I thought we would take a break from some of the things we did while we were in Europe this summer. I will get back to that. I thought I would bring us home to Oregon again for a bit.
When we got back from Europe my son asked if we could plan a mom/son camping trip. We have done one every year since he was 3 (so he doesn’t remember not doing them) and he was worried we would miss out on that time together this year. The Europe trip required a lot of planning and I wasn’t ready to start planning camping trips until we had returned which meant I was too late to book our regular trip to Joseph in Northeastern Oregon (this is our favorite place to go together). Our air quality had gotten really bad in Portland due to lots of fires in Washington and Oregon, but things were pretty clear on the coast. I checked out several campgrounds and found a spot that was going to work well for us at Fort Stevens State Park. This park is situated directly on the beach between Seaside and Astoria. We booked for 3 nights and upon our arrival quickly fell in love!
First off, this campground is huge. There are 174 full-hookup sites (36 pull-through), 302 electrical sites with water (11 pull-through), 15 yurts and 11 delux cabins (a number of them are pet-friendly), as well as a hiker/biker camp and tent spots. The campgrounds are broken up into several loops and half the loops are in northern campground and half are in the southern campground. We chose one of the electrical sites in Loop J which is located in the northern sites. This loop was handy in that it was really close to the playground and that means there were more families in the loop so my guy had kids to play with when we weren’t off exploring. Getting into some spots can prove a little tight despite the concrete pads being nice and long (we got in pretty easily, but longer trailers in our area had to work a little harder). Bathrooms in loops without the showers tend to be on the older side but they worked just fine and had flushing toilets and sinks. Proximity was the main benefit. The bathhouses (where the showers are) have all been updated and are conveniently located (we walked across the main road to have our showers in Loop E). For the full service sites they request that you don’t do a full sewer hook-up but use their dump station which is located near the Ranger Station on the road to the entrance/exit.
One of the very best things about this state park and the thing we loved the most, was just how much there was to do! I think hands down our favorite thing was the many bike paths – you could go everywhere! We could leave the car if we wanted to and just hit the trails. We could bike to the beach, and up to the historic sites and all the way out to the Jetty where is there a wildlife viewing bunker. The park offers adult bike rentals at the information shack near the Ranger Station so if you only want to bring the kids bikes, you can rent some pretty nice looking beach cruisers to get around on. Many of the trails are shared-use trails so bikers need to watch out for pedestrians (and snakes too – we came across 2 garder snakes that narrowly escaped us running them over), but the layout of the trails was really lovely, they were all paved and really well sign posted. Kids will like the bumps too where roots have caused the pavement to push up a bit. In addition to the multi-use trails there are designated hiking trails throughout the park.
Coffenbury Lake, located in the park, offers activities but at the time of our visit there was a blue-green algae bloom warning in affect and we decided to leave kayaks and paddleboards home. There is fishing in the lake as well, but there are warnings about that too, so make sure you are checking things out with the Rangers before proceeding for your own health.
That said, we weren’t really bothered by not being able to go in the lake since we had the beach and ocean right there. Most people head to the beach with the Peter Iredale shipwreck. The Peter Iredale was a ship that used to transport grain/wheat between Oregon and Mexico. It was a big 4 masted ship built of iron and steel. She ran aground in 1906 in very foggy conditions while returning from Mexico. She was heading to Portland and amazingly all 27 crew members aboard made it to land safely. The boat was abandoned on the beach and can still be visited to this day. Word on the street is that this is the most photographed shipwreck in the US! The Columbia Bar, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Columbia is one of the most dangerous shipping areas in the world and has been dubbed the “Graveyard of the Pacific” for it’s many shipwrecks. If
you can get up to Astoria there is a wonderful Maritime Museum (the Columbia River Maritime Museum) that will tell you all about it and what it takes to keep captains and pilots safe even today. Living here my whole life I had no idea about any of this and it was really interesting to learn about. Kids love all of the hands on activities at the museum too and will be awed by what our Coast Guard is responsible for and how the pilots get out to the big cargo ships!
There are lots of other beaches in the park other than the one with the Peter Iredale and we had our stretch of beach to ourselves for hours. We played soccer and flew kites – it was really a beautiful, relaxed afternoon and frankly, life doesn’t get better than that! If you decide to bring your dog with you they are required to be leashed (max 6′ long) during the nesting season of the Western Snowy Plover (15 March-15 July or longer sometimes) on Clatsop Spit. You will see signs for this in the areas. I am going to get up on my soap box for a minute now (I apologize) – please please please clean up the poop your dog leaves behind. We have a dog and we take her to the beach. We know they always poop on the beach. ALWAYS. Please carry a bag with you to clean up after them and then take the bag with you leave so you can throw it in a trash can. We came across so much dog poop and bags with dog poop that were left on our beautiful beach. These beaches, all 363 miles of them, belong to every Oregonian and we take great pride in them. Our coast is known as “The People’s Coast” because of this and when I see this it feels like dogs have been pooping in my yard and the owners didn’t clean up. Plus, those plastic bags have no place in the ocean so let’s do our part to help! Thank you for protecting our nature, wildlife and beautiful places!
