Friday, February 20, 2015

Late Winter Camping on the Oregon Coast

Barview Jetty
The first question, of course, is, "Why?" Why would someone with a cozy home, electricity,
refrigerators, closets, and all of the other comforts of modern living go willingly out into the damp cold to sojourn in mud, wind, and 14 hours of darkness every night? Confession time: I have absolutely no idea. I just know that the holidays are over, spring will be here any day (I'm just sure of it), and I have a need to get out there. Perhaps you do, too.

One of the best camping destinations this time of year is the Oregon coast. Snow and ice are rare, great campsites are available on the weekends (try THAT in the summertime), and the weather can be peaceful and mild. Tent campers should watch forecasts for lingering winter storms, as high winds can flatten most tents in a miserable moment. If the weather looks dubious, check out the yurts and cabins offered in many state parks.

The second question, then, is, "Where?" Many campgrounds are still closed for what is vaguely referred to as "The Season." This Season, whatever causes it, sometimes extends over most of the year. I once tried to go camping during Spring Break at a lake that had already been stocked several times with trout, but all of the facilities were closed to the public. I cannot tell why ODFW was stocking this lake; perhaps they had the notion that it would give the fish some sort of head start before the fishermen arrived. Where they were going to go in a dune-locked lake is anyone's guess.

But I digress. There are many excellent campgrounds along the Oregon Coast, and a good number of them are open year-round. Here we will share some of our favorites, going from north to south, followed by a few hints for cool-weather campers.
Military installation near
Fort Stevens State Park

Fort Stevens State Park near Astoria offers a wide variety of camping options, including yurts and deluxe cabins (bonus: the cabin rate is discounted until April 30) plus miles of bike trails, three lakes, a shipwreck, and historic military installations. Full and electric RV sites. Several sites are accessible.

Nehalem Bay State Park is a pretty campground set at the base of a four-mile spit. Amenities include yurts, a bike path, a boat ramp, a horse camp, and even an air strip. Electric/water RV sites. Some accessible sites.

Barview Jetty Campground north of Tillamook has a variety of campsites, easy beach access, jetty fishing, and excellent wave watching as five rivers' worth of water races between the jetty's jaws into the ocean. Full RV hookups and some accessible sites.

Beverly Beach State Park between Lincoln City and Newport is a sheltered spot with yurts and easy access to the beach. This is a good area to look for fossilized shells. RV hookups and some accessible sites.

Siltcoos River near the
Lagoon Oxbow
Tillicum Beach Campground is a simple campground between Waldport and Yachats. It is a photogenic beachside stop. RV-friendly but no hookups.

Lagoon Campground, south of Florence, is set alongside a peaceful oxbow (not a lagoon). It offers nature trails, fishing, and ORV access. RV-friendly but no hookups; some sites and the Lagoon Trail are accessible.

Sunset Bay State Park just south of Coos Bay has yurts, a pretty little beach, a network of scenic trails, and a historic garden. RV hookups; some accessible sites.

Cape Blanco State Park offers cabins, a horse camp, and a beautiful lighthouse. Electric/water hookups, some accessible sites. There are two beaches, one on either side of the cape, and, occasionally, sheep on the beach. Yes, sheep on the beach. You don't see that every day.

If You Go

Keeping Warm
Half the battle is staying dry. Always bring rain gear to the coast, no matter the time of year. Take large trash bags; they are perfect for hauling wet equipment back home. If your tent is small, tuck the foot of your sleeping bag into a trash bag. If your feet contact the tent wall, your sleeping bag won't get wet.

The author bundled up on a cold winter's evening
Cotton clothing is not your friend in cool weather. It does not hold heat if it gets wet. Instead, we wear a combination of classic woolens and techy microfibers. Opt for several layers which can be adjusted easily to match the conditions.

Tent camping is more pleasant with the double sleeping bag trick: use two bags, one inside the other. If you find you don't need the extra warmth, slip out of the inner bag and sleep on top of it-extra padding! You can even crawl beneath the inner bag for three layers on top.

Three Questionable Promises
1. "Open all year." Always call ahead; that dreaded "Season" may have arrived. Have a plan B,        just in case.
2. "Heated," as in yurts and cabins. This is a relative term during the winter. Some are warmer          than others, so bring your warm clothes.
3. "Hot showers." This is the cruellest lie of all. Some do actually get hot, but many are about            three degrees above freezing. I have nearly burst into tears trying to wash my hair in these. If      you plan to spend time in civilization, take my advice and pack a nice hat. Really, you look            fine.

So if spring fever strikes and you are ready to leave that comfortable couch behind, we'll see you on the coast!

The beach near Beverly Beach State Park

Friday, February 6, 2015

Taft With a Camera

Late winter in western Oregon teases us with an occasional sunny day, leading to the fragile belief that soon winter rainstorms will give way to spring rainstorms. Of course, it is all an illusion, and soon we are cold and soggy again. Even then, the resolute Oregonian will seize a slightly-less-grey day, pack a picnic and a camera, and hit the road.

One of our favorite winter destinations is the beachy little community of Taft. Tucked into the intersection of the Siletz River and the Pacific Ocean, this area offers long, sandy walks beside both the bay and the sea. 

Taft is situated at the southern end of Lincoln City. A city street leads along the north edge of Siletz Bay to a large parking area. Here you will find a covered picnic shelter (complete with fireplace) and a public pier. The shelter is quite accessible, and the pier, though a bit rough, could also be accessed by wheelchair (look on the left side to find a short concrete ramp). 

The beach begins alongside the parking lot. This whole area is a driftwood magnet; in fact, it is quite a snarl in places. People fish and crab from the pier or the beach, warming themselves at beachside fires (do not light fires in the driftwood piles; this is against the law for obvious reasons). Follow the edge of the bay (look in the waves for seals) and then walk alongside the ocean. The bar where the
two waters meet makes for excellent wave watching.

Siletz Bay tempts paddlers with its broad, smooth water. Be aware of the tide, though, because it also strands paddlers with its sticky mud flats and areas of strong current. Only paddle on an incoming tide, and dress for immersion. Stay well away from the mouth.

Crab pots can be dropped in from the pier, but small snares that can be cast from a fishing pole are also popular here. Fishermen do well in the Siletz River, but a boat is recommended and the current can be strong.

Rope burns from crab pots
Crabbing with snare traps
Year-round campers may stay in Lincoln City's Devil's Lake State Park, recommended only for its convenience to the center of town. A better campground is south of Depoe Bay and over Cape Foulweather at Beverly Beach. Despite its proximity to Highway 101, this is a nice camping spot, with yurts, a secluded hiker-biker camp, and access to a wide beach sprinkled with fossils.

So pack a picnic. Bring your camera. Wear your raingear. It's time for a road trip.