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Grant's Getaways: A Jewel in the Rough

South Beach State Park on the central Oregon Coast offers camping, hiking, paddling and agate hunting.

NEWPORT, Ore. — Do you have camping plans before the summer disappears? If not, consider a wonderful family camping destination along the central Oregon coast that’s hard to resist for so many reasons.

South Beach State Park, one mile south of Newport, is a jewel in the rough across the Oregon outdoors.

The 500-acre parkland offers spacious campgrounds with nearly 280 sites that are perfect for tents or trailers. Plus, another 30 yurts for folks who like to camp but lack all the gear.

Credit: Grant McOmie

Park Ranger Dani Padilla said that South Beach SP is often coined a jewel for the way the ocean waters sparkle in the sun – plus, it is terrific “destination vacation” for the varied activities that are easy to find along the central coast.

Credit: Grant McOmie

For example, she suggested a guided paddle trip (offered five days a week) on nearby Brian Booth State Park, formerly called Beaver Creek.

“Paddling on Beaver Creek is one of the most peaceful and one of the closest times you can get in tune with nature,” noted Padilla. “We don’t have tidal influence on Beaver Creek so you’re not worried about the tides or the waves, and you will see all of the migratory birds, eagles and ospreys.”

Credit: Grant McOmie

More than three million visitors flock to the 24-mile stretch of beach between South Newport and Yachats each year.

And yet, according to Alan Freudenthal with the Oregon Parks & Recreation Department (OPRD), the search for peace, quiet and solitude takes very little effort.

“You may look a little bit more and you may need to get a little further away from the cities, but places like Brian Booth SP includes Beaver Creek, Ona Beach and more – there are great hiking trails throughout that allow you hike to the top of a mountain and see the ocean and not hear any road noise or see very few people.”

Credit: Grant McOmie

OPRD’s Christopher Maitlen said beachside agate collecting is popular recreation and pays off with gorgeous stones that park visitors can keep.

Maitlen is a big fan of the park’s interpretive program called “Beach Booty 101” and that’s no surprise – he’s the teacher:

“This is called a wrack line, Grant," explained Maitlen. ”We actually have two wrack lines from the two high tides each day. As you see, we have a few specimens of agates and shells along this line mixed in with all the vegetation.”

RELATED: Grant's Getaways: A cool summer retreat along Sauvie Island

Collecting agates is for personal use only! You are allowed one gallon per day and you must use your own bucket to collect. Critically, no digging into the sand is allowed, you must pick the agates off the beach.

“That’s to keep it from going to commercial use,” said Maitlen. “This is for private collections so you can have a memory of your visit to the coast.

Credit: Grant McOmie

Maitlen loves to share his own collections that can show you what you might find for very little effort — not just agates or jaspers, but fossils that date back more than 12 million years, where Maitlen insisted, “Oregon history is written in the rocks.”

“The creatures — clams or snails — are frozen in time, captured in layers of sandstone,” said Maitlen. “It’s kinda funny – there they were, living a happy day on the beach just like you or I might, and then all of a sudden a dramatic explosion occurred and silt and volcanic ash covered them up. Through millions of years, pressure and heat fossilized the shell matter.”

Credit: Grant McOmie

Maitlen explained that Oregon was once a tropical landscape with volcanic activity a constant marker of time. Trying to understand how it all changed is a part of the mystery that he loves to consider.

“The rocks and fossils humble me when I consider the passage of so much time held right in my hand. I know that I am just a speck on this planet for a fraction of time and State Parks feels it’s important that we offer visitors the chance to find these treasures too - that’s a wonderful thing and we’ll keep that going so get out here and take a walk because the rock beds are where you find them.”

Credit: Grant McOmie

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Be sure to follow my Oregon adventures via the new Grant’s Getaways Podcast. Each segment is a story-telling session where I relate behind the scenes stories from four decades of travel and television reporting.

You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including:

"Grants Getaways I," Photography by Steve Terrill

"Grant's Getaways II," Photography by Steve Terrill

Grant’s Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures,” Photography by Jeff Kastner

Grant’s Getaways: Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon,” Photography by Jeff Kastner

Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids,” Photography by Jeff Kastner

The collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promises to engage a kid of any age.

My next book, “Grant’s Getaways: Another 101 Oregon Adventures” will be published in 2022.