September 28-29, 2023.
Nehalem Bay State Park
The last time I visited Nehalem Bay was on Christmas Eve, 2009. I had recently gotten out of a long-term relationship and my mom flew across the country to keep me company. The weather was so good on the coast that we took the drive out there and walked the beach together. It’s one of my favorite memories of being with my mom.
Needless to say, the bar was high for this visit!
From the boat launch/day use area, I followed the short trail to the beach. There, I took off my sandals and started walking south along the coastline. For miles, it was just me and the sea birds. The ocean waves crashing on shore put me in a meditative state. Hiking into the wind, gray skies enveloping me, I put one foot in front of the other until I reached the giant log pile on the end of the spit.
I peeked over the logs to get a view of the sea pouring into the bay. The waves were violent and crushing; there’s a reason they say never turn your back on the Oregon coast.
After a brief backtrack along the dunes, I found a trail that crossed over to the bay side. I walked through the forested center spit, heavily vegetated with grasses and stunted trees. I’d learned my lesson more than once about trying to bushwhack on the Oregon coast. It’s futile. And it’s the one place I’d much rather be on a trail than off trail. The high tide allowed me to walk on the sand for just a short while before forcing me back onto a forest trail. I skipped around the flooded beach sections and returned to the water’s edge where it became safe again.
After about five miles of walking, I made it back to the van. Just in time for lunch, too. On Aaron’s next break, we hit the road and pulled into a public lot at Rockaway Beach. I took another barefoot sand walk, then we popped into the farmer’s market. There weren’t many vegetables that we wanted to buy, but there were plenty of baked goods that looked appetizing.
Tourist stops on the Northern Oregon coast
As we continued driving, we made a couple more necessary stops. First we hit up Pronto Pup, one of the businesses that claims to have invented the corn dog (apparently this is up for debate). We ordered a couple of originals as an afternoon treat. Admittedly, I’ve only ever had one corn dog in my life and I thought it was way better than the one we had here. But, you’ll have to go to the little food truck in Sumpter, Oregon to find it!
Next, we stopped at the Tillamook Creamery, probably the most visited attraction on the Northern Oregon coast. Aaron had never been there, so we both took a deep breath and stepped into the tourist hell inside.
First, we headed upstairs to the viewing area to see how the cheese is made, but nothing was running and mobs of people were everywhere. So we quickly bailed back down to the first floor and got in the absurdly long line for ice cream. They didn’t have many unique flavors that you couldn’t buy at the store, which was a little disappointing. But they did offer a “flight” option, which had 3 different scoops of ice cream in a tray. I was tempted to order a flight containing a scoop of each of the different vanillas (how different could they possibly be?!). However, I decided to choose more interesting flavors, like the limited edition s’mores something-or-other.
I’d booked a campsite at Cape Lookout so we had a convenient place to crash for the night as well as hiking trails in the morning.
We both began the next day with bellies full of delicious cinnamon rolls. I walked down the beach towards the Cape Lookout trail system, enjoying the morning solitude. I didn’t expect much of that on the hike, since this was a reasonably popular place to visit. But I was pleasantly surprised to encounter only a handful of hikers on my way to the end of the trail. The first couple miles traversed upward from the campground to the actual trailhead, and I loved walking through the densely green coastal forest. Ferns cascaded down onto the trail as twisted, robust conifers seemed to anchor the sky above. Once I reached the parking lot, the steepness mellowed out and I breezed along the well-worn Cape Lookout Trail.
Halfway down, I encountered a sign warning me that it would be slippery and muddy ahead. I was ready, wearing my Bedrock sandals and mentally in need of some interesting walking. Sure enough, the route became a muddy, rooty obstacle course, which I found quite enjoyable. As the trail neared the end, I got peek-a-boo views of the ocean far below. I even enjoyed some lovely quiet at the trail’s terminus, just me and the pelicans.
On my walk back, I encountered many more hikers, including two who stood in the middle of the trail, looking down at something. As I approached the couple, they gleefully pointed to a banana slug. “We saw one with a shell on it yesterday!” the man exclaimed in some sort of European accent. I did not correct him. It made me happy that they were happy to see this exotic slug right before them. Aaron picked me up at a pullout where the return trail met the road, and we were off to the next destination.
We couldn’t drive through the cute little town of Depoe Bay without making a stop. They’ve got ample parking on the main road, so we grabbed a spot and walked to the whale watching center adjacent to the tiny bay. Inside volunteers offered up information and binoculars to those who were interested. I’m terrible at using binoculars so Aaron grabbed a pair for himself and we wandered to the viewing window. Turns out, the key to finding whales is to train your eyes on the whale watching boats on the horizon. They’re tracking the whales, of course. So, we saw some spouts, whale backs and whale tails from the Gray Whales passing through.
After we’d seen enough whales, we wandered through all the little trinket and candy shops on the way back to the van. Then it was off to our next home for the night.
South Beach, Newport
After a yummy dinner at the Crab Shack, we pulled in to our campsite at South Beach. It was nearly sunset, so we quickly hopped out of the van to walk to the beach. We found a little trail out of our campground loop leading west. We caught sunset just in time. As we crested over the final grassy hill adjacent to the sand expanse, our eyes fixated on a ship…on the beach. There she was, the fishing vessel “Judy,” sadly washed up on shore. It was an odd and unexpected sight. We walked towards the water, wind blasting our face with sand, just to see another unusual happening: someone was kiteboarding just off shore.
We watched them go one way, turn 180 degrees, go back, and repeat, endlessly as the pinks and purples lit up the sky. How exhausting, I thought, that person must be ridiculously strong to hold tension in their body for that long.
As the last rays of light filtered up through the clouds, we hurried back to get on the trail. Once we reached the van, we collapsed into a heap on the bed. It was a full day of activities!