Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area: Day Use

Are you looking for something different along Oregon’s coast? If so, Oregon Dunes is for you!

The dunes span 40 miles and rise up to 500 fee above the Pacific Ocean. Among the dunes, you can find everything from rivers to rainforests.

We arrived at the dunes from the East via Reedsport and turned northbound. Oregon Dunes’ day use area is north of Gardinar and south of Dunes City.

5 Tips For Enjoying Oregon Dunes Day Use Area

1. Plan Time to Hike.

The day use area consists of a parking lot and a viewing platform. Once you see the view, it may be hard to resists the hike.

A marked trail leading to the ocean is easily to access from the parking lot. There are two main hiking options. One is a 5 mile long loop and the other is a 2 mile, out and back trail to the coast.

We started our hike around noon, hadn’t eaten lunch yet, didn’t pack water or snacks and opted for the shorter of the two trails. For those of you that have hiked in dunes before, there is a constant false sense of distance. Even with knowing that ahead of time, we were all surprised when we rounded a corner and still had not made it to the coast. It is longer than it seems but the trail is clearly marked and well traveled.

Wooden posts mark the trail through the dunes. The trail through the forested sections is obvious. Even on a hot July day, the beach was nearly empty when we arrived. I can’t imagine it ever gets much more crowded. If you are hoping to avoid crowds and get some exercise, this is the place!

View from Oregon Dunes Day Use area hike.

2. Wear Shoes.

The sand can be hot! When you are not walking on hot sand, you may be walking on hard packed forest trails. Don’t leave your shoes at the car and chose your footwear carefully!

Oregon Dunes trail through the forest is easy to follow and diverse!

3. Bring Water and Snacks For An Afternoon At Oregon Dunes Day Use Area.

This seems obvious but we are famous for being underprepared or overprepared. I can’t decide if we are over confident, lazy, or impulsive but it is not unusual for us to check out a hike and end up 2 hours down the trail without snacks.

We started this hike by walking to the viewing platform, then onto the dune, then down the hill, and so on. I think you get the idea! Hiking on the dunes and into the forest was just too much fun and we didn’t want to stop once we started.

Oregon Dunes day use hike

4. Be Prepared For Signs Giving Instructions In Case Of An Earthquake and Tsunami.

For those of you that have spent much time on the Oregon coast, this shouldn’t be too surprising. I typically read the sign and keep walking. By the time I hit the ocean on this hike, I don’t think I could have evacuated very quickly in the event of a tsunami. We all weigh our risk, I guess.

5. Dress For Exposure To The Elements.

In addition to shoes, I would recommend the following items:

Hat

Sun screen

Sunglasses

Beach towel

Bathing Suit

Wind breaker

Oregon Dunes

Have Fun At Oregon Dunes!

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Oregon Beaches: Newport to Waldport
Oregon Trip Planning: Dee Wright Observatory
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Oregon’s Coast, Manzanita: A Hidden Gem.
Cape Perpetua, Oregon Coast Day-Trip.
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Oregon Beaches: Newport to Waldport

The Oregon Beach Bill was signed into law in 1967 and guarenteed public beach access to the 362 miles of Oregon coastline. The impact of this is obvious when you look at an Oregon map. The western shore is dense with beaches and parks. Here is a small sample of Oregon beaches between Newport and Waldport.

Ona Beach

This is one of our favorites. It is part of Brian Booth State Park and it has it all!

Ona Beach parking area is framed by Beaver Creek to the south and picnic areas to the west. There is space to launch a kayak, toss out a fishing lure, or have a picnic. You will find plenty of picnic tables with room for lawn games if you chose. You can follow the creek to a sandy beach or cross a foot bridge to the Pacific ocean. The Pacific Beach is wide open, clean, and not crowded.

Accross the road is the second half of Brian Booth State Park. Beaver Creek State Natural Area is east of Highway 101. There are two designated boat launches within a mile from the highway. You can also find a boardwalk and hiking trails.

Driftwood Beach

Driftwood Beach has a restroom and a short wooden walk way down to the beach. It sits up above the beach abit so be prepared to walk down a short but relatively steep trail to the beach. The beach seems to go on forever in either direction. There is perfect sand and wide open space.

There was plenty of wind when we were there. It may be a great place to fly a kite! The parking lot is long and narrow so I was unable to see the beach while cooking lunch in our van. I had a cell phone signal though so it was easy to let everyone know when lunch was served!

Curtis Street

You won’t find this one on the map! This is a small gravel parking lot north of Ona Beach. From there, you walk down an embankment to the ocean. It seems to be a local’s favorite. It gets crowded with people walking dogs and riding bikes after dinner and the parking spots are hit or miss. We had it ourselves one day and could barely find a comfortable parking spot the next. Houses tower high above the beach on either side of the access and Seal Rock can be seen to the south.

