Fort Stevens State Park is more than a historic military site. There are plenty of things to do while camping. Discover the Peter Iredale shipwreck, play on Oregon beaches, swim in Coffenbury Lake, hike the Oregon Coast Trail, bike through beautiful scenery and more.
Camping at Fort Stevens State Park is one of our favorite summer family vacations. We just returned home from a 7-day camping trip that was chock full of all of our favorite things to do in Oregon.
This state park has over 600 camping sites and is Oregon's largest campground. Because it's kid-friendly, offers a variety of camping options (rv, yurts, cabins and tent sites) and educational programs and activities, Fort Stevens would make a perfect family reunion destination. Just book early. Reservations can be made up to 9 months in advance.
Our kids loved participating in the Junior Ranger program. The program's goal is to help children have fun in the outdoors while they learn about Oregon parks and resources. Both boys received a passport and activity booklet. Each time they completed an activity page, they could have their passport stamped by a park host or ranger. The kids completed Level 1 and earned a badge and learned the J.R. Beaver secret greeting. (I'd tell you what the greeting is, but, well, it's a secret.) After two more family trips to participating Oregon campgrounds, they can earn a patch and certificate.
I think their favorite Fort Stevens State Park JR Ranger program was, "The Hazardous Lives of Whales," and the whale migration game. All the kids had to "migrate" (run) from one place to the next while avoiding hazards such as beach and rocks (both sides of the grassy area), crab nets (park volunteers waving their arms) and predators (more volunteers chasing children). Then they had to gather as much food (peppermint candies in the grass) as they could and migrate back to the starting point. All the kids had a great time.
Our kids - along with dozens of others - also enjoyed the playground area. They quickly found friends and made up several games using the playground equipment.
Fort Stevens State Park has more than seven beautiful miles of paved bike paths. Bikes were our transportation method of choice within the park and cruising the trails was one of our favorite parts of the trip. We rode around the various campsite loops, to and from the beach, to and from the museum and everywhere in between.
We also went on a guided Discovery Bike Tour throughout the park that lasted 2 ½ hours. It was a great introduction and overview of the park's features and the area's history. We returned later to most of the places included on the tour for more in-depth information and exploration.
In addition to the bike trails, the park has more than five miles of hiking trails. The Oregon Coast Trail begins at the South Jetty and continues along the beach. There's a two-mile trail around Coffenbury Lake (just one of many Oregon lakes). A mile-long trail runs between the north end of the lake and Battery Russell along a used-to-be sand dune. Nature trails run throughout the campground.
Hikers will see Sitka spruce, shore pine, western hemlock, red alder and cascara buckthorn. Small trees and shrubs include pacific red elder, Oregon crabapple, coast rhododendron, red huckleberry, box blueberry, English holly, salmonberry and salal. The ground cover is patched with horsetail, skunk cabbage, and a variety of ferns.
And don't forget your binoculars, as wildlife abounds. We saw deer, rabbits, coyotes, all kinds of birds, squirrels and raccoons.
The Fort Stevens Military Reservation guarded the mouth of the Columbia River for 84 years from the Civil War through World War II. The concrete gun batteries that were constructed during this time period still remain on site and can be toured on foot or via military truck. They're fascinating! During WWII, a Japanese submarine shelled Fort Stevens. The men stationed at the batteries were ready and willing to return fire but were not given the command to do so. There is much controversy and mystery surrounding the incident.
Every July, the Friends of Fort Stevens host a World War II reenactment. We watched the British and then American troops attack the Germans. The re-enactors dressed and acted their parts. They fired blank shots and pretended to die accordingly. There were even a couple of real - albeit accidental - fires. After the battle, we walked the grounds visiting the various live history displays and talking with the re-enactors.
The park also hosts a Civil War Reenactment over Labor Day weekend.
The "Peter Iredale" was a steel ship from England on its way to Portland to pick up a load of wheat when it wrecked near the mouth of the Columbia River. The remains of the shipwreck are still visible on the beach at Fort Stevens State Park.
If you've never camped on the coast, these camping tips and hints will help make your trip an enjoyable experience.
Coastal camping is wet. Even if (or rather, "when") it's not raining, the air is moist and it's common to feel a constant misting, especially at night and in the mornings.
Once you've finished exploring Fort Stevens State Park, there are plenty of other fun, interesting and educational things to do in the surrounding areas.
Astoria is historically important as the first permanent American settlement west of the Mississippi. There are more buildings on the National Historic Register per square foot than anywhere else in Oregon. Visit the Columbia Maritime Museum, Astoria Column or Flavel House, grab fish and chips at the Bow Picker while enjoying stunning views of the Columbia River, then ride the Riverfront Trolley. And that's just the beginning.
Fort Clatsop National Memorial features a replica of the fort in which the Lewis and Clark expedition spent the winter of 1805-06. The center features ranger-led program, re-enactors in the fort and trailheads for the Fort to Sea Trail and Netul River Trail.
Seaside and Cannon Beach offer many coastal resort activities and spectacular scenery. In Seaside, the 1.5-mile long ocean front Promenade is perfect for strolling, jogging and bike riding. There are plenty of dining options featuring local seafood and Pacific Northwest fare. Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach is a must-see. It's the world's third-largest monolith at 235 feet and is a federally-designated marine garden with protected sea life.
Ecola State Park is just north of Cannon Beach and a prime spot for whale watching and tide-pooling.
With so much to do and see, is it any wonder that we're already planning a trip for next year? We look forward to making a visit to the Oregon Coast an annual tradition for our family.