TILLAMOOK COUNTY, Ore. — More summer heat is forecasted this weekend, so here are a variety of camping and hiking adventures to cool you off as the season winds down. Four of my favorite camping destinations that are a bit off the beaten path or offer unique features the entire family will enjoy.
Nestucca River Scenic Byway
The Nestucca River sings on its way to the sea and you may hear its song! It’s a place where milky white clouds wisps dance above giant Douglas Fir trees or tiny wild iris bunches burst to life close to ground.
So be prepared to spend some time in the Oregon Coast Range, 13 miles west of Carlton, and savor a roadway that threads through the heart of the mountains.
It is a back road so significant that the Bureau of Land Management designated eleven miles of it a National Scenic Byway.
You certainly won’t worry about getting lost on this scenic byway because right at the very start, at Dovre Campground, there’s a huge wooden map to show you the way — plus, it identifies several different campgrounds that invite you to make a longer stay.
There are four campgrounds along this byway and each is sheltered under cool canopies of big leaf maple and alder. Each offers campsites that are tucked away in a forest setting and many are streamside too.
Sometimes the campgrounds are but a starting point that will allow you to launch side trips like the short hike up Dovre Creek where you can enjoy the Dovre Creek Waterfall. It’s a stunner of a cascade style waterfall in spring and summer – and offers cool respite when the day heats up.
As you continue your drive west on the byway toward Beaver, Oregon, keep in mind that the road parallels an ancient river – marked by 40-million year old basalt rock formations that – even on cloudless days – are drenched from seeping groundwater. The water drips and slides across lush moss and water-loving wildflowers that hang from the rock walls.
You are apt to find me along this river in summer – especially on a day when sunbeams light up the scene and fairy slipper orchids wave me along a river that flows toward the sea with its magical, ageless song.
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Wildness Rules Whalen Island
Take a deep breath and savor a place meant for the quiet times at the only Oregon state park that’s a coastal island getaway at Clay Myers Natural Area.
The site includes nearly two hundred acres of forest, sand and estuary. The unique Whalen Island state park property is prized because there are few folks around.
“We don’t get huge amounts of use here,” noted Oregon State Parks and Recreation Manager Pete Marvin. “You often have the place pretty much to yourself and that makes it nice.”
The waterway surrounding Whalen Island is called Sandlake and it is shallow throughout, averaging just two feet deep at flood tide.
The estuary wraps around the island on the high tide and that is the time you will find paddlers like Marc Hinz launching kayak excursions to explore the parkland.
“I like to bring folks here to enjoy the quiet, serene and secluded nature of the waterway,” said Hinz.
Marc Hinz is a co-owner of Kayak Tillamook and he leads tours for a company that specializes in coastal estuary trips.
“You don’t see many people here because it’s too shallow for motorized boats," said Hinz.
Hinz adds that Sandlake’s isolation means paddlers should be prepared to handle any issue that might arise on the water.
“Even though it is a shallow waterway, there are deeper parts and the tide does recede out into the ocean. So it’s important to wear your life jackets, bring an extra paddle, basic first aid and a communication device in case you get into trouble.”
Whalen Island is tucked between two landmark coastal features: Cape Lookout to the north, a massive, forested headland that juts more than two-miles out to sea. Plus, Cape Kiwanda is to the south with its landmark Haystack Rock just offshore.
Tillamook County manages Whalen Island Campground’s eight acres that offers 30 sites for tents or trailer. There are no water or electricity hooks ups, so your rig must be self-contained.
Let’s Go Camping
It’s summer time and the camping life is easy unless you’re a newcomer to the camping experience, but at Silver Falls State Park no one is left behind when the call goes out: “Let‘s Go Camping.”
“Have fun and try not to make too much work” is a key message for the folks who signed up for the Oregon State Park program called Let’s Go Camping.
“It’s a bit like a class in Camping 101 where no assumptions are made about your outdoor skills, abilities or experiences,” according to Kevin Farron.
In addition, Farron added that dedicated volunteers lead many of the Let’s Go Camping seminars for newcomer campers at state parks through the summer.
The goal is to introduce beginners to the techniques and equipment that many car campers (folks who stay in a tent rather than a trailer or RV) might consider for their own camping trip. In fact, if you don’t own camping gear that’s ok because they will loan you the tent, sleeping bags, pads and stoves to set you on the right path.
Eric Markman said the idea is perfectly suited to families that are trying to get their youngsters outdoors this summer: “If you haven’t done much camping and you’re a little intimidated by it, it’s a great way to start. A low risk, highly educational and great family oriented approach to doing it.”
And the price is right too! On this weekend, eight families signed up for an overnight session at Silver Falls State Park and each family paid just $30 to go to the camping school.
Park rangers also assist the class with lessons on safety. For example – showing and talking about the ten safety essentials you’d want to take with you on a hike, plus everyday camping techniques and the proper way to build a fire. There’s even a cooking lesson – Dutch oven style.
Bryan Jones, one of the Let’s Go Camping volunteers, said he wouldn’t trade a minute of the experiences he’s had teaching Oregon’s next generation of campers: “I saw this program online I clicked on the link and volunteered for a weekend to help out – now, I’m hooked on showing inexperienced families the pleasures in of camping in Oregon.”
Cascadia State Park
It’s a Huck Finn sort of world along the Santiam River as you motor through Short Bridge — a wooden shingle covered bridge built in 1945.
The bridge connects you with adventure at Cascadia State Park where you will enjoy 24 sites for tent or small trailers.
The serene camp setting was once a center for those seeking healthy remedies for whatever ailed them from mineral water that bubbled out of the ground. A century ago it was a resort with a health spa and included a post office, hotel and camping area that became a vacation destination for thousands.
There is a huge picnic area to explore before you find the signs that take you up a trail along Soda Creek. It's a three-quarter mile hike to reach Lower Soda Falls on a moderate trail that is steep and muddy in spots.
An old growth forest shades you on this route that follows the tiny creek, so allow yourself some time to stop along the way and savor the scenes. The payoff is worth the effort when you reach end of the line at Lower Soda Waterfall; over 150 feet top to bottom in a cool, refreshing moment.
When the river and the roadway call you back, be sure to duck in and enjoy the whopper of a wildflower show that’s at its finest this week. The Camas Prairie is a forest service managed site just off Moose Creek Road near Cascadia State Park.
It is a site best enjoyed from a distance so bring a camera and please stay out of the meadows. The site is an important cultural and natural resource and it is protected.
The Camas Prairie visit is a perfect cap to the day’s getaway adventure along a delightful scenic byway.
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.