Back to our review now! In addition to lakes, bike paths and beaches Fort Stevens has a great amount of history to explore. The Clatsop people had a village in the area where the historic military base is. The village was called Neahkeluk and was the largest village in the area at the time. The village was a seasonal place and it was used in the summer for fishing and trading. When you are touring the Fort Stevens Historical Site you can visit the area where one of the Longhouses once stood and learn about one group of native people. Surrounding the area where the longhouse was is the original fort. The fort was constructed during the Civil War – Lincoln wanted to protect the mouth of the Columbia River from the British and Confederate Sea Raiders who were known to be in the area. Construction started in 1863 on a 9-sided earthen fort surrounded by a moat at Point Adams. There were 26 guns (17 of them were 10″ muzzle loading Rodman cannons). Fort Stevens was completed and troops were stationed here by 1864. A sister fort was built around the same time on the opposite side of river (Cape Disappointment) and it made coming through the mouth and into this major waterway impossible. Protection of the river lasted through WWII, at which time the forts were decommissioned. All of the batteries are still here and the guns were removed long ago. They were often needed on various fronts during WWI and WWII. Fort Stevens only saw action once and that was during WWII when a Japanese submarine found it’s way into the mouth of the river and fired several shots at the fort. When the captain of the submarine was later interviewed he admitted he had no idea the area was so heavily armed or he never would have gone in there. Fort Stevens did not fire back and reported no injuries or deaths. We heard the backstop of the baseball field had to be replaced though.
The thing I found most amazing as we toured this part of the park was the amount of nature that has taken things back. The batteries are areas where the birds are thriving and you hear their tweets echoing down the concrete hall ways. They were swooping in and out and it was kind of crazy watching them play in the wind. The flora has grown over much of the concrete too. We saw 4 Coastal Roosevelt Elk walking in the tall grass near Battery Smur which is an especially beautiful section on the Columbia River. They kept their eyes on us, but carried on what they were doing and we kept our distance too. Keep an eye out on your walk too! We saw another elk near the road at Battery Russell too. There are day-use fees charged to visit the historic sites and the lake, but if you are staying at the campground that fee is covered in the cost of camping.
Additional Experiences in the Area
About 5 years ago I wrote a blog post for Trekaroo (click here for the article) about Astoria which is just across the bridge from Fort Stevens (about 15-20 minutes away). The blog post was full of additional things to do in the area like visiting Fort Clatsop where Lewis and Clark camped for a winter in 1805-1806 and Cape Disappointment the sister to Fort Stevens. The 3 parks (including Fort Stevens) make up the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park and kids can earn special Junior Ranger patches when they visit all 3 parks and do the required tasks.
For Goonies fans this part of the coast is especially important. Between Astoria and Cannon Beach several of the outdoor scenes were filmed for that most awesome coming of age, cult classic. I am a big fan of this movie so being able to see various sites was really cool. You can walk up to the house where Mikey lived (it is privately owned so please please be very respectful and please follow their instructions on the sign). Even cooler you can go to the “County Jail” which is now home to the Oregon Film Museum. Oregon has a rich history in the film industry and has even been referred to as “Hollywood North”. This is a small museum but we enjoyed it!
For fans of flight, head up to the Astoria Column. In the gift shop you can buy balsa wood gliders, climb to the top of column and set them flying. On windy days they go for miles! The column stands 600 feet above sea level and on clear days you can see Young’s Bay, the Coastal Range, the mighty Columbia River, and far in the distance the Pacific Ocean. The history of the column is long with work beginning in 1926. The builders replicated a roman column and the artist was tasked with a mural that depicted scenes that celebrate three historic events: the discovery of the Columbia River by Captain Gray, the end of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and the arrival of the ship Tonquin. These events, which contributed to the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and parts of Montana and Wyoming becoming part of the United States, spiral up the column starting at the bottom. The mural needs constant care due to the harsh weather.
In Seaside, which is about a 15 minute drive south of Fort Stevens, we decided to check out the local arcade (or Kid Casino as it is known in our family). We will travel for skeeball, so we made sure to stop in at Funland Arcade. On top of skeeball they have all sorts of other fun games for kids of all ages, there is pizza (we didn’t eat there so can’t say whether it is good or not) and we watched people playing Fascination. We had never seen that game before but will bring cash with us next time and will try it. You play by rolling several balls to try to light up five lights in a row before your opponents do (like a bingo). It was really interesting. The arcade does the whole tickets for prizes thing too, so the kids come away with different things. We have added a whoopy cushion to our collection of toys (sigh…I mean, oh goody!)! Just having a wander through the main streets of Seaside is a nice distraction too and there is an indoor carousel for those that like to go round in circles.
This is a great place to get out and enjoy nature, a little history and a whole bunch of fun. We highly recommend Fort Stevens State Park!