Boondocking Along the Middle Oregon Coast

cumminscreekI'm back at one of my favorite spots along the Pacific Coast Highway, and I'm going to stay here awhile. All the ingredients are in place – beautiful scenery, suitable supplies nearby, and a welcoming local environment that makes boondocking easy. I may spend weeks here – I did the last two years as we drove through the area, bumming up and down the shoreline.

Where I'm taking about is the middle Oregon coast south of the tiny seaside town of Yachats. One sure sign that this is a great place is that it's nowhere near any large towns – Waldport is maybe ten miles north, the slightly larger town of Newport another ten north of that, and Florence 20 miles to the south. Never heard of any of these? Good – that means I'm in the right place 😉

This is the view of the stretch of coastline I'm boondocking on from a 500 foot high headland, Cape Perpetua. It's sandy beaches interspersed with igneous headlands.

We came out to the coast along US Highway 20, smack into the northern part of the Seattle metro area, all 4.2 million peoples' worth of it. Looking for a better land-to-people ratio, we drove south into Oregon, but the northern part of the Oregon coast is too close to Portland, another megapolis, and it's all salt water taffy shops, helicopter rides, and posh B&Bs with no vacancy signs. I thought I was having a Florida flashback.

Drive an hour or two south down Highway 101, though and the “NO OVERNIGHT PARKING” signs festooning every oceanfront pullout  start to disappear. The big city stuff falls away, and by Tillamook you start seeing $1.65 a gallon propane at the farmer's co-op and farm machinery driving down the highway.  Once you get down to the Yachats area, people are actually glad to see you coming. There's not much business down here – a few summer cottages and some campgrounds – so the local merchants' smile when you walk in their store is genuine.

Sea urchins in the tide pools. The lava makes for great seaside exploration.

Sea urchins in the tide pools. The lava makes for great seaside exploration.

Oregon made some very wise land use decisions fifty-sixty years ago, and practically the whole coastline is state parks and national forest. Private property on the seaward side of the coastal highway is the exception rather than the rule, and the land use policy is all about public access. After seeing developers in my native Florida buy up chunks of oceanfront and actually move the coastal road inland to keep the riff-raff out of their gated communities, this is indeed a breath of fresh air.  Oregon also has a liberal boondocking policy – you can stay for 12 hours at any spot not otherwise posted, as long as it's outside a state park.  My kind of place 😉

Cook's Chasm parking area. That's Cape perpetua in the background. Over the wall are lava outcrops, Thor's Well, sea caves, and the famous chasm.

Cook's Chasm parking area. That's Cape Perpetua in the background. Over the wall are lava outcrops, Thor's Well, sea caves, and the famous chasm. It's maybe 2-3 miles south of the town of Yachats.

My main overnight spot is called Cook's Chasm. Old lava flows to the ocean are all up and down the coast here, and at Cook's Chasm the lava has been eroded by wave action into caves and chasms – the waves really boom and spout out the blowholes of these when the surf's up and the tide is right. It's a large parking area on the ocean side of the highway, overlooking Thor's Well, a giant blowhole in an underwater cave that you can watch for hours as the waves come in and waters sloshes in and out of it. And the best part is – the waves are phosphorescent on moonless late summer nights. It's an eerie blue-green glow in the breakers – unforgettable. And this is where I spend the night – the daytime places are even more scenic.

Fiona enjoys the view (and the floor show by the local field mice) at one of the day stay areas, Ocean Beach

Fiona enjoys the view (and the floor show by the local field mice) at one of the day stay areas, Ocean Beach

South of Cook's Chasm are a series of day stay areas to which we decamp every morning – Neptune North and South, Stonefield Beach, Ocean Beach, Strawberry Hill, and Muriel Ponder Memorial.  These are administered by the state park system, which prefers you be in one of their campgrounds if you're going to spend the night, so it's day stay only for us. We just pick one at random, drive down there, set up the dishes, and watch the ocean, whales, and sea otters all day. As twilight falls, it's time to go back to Cook's Chasm, watch the sunset, eat dinner, wash dishes, have our tea, and then watch the phosphorescence and listen to the waves booming in the caves as we drift off to sleep.

