A Trip to the Oregon Coast, 2-5 January 2021

Ecola State Park, 5 Jan 2021. Olympus XA2, Kodak Ultramax 400.

It’s been my custom since 2007 to go somewhere out of town for the New Year. I had grown tired of trying to find a good NYE party, so I decided to make my own fun instead. Some New Years I would head off to places like Vancouver BC, Seattle, or Bend. Then there were the many years of biking to the cabins at Stub Stewart.

But this year, the tradition changed a bit. Since things were booked for New Year’s Eve itself, Emee and I decided to go just after, when reservations opened up again. So technically this was the first NYE I spent in Portland since 2006. But I still went out of town, just slightly later. And we decided to go back out to the Oregon Coast, but to a new location: Fort Stevens State Park.

Fort Stevens is about seven miles west of Astoria, Oregon, located where the Columbia River empties into the Pacific. It was a military base that protected the mouth of the river from the Civil War to World War II. Now it’s a big park with some of its military history protected. And there’s a heck of a lot of camping too. It’s not only the largest campground in Oregon, but one of the largest in the States..

Yet I rarely, if ever, head to this park. In fact, I think I’ve only been there once when I first moved to town. Why is that? Well, Cape Disappointment is just on the other side of the Columbia. It’s got headlands and two lighthouses. Fort Stevens? It’s pretty flat and no lighthouses. And since the campground at Cape Disappointment is smaller, there’s less people. But we wanted to try something different. And while Cape Disappointment and Cape Lookout* both have yurts and cabins, Fort Stevens features deluxe cabins. These have bathrooms with showers (no having to put on shoes to go pee) and a kitchenette with sink, microwave, and fridge, so you can get by without bringing a stove. That was worth the extra price.

And cabins or yurts on the coast in winter is a good idea, since the weather could be wet and stormy. It was indeed that when we drove out on Saturday January 2nd. But despite an iffy forecast, most of Monday and Tuesday was dry so we could enjoy the park.

We brought our three speeds (Me: Raleigh Superbe. Emee: Raleigh Sports) so we could efficiently explore the park. Fort Stevens is large! Thankfully, there’s about ten miles of bike path that winds around it. The design is very 1970’s and roots were sticking out in some spots, but the Raleighs navigated the mostly-flat paths just fine. The paths brought us past an old battery, next to creeks, along lakes and bays, and to the edge of the dunes. We stopped for a bit atop a barrier dune affording a great view of the stormy Pacific. (The surf was high so we didn’t go down to the beach itself.)

We rode around on Sunday and decided to switch to our feet on Tuesday. There’s only about four miles of hiking trails, but half of that network is a loop around Coffenbury Lake, so we hiked there. The lake is about a mile long but pretty narrow, and most of the trail is pretty level with one token hill thrown in for good measure. It was great! The forest was pretty and green, and we got to see a small herd of elk graze in the picnic area.

We headed home on Tuesday January 5th. Originally we had planned on returning via US 30, the way we arrived. But a landslide had blocked the highway just east of Astoria, so we went the alternate: South on US 101 to Seaside and then east on US 26 homeward. Since we headed this way, we decided to take a detour into Cannon Beach.

Cannon Beach is the stereotypical “beach” destination for Portlanders, since it’s the closest town on the Coast. Emee and I have only been there a handful of times, since it’s pretty “cliche”, and way crowded in the summer. But in the winter? It’s not busy, and things were still open, unlike many other coast destinations. It didn’t seem too bad after all.

It was a great trip! The deluxe cabins were just that, and we got to discover (and rediscover) some spots on the North Oregon Coast that we mistakenly wrote off. And heck, there’s still more to Fort Stevens that needs to be seen: we didn’t ride out to the jetty or even see the military stuff. And because of high surf we couldn’t really enjoy the beach. There’s still the fact that there’s so many people at it during the middle of summer, though the camping seems fairly dispersed.** So perhaps a visit in September?

For photos from the trip, see the dynamic flickr album below or click here.

Tolovana Beach, 5 Jan 2021

*We did want to go to Cape Lookout, but everything was booked.

**Fort Stevens has hiker/biker sites, but pretty much all coast hiker/biker sites are closed due to COVID. Even so, the site is located right behind the recycling center/trash compactor. This is not unique to coast hiker/biker sites. It’s hard to have a peaceful stay when you’re getting woken up at 6 am by a trash compactor.

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