the "white retirement age" demographic. The lack of diversity is jarring at first. We wandered into the full campground on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, walked the loops and realized there was not one group or individual of any shade of anything but white there. And the average age of the campers, if I had to guess, was 62. An interesting development for a state that boasts the proud city of Portland, an urban area of young professionals that can out-liberal San Francisco on a good day, well known for it's free-thinkers and inclusivity (is that a word? If so they coined it in Portland).

We camped every night of the trip, a total of 6 nights in 6 different campgrounds in Oregon, and every one was run the same way. Each had at least two hosts for campground duty, and in one we counted six designated host campsites, resplendent with fifth wheel trailers, temporary fencing for small barking dogs, decorative wind socks and reclining camp chairs on astroturf rugs. While it seemed a bit like overkill, we appreciated the fact that they cared so much for the parks because it really showed. Not a spec of trash anywhere, and thoughtful hosts were willing to answer any question we had. It was a lovely experience, so much so that we wouldn't mind going back every year. Here's a rundown of the campgrounds we visited:

Alfred A. Loeb State Park

Our first stop in Oregon just outside Brookings, just on the other side of the California state line. Located along the Chetco River, it's a pretty park with river access for boats, swimming and fishing. There's a nice little nature trail loop and driving access to the river bank if you feel you must drive onto the gravel beach. Being a holiday weekend, several families in big trucks were parked along the beach and had set up umbrellas and barbecues for a picnic. It was surprisingly hot that day; once we drove even a few miles east on Chetco River Road away from the coast the weather turned uncomfortably warm.

The dogs hopped out of the truck and assumed the camping position. They enjoyed their time at Alfred A. Loeb State Park.
Umpqua Lighthouse State Park

A beautiful campground tucked in the trees in the hills above the ocean. You couldn't see the beach from there, but that was a blessing in disguise; the adjacent Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and beach was open to ATVs and the hill that separated us from them blocked the whining engine noises. There was a pretty little lake accessible by trail from the campground. After dinner that night, we walked the trail all the way around and had it mostly to ourselves. In fact, we pretty much had the whole campground to ourselves.

The lighthouse and visitor's center is a short drive from the campground. You could walk, but to my knowledge there was no trail so you'd have to take your chances on the narrow road. Same story with the beach access.

Lake Marie, accessible directly from the campground at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park
There was a nice trail that ran around the lake, as shown by Hiker Mark.
Umpqua Lighthouse State Park
Trask River County Campground, Tillamook County

We were looking for a campground as close as possible to our northernmost goal: the Tillamook Cheese factory. We wanted to be close enough to get there around opening time, stuff ourselves with cheese and ice cream, then dart back out to the coast to get into Cape Lookout campground before it filled up. It's a great spot along the Trask River, which actually runs along the backside of the campsites. We found ourselves the only ones there, so chose the very best spot along the river. Our only complaint was the extravagant fees they charged. The river sites were $37.83, and we were expected to add tax, and an extra $6.00 fee PER DOG. That came to a grand total of $53.58 for the pleasure of a pit toilet, water faucet (across the campground) and a beat up wooden picnic table. It was almost worth it to have the place to ourselves, but with those prices they could've offered hors d'oeuvres or something...

Our lonely campsite in Trask River Campground. It was quiet, that's for sure.

The Trask River runs through it. Pools along the river behind our campsite.

Cape Lookout State Park

This was Mark's favorite campground of the trip. Situated on a sand spit between Netarts Bay and the ocean, it's a pleasant mix of sand, trees, hiking trails and warm sandy beach. The dogs had a great time too, since in Oregon they allow leashed dogs on both hiking trails and on the beach (another California no-no in most places). There is a choice of forested and sandy dune sites, and it's a short walk to either the beach or trailheads that lead to Cape Lookout point. This park is only one and a half hours from Portland, which must have accounted for the crowds–we got one of the last sites when we pulled in at noon–so reservations during peak season are probably a good idea.

The wide beach, Cape Lookout in the distance.
The trail that leads to Cape Lookout point.
Thick forests of mussels grew on the rocky cliffs along the beach.
The sun sets as the waves rolled in at Cape Lookout beach.

Cape Perpetua National Forest

This campground is situated along a creek that runs the length of a small shaded valley. The sites were well spaced along the one road that leads both in and out of the campground (no loops). There are hiking trails up the valley to the Giant Spruce Tree and out to the coast, where there is a nice visitor's center with maps and information about the area. There were multiple natural wonders to explore there: A blow hole, tide pools, a beautiful uncrowded beach and the interesting Devil's Churn. A long crack in the volcanic rock allows the waves to roll way up the hillside until the ever narrowing crack causes the water to break and slosh around. It reminded me of the old washing machine we had before the water saving front loader models became the norm.

The base of the Giant Spruce, with Mark and the dogs for scale.

The cove and beach at Cape Perpetua
The Devil's Churn.
Why does the Devil get credit for all the cool things in nature?

There was much to find in the tide pools at Cape Perpetua

Cape Blanco State Park

Now this, this was MY favorite of them all. A beautiful campground set in the trees along a bluff that overlooks a long narrow stretch of sand. A picturesque lighthouse, so perfectly placed on the windswept grassy bluff it looked to be a painted backdrop. There was a road leading from the campground down to the beach (if you needed it, we walked down) with bluff side benches available to watch the spectacular sunset. There was also a historic ranch house there, the Patrick Hughes House, with friendly docents that were eager to give you a tour and share the history of the area. It was quiet, comfortable, beautiful, perfect. It didn't hurt that it was also warm and wind-free that day. When I am having a bad day at work I think about this place. Just writing about it makes me smile.

Our campsite was huge, and I swear, one of the twelve campground hosts must have vacuumed it before our arrival, it was so clean.
Even the roads in the park were gorgeous.
The road down to the Patrick Hughes House.
The picture perfect Cape Blanco Lighthouse.

The sun sets over Cape Blanco, making for a stunning last night on the Oregon Coast.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! I’m sure you’ve had many experiences along the coast over the years, and I’ll bet the crowds weren’t a problem back in the day.

  2. Hi Kelly. Sorry it took a while to get to this. Been super busy meeting new cousins. We were in Oregon in 2009 on a trip back from Steelhead fishing on the Deschutes. Didn't know about the gas pump law so I jumped out of the truck, grabbed the nozzle and was immediately pounced on by the gas pump attendant. "Don't worry, I can handle it, I said" Then he politely informed me of the law and the penalty. Being the intelligent person I am, I gave him the pump handle and got back into the truck. I think Katherine and I need to plan a trip up there. Those camping spots are awesome.

    1. Oregon is a great place to camp, and Mark was kicking himself for not packing his fishing gear. Almost everywhere we went there were great river and lake spots to fish. Not sure why he doesn't store his gear in the camper, but I suspect he will from now on! Thanks for the note. Oh, and say hi to the new cousins for us :)

  3. Though the focus is on Oregon genealogy, the OGS library in Eugene maintains a national collection of genealogical materials, as well. The Society holds classes and seminars with eminent genealogist for a nominal fee per rental Portland Oregon