Thor's Well erupting - part of our evening entertainment at Cook's Chasm.

Thor's Well erupting – part of our evening entertainment at Cook's Chasm. The glowing ocean comes later.

Logistics? There's a bread-milk-eggs store in Yachats, a real grocery store in Waldport, and a Walmart and Safeway for serious restocking in Newport.  Propane can be purchased at either Yachats or Waldport, and there's fresh water and a dump at Washburne State Park, ten miles south of us.  It's free – Oregon parks sometimes ask for donations, but they generally let people dump and get water at state parks even if they aren't camping there. A nice place, like I said. We average maybe 10-20 miles of driving a day when we're here, so a tank of gas lasts for two weeks easy. Our only real cost to stay here is the food we eat.





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Like I said, we may stay here a while. Daytime highs are 70 or so, nighttime lows are 50ish, and it's sunny every day after a foggy dawn. I could get used to this.

There are

53 comments

  1. Maureen

    Thanks for all the details. I too love the Oregon coast. One has to go out on the sand dunes at least once to experience the expanse of them and see all the “tree islands.”

  2. Roberta

    We were just talking about Yachats, yesterday. Our home is in escrow so we will take to the road and do some road trekking to, eventually.

  3. Stu

    Boy you sure make it hard on us folks that can’t get out right now ,can I say envious. But keep these travel reports coming because some day I will be free to roam and I’m taking notes. Thanks again for a great story and sharing your travels with us.

  4. Barbara Wadkins

    Very nice article about our beloved Central Coast. If you plan ahead, and reserve your spot ahead of time (very popular campground) try out Beachside State Park. It’s right on the beach and very quiet (even though it’s just off Hwy 1). It’s our favorite stop but we usually have to reserve our favorite site a year ahead of time. Safe Journey!

    • Campskunk
      Author

      yes, it looked full when i drove past it on the way down here. Tillicum National Forest Campground, where i had a great stay after Labor Day two years ago, also had the “campground full” sign out. people are getting in their family vacations now, because the kids will be back in school soon, so us fulltimers need to be gracious, knowing that our time is coming 😉

  5. Skinny Badger

    I sure do enjoy your posts. I’m keenly interested in boondocking and while I can’t do much now it is sure nice to read the details of how you’re doing it. Keep ’em coming.

  6. Thanks, for sharing the details. I know the area well, but haven’t traveled it since we had our Roadtrek. Now I want to revisit it in Campskunk style!

  7. Debbie Broadstreet

    Several years ago we volunteered at the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center for 6 months (May through October). In return, we got a free RV site with full hookups, 50 amp service and a washer & dryer. We spent 4 hours each day at the Devils Churn watching gray whales, answering tourist questions and selling passes. Devils Churn is great because Kyleen sells espresso and hot dogs. We explored the whole Oregon coast while there. Awesome! There is a Fred Mayer Market Place (Kroger) just north of Florence with great diesel prices and gobs of supplies. The drive from Yachats to Florence is the most scenic 21 miles of the middle coast. This is our favorite place ever!

    • Campskunk
      Author

      we just drove that today- we’re down in North Bend getting our west coast dental cleanings and picking up a package from “home” at the UPS Store here. it’s a really amazing landscape – the forests come right down to the ocean, with the trees getting smaller and smaller as they approach the beach. the coastal road loops inland a hundred yards and suddenly you’re completely surrounded by giant spruce and fir trees. there are sand dunes too, which i avoid because of the ATV infestations, but they’re really beautiful.

