How and where should we beach camp on the Oregon coast?
June 25, 2007 4:43 PM   Subscribe

Some friends and I would like to camp on the beaches of Oregon. What do we need to know and how do we go about it?

Where can we camp in Oregon on an ocean beach? I've never attempted this before and my google searches don't prove very useful for trying to figure out the legality of it and if we need to find actual campsites. Our plan is to camp on an ocean beach and attend the Portland International Beer Festival.
posted by pontouf to Travel & Transportation around Oregon (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you're planning on doing both of these things on the same day, you should realize that the Oregon Coast is about a 1.5 hour drive from Portland, which is useful information for the poor sap who'll have to be the designated driver. Beerfest is an excellent thing.

Unfortunately, I don't know nothin' about camping on the coast, but I just thought you needed to know that it's a bit of a commute from the beach to Portland.
posted by pdb at 5:20 PM on June 25, 2007

You can't do it anywhere. It isn't legal to camp on the beach. However, the whole coast is lined with state campgrounds where you can get a site to pitch your tent for not very much per night. There are shower rooms and each site has a fire pit.

There aren't any private beaches in Oregon. The state owns the entire length of the beach from the California border all the way to the Columbia River. (Thank you, Governor Oswald West!)

I should also point out that while the distance from Portland to the coast is not all that great as the crow flies, the roads are such that it isn't what you'd consider a comfortable commute. (ESPECIALLY after you've attended a beer festival.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:22 PM on June 25, 2007

I was always told that it was legal (or rather, not prohibited) as long as it is outside of city limits, in the public access area, out of sight of any buildings, and there are no signs prohibiting it. (This is the only language I could find in the Parks Dept. rules: link:

Overnight camping, including overnight sleeping in tents, driftwood shelters, sleeping bags, recreational vehicles, trailers or automobiles, on the ocean shore within the city limits of Cannon Beach, Lincoln City, Seaside, Newport, Bandon, Gold Beach, Rockaway Beach and Manzanita is prohibited.)

But they do go to some care on the website to avoid saying "beach camping is ok," so it may be less ok than I have been told, although it has never gotten me arrested, and I've met plenty of park workers while beach camping. More to the point for you, following my understanding of the rules pretty much forces you to camp in quite remote spots, mostly inconvenient to the road. If you are going to be driving off to Portland the next day, you would probably be much happier in a state park campground, many of which are next to the water.

(There are some serious safety issues with beach camping, involving high tides and sneaker waves, so if you do go that route please do it safely, and obey the rules about campfires, picking up trash, and so on.)
posted by Forktine at 5:25 PM on June 25, 2007

Yes, i second that the drive to and from Portland takes time. I have done some illegal beach camping on the coast. In my experience, it's best to go in the middle of the week to less-frequented beaches. I've only done it for a night and have usually ended up leaving somewhat early the next morning due to the ever-present Oregon rain clouds. That said, it was some awesome camping and even if you end up in the less-awesome nearby campgrounds, it's still a good time.

Don't forget the Hebrew National hotdogs! They make any camping experience very very tasty.
posted by heatherbeth at 5:26 PM on June 25, 2007

Probably the easiest major campground to reach from Portland by car is Fort Stevens State Park, near Astoria. US 30 is a more comfortable drive than US 26, and Fort Stevens is huge.

But you should probably get a reservation. Those campgrounds along the coast are very popular.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:27 PM on June 25, 2007

If you're interesting in coast camping first and beer second, find a campground near Newport and spend your beer time at the Rogue Brewery.

Wherever you choose to camp, it will probably rain.
posted by danblaker at 5:30 PM on June 25, 2007

The sand fleas grow enormous after dark.

And when you turn your back.

Seriously, if you're bringing your good sleeping bag, I wouldn't take it on the beach. It is going to get full of crustaceans.
posted by Sallyfur at 5:49 PM on June 25, 2007

No one will ever hassle you if you have a fire going. I can't imagine anyone bothering you if you camped. Esp. if you could not be seen from the road. We typically stop anywhere there's a pullout and walk down to the beach and do as we wish. Be courteous of others, try to stay out of site of homeowners, etc. Common sense.

I'd get the Delorme map and just look for any stretch of coastline that is adjacent to the road (101) or offshoots and go for it. State Parks in the summer are frequently full.
posted by docpops at 5:53 PM on June 25, 2007

just make sure you bring sufficient sleeping insulation, the beach gets damn cold at night.
posted by caddis at 5:57 PM on June 25, 2007

You should camp here if you can (Oswald West State Park)--it is awesomeness that is beyond words. Note though that it is a walk-in campground (if memory serves) and first-come-first-served camping so during the middle of the week you might have a chance but arriving on the weekend your chances are very slim. Oh, and thirding, or whatever that the coast is a ways from Portland. Have fun!
posted by fieldtrip at 8:05 PM on June 25, 2007

Oswald West campsites aren't technically on the beach but they are a very very short stroll away. So, you can walk down to the beach in the middle of the night. I think that it is pretty much not legal to crash on the beach these days (sad). But, if you stay away from the popular beaches and park your car somewhere a little discreet you can get away with it.
posted by fieldtrip at 8:07 PM on June 25, 2007

It's not close to Portland, but you can go sand camping near or at the coast at the Oregon Dunes Recreation Area. A large area near Umpqua Dunes are closed to Off-Road Vehicles (OHV"s) and is a good place to go to avoid the dune buggies. It seems the Park Service doesn't put much online about hike-in sand camping / beach camping online, but if you stop at the visitors center, they'll point you to the right area. Of course, you'll have to pack in your own beer. Have fun!
posted by Staggering Jack at 11:19 PM on June 25, 2007

What you need to know about camping on the beach: that it is friggin windy on the beach, and if you sleep with your feet toward the ocean, the wind will blow cold air down your sleeping bag (in my experience and according to this weather principle). The only way to avoid this is to find a wide, flat beach. On a beach that slants down toward the water -- if you want your feet lower than your head (who doesn't?) and if you want to be sliding down into your bag rather than sideways off your groundpad -- you will kinda have to put your feet toward the ocean and get the icy breeze.

I've noticed sand fleas at warm beaches but not the ones in Northern CA. Might've just been lucky though. I usually spread out a horse blanket / packing crate blanket that is much wider than my groundpad, so even if I roll off the pad, I'm not on the cold dirt. Maybe that made the difference.
posted by salvia at 12:22 AM on June 26, 2007

Best answer: Ok, I just called the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (800-551-6949). I was right: camping is legal, except where prohibited.

The no-no's are:

-- No camping in areas that abut state parks;

-- Not within the city limits I mentioned above;

-- and not where signs are posted prohibiting camping.

Anywhere else, within the bounds of safety, common sense, and good taste, is fair game. The person I spoke to said that they have closed down a bunch of areas where large numbers of people used to camp, due to excrement and trash issues -- this may be code for "homeless encampments" or "hippy party spots," I don't know. But if they haven't posted a sign saying "no," and you aren't next to a state park, you are legal.

Whether or not you want to drive that far every day for the beef festival is a different question, of course.
posted by Forktine at 8:21 AM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

beer, not beef. Both are great, but there is a difference...
posted by Forktine at 6:23 AM on June 27, 2007

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