The North Coast and the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington state are known for scenic beauty, outdoor recreation and seemingly endless history.
Many parks are available to visit for day or camping trips. Some have been the backdrop of movies. Others are home to shipwrecks and areas once traversed by Lewis and Clark. All are worth a visit.
Next time you have a day to spare, consider heading to one of these parks.
Oswald West State Park
No matter the time of year, if you drive along U.S. Highway 101 through Oswald West State Park, you’re guaranteed to see parking lots full of outdoor enthusiasts. The hype is well deserved — the park includes scenic trails through vibrant forests leading to remarkable views of the North Coast with a beach for tide pool viewing and surfing.
The park is named after former Gov. Oswald West, who helped set aside about 400 miles of Oregon shoreline for the public. The park was created between 1931 and 1976 through a series of land purchases and donations. However, the area’s history goes back hundreds of years.
The park features an abundance of great hiking trails. When deciding where you want to trek, keep in mind when sunset is — the later in the day, the harder it is to navigate Oswald’s trails.
Cape Falcon and Neah-Kah-Nie Mountain are two of the most popular spots to hike inside Oswald West. Both spots feature moderate hikes but can easily become difficult to navigate if it has recently rained. If you decide to brave the trails post-rainfall, opt for waterproof hiking boots instead of tennis shoes. Hikes in these areas include the Cape Falcon trail and Neah-Kah-Nie Mountain Loop Hike. Either make for a spectacular day hike.
Short Sand Beach is another popular spot inside the park. Getting to the beach requires a short walk from the park’s main parking lot. Once there, you can watch surfers (or join in), picnic and explore some of the coast. On each end of the beach are tide pools and small caves. Walk to the north end of the beach to see Blumenthal Falls, a waterfall that connects to the Pacific Ocean.
Ecola State Park
Ecola State Park features an abundance of sights and trails that are so picturesque you may find yourself feeling as if you’re in a movie. Fittingly, the park’s scenery has been featured as a backdrop to films like “The Goonies,” “Twilight,” “Kindergarten Cop” and “Point Break.”
The park was established in the 1930s and 1940s after land purchases. It operates as day-use only, so it’s best to be selective about which trails and activities you want to explore per trip. There are a handful of trails to hike in the park. Each is a moderate hike; experienced hikers may find the trails easy but those who aren’t used to changing elevations and sometimes muddy trails should exercise caution.
On the north end of the park is the Tillamook Head Trail and the Clatsop Loop Trail. Tillamook Head takes hikers through about 12 miles of old-growth forests featuring Sitka spruce. Clatsop Loop is a much easier hike, lasting about 2.5 miles. The two trails run parallel to each other for a while, so if you’re short on time, Clatsop Loop may work better. Clatsop Loop also connects to Bald Mountain, which is a great spot to take photos.
The park’s other main trails are Indian Beach Trail and Crescent Beach Trail. Indian Beach is slightly longer, at 2.1 miles, versus Crescent Beach’s 1.2-mile distance. Both trails lead hikers downhill toward the beach. Indian Beach is a fairly popular choice among hikers. The sandy beach is popular for picnickers, surfers and photographers. Crescent Beach is also a favorite and makes for great wave watching, although the small beach is unreachable during high tides.
The park’s main parking lot also offers space for a picnic. There are a few short walking trails in this area that are worth a visit and won’t take more than five minutes. Here, you can see waves crash on Indian and Crescent beaches. You can also see Tillamook Rock Lighthouse in the distance.
Fort Stevens State Park
Constructed during the 1800s and first used as a military base in the 1860s during the Civil War, Fort Stevens State Park was actively used until the end of World War II. Today, the park features military batteries, a shipwreck and several historical artifacts.
While Fort Stevens was active during multiple wars, its battle history is short. In 1942, the fort was attacked by a Japanese submarine — making Fort Stevens the only site of a World War II attack on a mainland U.S. military base.
Fort Stevens is one of the country’s largest state parks, yet much of the park can be explored in a day. If you’re interested in seeing the bulk of the park’s military batteries and artifacts, head to the park’s main entrance. From there, you’ll be within walking distance of most of the park’s historical grounds where you can view cannons, artillery and wildlife — if you’re lucky, you may even come across an owl or elk.
The park’s visitor center is also located there. This part of the park includes a handful of trails, picnic spots and a 9-hole disc golf course.
If you venture to the other park entrance, you’ll find yourself on Jetty Road, which takes you to the other sites of Fort Stevens. Along this road, there are a few places you can stop to visit. First up is Battery Russell, a military battery that was used from 1904 to 1944. Near the entrance to the battery, you can access a road that takes you to Coffenbury Lake, located by the park’s campgrounds. It features swimming options and a walking trail. Another road in this area takes you to the Wreck of the Peter Iredale, a four-masted ship that ran aground near Fort Stevens on Oct. 25, 1906.