      • Greg Burbach

        Hello Mr Campskunk,
        Hey, you are in my old stomping grounds, I grew up in Florence and worked up and down Hiway 101 for many years. Believe it or not, when I was in the USCG, there was a open wire CG telephone line that went along the coast. We worked out of Coos Bay and maintained the line from Brookings to Depoe Bay. It went right up and over the top of Cape Perpetua just N of where you camp. That was one of the tougher spots to keep the line up in the winter-time. If you have any questions about the area, stop a couple miles south of Sea Lion Caves at the house where the Bones Rhododendron Nursery sign is. I grew up with Mike Bones and he is a super friendly guy. He has lived in the area all his life and retired from the Or State park system. ( He used to be in charge of Washburne State Park where you dump and get water.) Stonefield and Ponsler state parks? Yes, knew those families. Sea Lion Caves? Yes, knew the 3 families that developed the place. (Florence was small in the old days and everybody knew each other) One word of warning, and this has been going on for years, be aware of thieves at the waysides you frequent. Stop in and visit us in Albany. Greg and Susan Burbach, 2000 190P

        • Campskunk
          Author

          hah! see all the stuff going on that i just drive by unawares? i’ve read hair-raising stories of the old coastal mail routes before there were roads here- the guy went around cape perpetua holding onto his horse’s tail when the weather got bad enough. that’s one thing i’m happy to miss – the weather here for the 10 months of the year that i’m gone. we lock everything up tight when we camp alongside the road, and trying to break in would be… inadvisable 😉

  8. Sue

    I loved Oregon and thought it one of the prettiest places I’d been. I’d go back in a heart beat! Remind folks that there is a lot of history along the coast and it’s fun to visit the Tillamook Cheese Factory, too. But the scenery is the main draw and it is truly breathtaking!

  9. Thanks for the mid-oregon-coast boondock info Campskunk. My wife and i call Astoria our home (full time in a 38ft mobile suite) but once a month head out for a week long adventure in our van+…i had been trying to find some spots down the coast from us and you did the homework (and nice writeup) for us!
    cheers,
    Thom

  10. Hi Campskunk! Any experience with good places to boondock near Astoria on the northern Oregon coast? We’re looking to head out there from Portland to celebrate New Years in our GoodTimesVan (2006 Adventurous). Thanks!

    • Campskunk
      Author

      i was usually there in the summer and the north coast was too crowded for me, but this time of year it should be much better. i’d say just do the same thing i did- stay out of the parks and off private property, and move every 12 hours. i don’t know any particular places because all i ever did was drive through on the coastal highway.

  11. Greetings, I thought i’d chime in here since my wife and i live in Astoria. Unfortunately all the cities in the area (Astoria, Warrenton, Seaside) all have no-overnight-camping city ordinances and will tow at owners expense. There is no parking allowed in the parking lots of any of the big-box stores/etc. And the Walmart coming in summer of 2014 will have no-overnight-parking due to these ordinances (from what i’ve gathered in local news).

    soooo… If you want to camp legally, i would recommend Cape Deception State Park across the river in Long Beach WA, or Fort Stevens State Park in Warrenton, or Nehalem State park about an hour south.

    This time of year (after Labor Day weekend and before Memorial Day weekend) it is easy to find a campsite and the rates are off-season.

    Happy Trails,
    Thom

    • Campskunk
      Author

      i did a little research and there’s one bright spot in this dreary land of anti-RV ordinances: the Fort Clatsop Historical marker pullout, halfway between Astoria and Warrenton on 101. it’s not in any city limits, so the general 12 hour limit in any 24 applies. it’s not scenic, but at least you can spend the night there legally.

  12. Campskunk you are right!
    I pass by that little gravel pull out (room for a couple class A’s anyway) on my daily commute. And as you said there is a time limit. The Sheriff department is just up the hill ~2 miles away and this is how they get to/from the “Office”…so it is watched closely. And yes, no scenic view, but if one is tired and doesn’t mind getting on the road within that 12 hour limit you are good to go 🙂

    • Campskunk
      Author

      i like Bandon – we sat in the park there where Face Rock is several times doing day stays on our way up and down the coast. we still can’t figure out where to boondock around there, though – the parks are all posted no overnight camping.

  13. A timely share — I will be there in 2 weeks! Cape Perpetua is one of my favorite places. Tide pools, old growth forest, mountain top vistas, WWII history, hiking trails… it’s a great place!

  14. Randy van Vliet

    Worth doing and boon docking for a bit with a 21 ft travel trailer in the middle of Feb, or is it a risk of deluge of rain and no visibility?