Trask River County Park, one of the easiest campgrounds to reach in Tillamook County, is a sprawling, forested affair with sixty campsites--and many of the sites are situated streamside.
The park is open daily and is a destination that’s a bit of a secret and so crowds are seldom the rule.
You’re likely to find plenty of elbowroom at this Coast Range paradise that is located high in the Oregon Coast Range.
Oregon Dept of Forestry’s Nathan Seable called it a “refreshing moment” near a county park that’s often overlooked.
"Trask River Park is a real gold nugget for recreation and pretty much a full service campground. There are no RV hook ups, but there’s running water and vault toilets and a family oriented type camping atmposhere."
The trail that I like to travel is just down four miles away – along the narrow winding ribbon of asphalt named Trask Rver Road.
You’ll know the spot: watch for bald eagles soaring overhead or mid-summer wildflowers still showing off and a large trailhead sign that marks the start of a moderate hike called “Peninsula Trail.”
Seable noted, “The Peninsula Trail is about a mile long loop and it is on a unique geological formation of lava that bubbled up out of the earth eons ago. It became a hard basalt feature that the Trask River could not cut through, so it went around and created the peninsula.”
Along the trail, watch for charred remains of burned out old growth trees from the four major fires, (collectively called the Tillamook Burns) which roared through this country in the last century.
When you reach the river and the trail loop turns to take you back, you’ll find picnic tables for a river shore lunch – perfect place to linger for awhile.
“It’s a beautiful spot,” said Seable. Especially when the river’s down in summer! There’s a nice beach for kids to play along the river and people can fish too.”
While salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout swim in waters, take some time to explore the river’s nooks and crannies for something else – this is where the crawfish live
I have been visiting the Trask River each summer for more forty years to explore the river’s depths and catch small crustaceans called “crawfish.”
My kids have grown up enjoying the area as well – sometimes with a mask and a snorkel so to dive and catch the crawfish by hand – or with rod and reel a chunk of bacon at the end of a line.
You can also use a small wire-mesh trap (readily available at any sporting goods store) baited with a can of cat food.
Place the bait inside the trap as an attractant. The crawfish walk inside through the narrow funnel-like openings at either end. Once inside they can’t seem to find the way back out.
We attach a rope to the trap, toss it into a likely looking deep pool and then tie the rope off to a tree. We may leave it in the river for a few hours, or if we’re camping at the park, we leave it in overnight. We’ll retrieve it the next morning and it’s usually full of crawfish.
“You can find crawfish anywhere along the river in summer,” noted state fishery biologist Robert Bradley. “Walk out into any of the pools and even swifter water and start flipping over rocks and you’ll find some pretty quick.
Folks can catch them by hand or with traps; it’s a bit like crabbing in the bay only on a smaller scale. It’s an abundant resource that people can enjoy all summer long.”
No angling license or shellfish license is required to catch crawfish – and the limit is generous too: 100 crawdads per person per day is the daily limit.
We tossed our trap into the drink and we spent the day lounging on the inviting beach. When the mood to move, or the heat of the sun, struck us--we would scamper into the river.
My youngsters and I have always had a ball along the Trask River--- diving, exploring, searching the river bottom’s nooks and crannies, and rolling over submerged rocks to see what secrets the river held.
Whenever a sizable crawfish (we’d made a vow not to keep any under five inches in length) appeared, the youngsters would carefully maneuver hands to capture the critter by its head, just behind its two impressive and sizable pincer claws.
Catching crawdads by hand is fun sport and a delightful way to beat the summer heat.
Crawfish or crawdads or just plain “dads” are a creepy crawly kind of critter that kids love to catch and they taste good too.
We often prepare our catch using a good friend's recipe (see below for Birt Hansen's Basic Crawfish Boil.)
The taste of fresh-cooked crawfish is sublime--a very mild shrimp like taste that’s somewhat delicate.
In fact, the taste, the setting and the adventure offer stark contrast to the broiling sun and heat of summer--a perfect cap to a day’s adventure that your family will want to try real soon.
It is a getaway that confirms what you may suspect: you’re never too old to be a kid again – especially during the warm dog days of summer.
Getting there: From Portland, drive Oregon 6 to Tillamook. Approximately two miles east of Tillamook, watch for the Trask River Road cutoff. Turn left and continue for approximately six miles to the Trask River. Turn left and follow Trask River Road. The Peninsula Trailhead is located along Trask River Road approximately 9.3 miles from Highway 6; the park is approximately 3.5 miles further upriver on Trask River Road.
Birt Hansen’s Basic Crawfish Boil
(This recipe relies on a handful of simple ingredients.)
2 quarts water
1 cup vinegar
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup pickling spice
4 bay leaves
2 to 3 pounds crawfish
Bring the water and seasonings to a boil, then add the crawfish. Cook no longer than three to four minutes. Overcooked, the crawfish become rubberlike and flavorless. Spread out a sheet or two of newspaper on a picnic table, dump out the steaming crawdads, and dig in. Grab the tail section, pull it away, and simply peel off the tail shell--everything else will pull right out. Same with the claws--crack them open and pick out the meat. This is hands-on eating at its finger-licking finest--and that’s best with youngsters who really get into their meals. Enjoy with a twist of lemon!