If you continue along the main road, you’ll come across four more points worth stopping at: areas A, B, C and D. Area A and Area B are great spots for beach walking and for viewing the Pacific Ocean. Area C is a good (but sometimes dangerous) spot for wave watching, as it features an observation tower that overlooks the ocean and the mouth of the Columbia River. Area D is a quieter spot that can make for great wildlife viewing along Trestle Bay and the river. These areas are accessible by vehicle. You can also generally connect from spot to spot by walking or cycling along the park’s many trails.
Lewis and Clark National Historical Park
Lewis and Clark National Historical Park features a bevy of history and areas to explore.
During the winter of 1805 and 1806, the largest structure in Clatsop County was a log fort housing Capt. Meriweather Lewis, Capt. William Clark and the Corps of Discovery. The corp’s winter quarters at Fort Clatsop are available to visit. The park’s visitor center also includes details about the legacy of the Corps of Discovery and their time in the Pacific Northwest. An audio walking tour of the park is available at bit.ly/3mdxA4K.
Visitors can also traverse the trails Lewis and Clark once walked. The 6.5-mile (13.5 miles down and back) Fort to Sea Trail from Fort Clatsop to Sunset Beach is an unsung gem of breathtaking beauty. A sense of adventure is all around as you journey through vast swaths of Sitka spruce, over streams, ferns and open fields before arriving at the golden grass leading to the beach.
The park’s Kwis Kwis and South Slough trails are also worth exploring. These feature diverse terrain and picturesque views. The Netul Landing trail snakes along the Lewis and Clark River and features many info boxes along the way explaining the area’s history. Netul Landing also includes a canoe launch and guided kayak tours in the summer.
Other sites to see related to the Corps of Discovery include the Salt Works exhibit in Seaside (on Lewis and Clark Way, near the Seaside Prom) and the Dismal Nitch rest area on the Washington state side of the Columbia River, just east of the Astoria Bridge.
Cape Disappointment State Park
In 1775, Spanish explorer Bruno de Heceta named a portion of what would become Ilwaco, Washington, “Bahia de La Asuncion” — which translates to Bay of the Assumption. Thirteen years later, British trader John Meares proclaimed the area Cape Disappointment, his dominant emotion at the time after not finding a large bay. Over the past few centuries, many visitors have explored Cape Disappointment, including the Corps of Discovery during the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Today, Cape Disappointment State Park spans over 2,000 acres along the Columbia River. The park is a popular destination for campers, hikers, cyclists and storm watchers.
Head over to the park by driving along North Head Road, which takes you from the north to the south end of the park. You can’t go wrong if you head into the park through a different entrance but if you start from the north, you’ll have an easier time accessing multiple viewpoints. Along the drive, toward your right, you’ll see a viewpoint turnoff — park here to see a picturesque view of the coast, including thousands of trees, miles of beaches and the Pacific Ocean.
From here, there are several other spots to explore. Keep heading along this road, and you’ll find several worthwhile places to park your car and head out for a walk. Popular spots worth visiting include Beards Hollow, which makes for fantastic beachcombing and tide pool viewing; and Waikiki Beach, a popular place to storm-watch and picnic.
There are several trails worth hiking inside the park as well. North Head Lighthouse and Cape Disappointment Lighthouse are both reachable via short hikes. The Discovery Trail goes through the outskirts of the park, including stops at both lighthouses, Battery Harvey Allen and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. These spots are also accessible through shorter hikes.
Willapa National Wildlife Refuge
Long Beach, Washington
Willapa National Wildlife Refuge is the place to go for birdwatchers. President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the refuge in Washington state in 1937 as an effort to protect migrating birds and their habitats. Roosevelt’s efforts proved worthwhile: more than 200 species visit the refuge each year, including dozens of shorebirds.
The refuge isn’t home to just birds, though — elk, salmon, river otters, black bears, black-tailed deer, porcupine and raccoons are among other species that inhabit the refuge. Many of the normally land-locked animals live on Long Island, a large island in the refuge. The island is known for its wildlife and 900-plus-year-old western red cedar trees, hiking trails and camping options. The island is only reachable by boat, making it a popular destination for kayakers and canoers. The refuge operates a barge that takes visitors to the island. Most people travel to Long Island off U.S. Highway 101.
This portion of the refuge is also home to the refuge’s art trail, a short walk that features public art and sculptures depicting wildlife and Pacific Northwest history.
The refuge isn’t limited to its location off Highway 101, though. It takes up much of the Long Beach Peninsula’s northern tip. To explore the refuge on the peninsula, head to the refuge’s headquarters on 67th Place off Sandridge Road. After visiting the headquarters, keep heading north to the refuge’s other spots: the Tarlatt Unit and Leadbetter Unit.
Tarlatt Unit is great for wildlife viewing. Reach this spot via 95th Place or 85th Place from Sandridge Road. Leadbetter is also great for wildlife viewing, and is known for its birdwatching spots. It also has its own state park, Leadbetter Point State Park, which features a handful of walking trails — head there by traveling north to Stackpole Road.