VW on the Oregon Coast

For our part, we pushed up to the Sunset Beach State Park to establish temporary residence before heading out. It was another meticulously kept park a stone-skip from the ocean. We were on the way to Charleston Harbor to meet up with Katherine Hoppe, director of the Coos Bay-North Bend Visitors Bureau. The harbor is home to dozens of commercial fishing boats and smaller recreational vessels.

Out on one of the docks we went with tools for crabbing— crab pots, a bucket for the day’s harbor catch and a bucket of beer. We baited one pot with a fish head and several others with chicken, tied and tossed them. Throw in chicken and pull out crab—that seemed like a good trade to me.

We sat and talked on the dock as Dungeness and red rock crabs wandered into our traps below. “You have to wait two-thirds of a beer before pulling the traps,” Hoppe counseled. She had done this a few times before. She crabs just to unwind.

After a couple of hours and a few two-thirds beers, we had seven keepers—three Dungeness and four red rock. We cleaned them for travel and went to dinner at a local fish cantina.

Earlier that day, Hoppe had taken us on a tour of some of her favorite places along the coast. We toured the ebullient Shore Acre State Park, the former summer home and estate of timber baron Louis J. Simpson, the profligate son of shipping magnate Asa Meade Simpson. Simpson, the younger, cut no corners in building a three-story mansion with a ballroom and heated swimming pool. Outside, his wife, Cassandra, would stroll acres of Japanese gardens built around a 100-foot lily pond. In 1921, a fire destroyed the mansion, but Simpson was determined. For many a Gatsby in the Roaring ’20s, bigger meant better. Simpson was busy resizing the mansion when the Great Depression settled in. Eventually Oregon became the beneficiary of the Simpson property.

Hoppe also pointed to Cape Arago Lighthouse, a small plot atop a popsicle of an island with plunging cliffs around it.

Oregon’s second lighthouse, it served mariners for decades. The existing lighthouse is the third, with the last being built in the 1960s. Over the years since a first bridge to it was built in 1876, storms have washed them out soon after they were built. Last year, the final footbridge was ordered demolished as the Coast Guard relinquished the land to the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians.

Tyler and I wanted to have a look at what was happening on the island since it became inaccessible by foot. There’d likely be no safe way to climb the steep walls of the island, but we hoped to find a good vantage point for taking photos nonetheless. Early the next morning, we set out from Sunset Bay on paddleboard to explore. The ocean surf was more tricky to negotiate but not unreasonably hard.

Low-angle morning sunbeams made a beautiful post-apocalyptic contrast of the bridge’s remaining concrete footings and the tropical aquaculture at its toes. Kelp and seaweed swayed with the tides around the island, making paddling more difficult and mesmerizing—a velvety seduction in green.

We pulled our boards onto a rocky beach along the island’s protected side. There was a quietness so profound that the sounds of waves and gulls absorbed into its massive silent body. We stood at the confluence of privilege, history and intrigue. I (briefly) mourned for those whose lives don’t much get beyond the scheduled. The unexpected has an indelible destiny of its own.

After a bit, we found steep steps that had been kicked up the side of a headwall. Weeds had almost taken them back. It was an easier climb for me, without thousands of dollars of camera equipment in my hands.

The top of the island was grown over with waist-high weeds and grasses. There were only a couple of trees left on the island, probably to maximize the visibility of the marine light. The trees were free of vegetation and full of birds. In the island’s center stands the former Cape Arago Lighthouse. In 2006, the Coast Guard flashed its light for the last time. Without its light, the structure could have been mistaken for a church, whitewashed into the center of Rockwell’s New England.

On a seaward finger of the island, white gulls and black cormorants made segregated nesting colonies, oblivious to the rewards of decades of civil rights struggles on the mainland.

We lost time exploring and taking photos. Had two or four hours passed since we shoved off from Sunset Bay State Park? That morning, Sarah had planned on heading out for a long run through the trails that weaved through the area. The girls would be on their bikes chasing after her. A trio of blondes would be exhausted and antsy to get moving by the time I made it back.

Tyler and I paddled back the way we came. When we returned to camp, however, there was no trace of the girls. Their bikes were on the rack, where I had left them. Remnants of an oatmeal breakfast were on the cold stove.

Just then, the threesome came strolling into camp, sweaty and cheeks a salmon pink.

“It was cool, dad! We went out on an hour-long run with mom,” the 10-teen-year-old Fiona piped.

“You had them out on an hour-long run?” I turned to Sarah in disbelief. Four miles— maybe—was longest run the girls had attempted to run until that day.

“We had planned on going for just a short run, but the trails were good and the girls were up for it, so we just kept going,” Sarah said.

“Whew, it was awesome,” Izzy chimed.

We soon packed up the Eurovan, loaded the paddleboard and pointed north up the coast, where schedules would, for the first time in four days, supplant spontaneity—our unplanned adventures tossing in the waves of the hidden Oregon Coast.

Top Camping Spots on The Coast

By Jennifer Cossey




HAMMOND | 503.861.1671


Ten miles west of Astoria, the 4,200-acre park ranks as one of the largest and most family-friendly options with a network of hiking and biking trails, a beached shipwreck, tours of military ruins, lakes for swimming, canoeing and fishing, and an amphitheater offering nature-themed movies. For the prime tent camping spots, try the K loop. The beach itself is an easy mile walk from camp along a manicured trail.



MANZANITA | 503.368.5943

EATS BIG WAVE CAFE MANZANITA http://oregonsbigwavecafe.com/

This park has more than 300 campsites, some buttressing the dune that separates the campground from the beach. Visit one of the nearby bays and go crabbing. Head to Kelly’s Marina to rent a boat and crab pots ($75 for two hours). Bring a bottle of Oregon Chardonnay to pair with your catch.




EATS LUNA SEA FISH HOUSE YACHATS http://lunaseafishhouse.com/

Beach Side boasts a handful of the most perfect beach camping spots. Sites 80, 64 and 66 have views of the ocean and are just steps away from it. The one downside is the campground backs right onto Highway 101.



COOS BAY | 541.888.3778

EATS HIGH TIDE CAFE COOS BAY http://hightidecafeoregon.com/

Close to North Bend and Charleston, Sunset Bay’s camping is probably best kept for off-peak times. A half-mile walk gets you to the bay, where you can settle down for a front-row view of the sunset. Several neatly kept trails connect the park with Shore Acres and Cape Arago state parks. Bring your binoculars for whale watching.

Cape Blanco State Park

Port Orford | 541.332.6774

EATS Redfish | Port Orford http://redfishportorford.com/

With a stunning and nearly deserted beach, Cape Blanco ranks as one of the top spots for sheer beauty and isolation. For the rock hunter, it’s an agate lover’s dream as the beach is littered with the semi-precious stones. The campground is set high above the beach and offers breathtaking views. Tent sites (which are first-come-first-served) along the “A” loop have ocean views, as do the four cabins. There are lighthouse tours from April-October and eight miles of trails are available for hiking with seven dedicated horse trails.

Categories: Recreation


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