Packing List for Oregon Beaches

  1. Jacket
  2. Windshirt
  3. Hat
  4. Sunscreen
  5. Bathing suit
  6. Sunglasses
  7. Sweatshirt
  8. Pants
  9. Shorts
  10. Beach toys
  11. Kites
  12. Beach towels

Tips:

Bring layers. If you have not been Oregon beaches, you will likely be surprised about the temperatures. We took a day trip in July and went from 90 degrees in the Willamette Valley to 67 degrees at the coast.

Bring plenty of snacks and drinks. We always stay longer than we plan.

Watch for wales, seals, jelly fish, and crabs.

Have fun!

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Cape Perpetua, Oregon Coast Day-Trip.
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Willamette Valley, Oregon: Schwarz Campground
Oregon Trip Planning: Dee Wright Observatory
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Oregon Trip Planning: Dee Wright Observatory

Our second time at the Dee Wright Observatory was even more impressive than our first. We ended up there by default when the campground we aimed for was full. Oregon trip planning isn’t really something that I do very well. I actually don’t tend to do any trip planning at all.

Since we have been unable to get to our cottage this year, I have been trying to fill in the gap by buying another kayak and googling every freshwater lake in Oregon.

Oregon Trip Planning: Santiam Pass

We packed everything from kayaks to remote control trucks and headed to Big Lake Campground, near Sisters, Oregon. Most of the campground is first come, first served. It was mid-week and I was foolishly hopeful. The campground was full. For those of you interested in Big Lake Campground, it shares a driveway with Hoodoo ski area and is adjacent to Big Lake Youth Camp, which happened to be one of CD’s re-supply stops when he hiked the PCT. The campground was crowded and the sites were small. Other than feeling bad about driving all that way and not getting a campsite, I wasn’t too disappointed to not camp there.

Camping everywhere between there and Sisters was full. We headed back west on 242.

Cold Spring Campground had 2 spots available even though it was nearly 7:00 at night. We opted to gamble on the Willamette National Forest and continued west.

McKenzie Highway Pass: OR 242

McKenzie Highway runs between Sisters and Belknap Springs and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I recommend this route as long as you are not in a hurry, enjoy driving twenty miles per hour, and are not prone to motional sickness.

If you chose this route, the pay off is one of the most interesting lava fields I have seen.

It wasn’t long before we caught our first glimpse. The lava runs right up to the road to the north and towers high above it but to the south there is just the usual landscape.

Oregon trip planning at its finest! Check out the lava flow next to the road!

We hoped to camp at Lava Camp Lake Campground. Be careful not to confuse this with Lava Lake Campground, east of Bend. The entrance to Lava Camp Lake Campground is just before McKenize Pass summit when headed westbound. The entrance is difficult to find and is a dirt two track on the south side of the road. You follow this for approximately two miles to a day use area and a hand full of camp sites. Most sites are not on the lake. I wouldn’t have wanted to drive anything higher or much longer than our Sprinter down the road and when we got there, the campsites were full, of course. It is National Forest and I am sure some people slept in day use area parking but we chose a brief walk and drove on again.

Dee Wright Observatory

Less than a half of a mile up hill is one of the most unique places that I have been.

We pulled into the parking lot of Dee Wright Observatory, I opened the door and set up the stove. It was well passed dinner time and we all needed a break and a second to think of what to do next. I was lighting up the stove when some people a few spots away shouted: “you must have the same idea as us.”

It took for a moment to see what was going on but then I realized that this couple was setting up a tent on the sidewalk, a table next to thier car, and two camera tripods. Another couple at the other end of the parking lot were sitting in thier car playing cards and eating chips. Everyone was there to see the comet NEOWISE.

Dark Skies, Oregon Trip Planning

Here we were at the top of McKenzie Pass, surrounded by 8 miles of black lava rock and not an artifical light in sight. It was nearly dusk. The kids and CD went for a hike while I made dinner. We moved the kayaks to the sidewalk and turned the van around for prime coment viewing. We just happened to find a great camping spot!

The excitement in the parking lot was obvious. People were chatting and pointing while be attentive to social distancing. It was helpful that there are two large parking lots and there was never more than six or eight cars at a time.

Between the cool temperatures and the wind, there were few mosquitos. We opened our van doors and watched the sky. We saw the comet in between camera flashes. It was good for the soul.

Cars came and went until midnight or so and then it was quiet and dark. We slept until 9:00 and woke up feeling like we had landed on the moon!

Trees and lava next to each are impressive, however.
Lava and mountains

From the observatory you can see glaciers on the Three Sisters, views of Mt. Washington, and random trees growing out of lava flows. There is a paved walkway with signs discussing different features of the lava flow.

Oregon trip 101, have fun, of course!

Pacific Crest Trail Access: OR 242

CD is pretty much always looking for PCT access. Approximately a 1/4 mile west of the observatory, on the north side of the road, there is PCT day use parking. You can hike southbound and head towards the observatory or northbound and head for Belknap Crater. We did both and they were both amazing! The landscape is so unique. Wildflowers, red dirt, and trees touch fields of black lava. The lava towards 10 or 20 feet above the ground at times and it feels bizarre to imagine how it just stopped flowing and piled up in such dramatic fashion.

The trail is well marked. Footing on the lava is a bit tricky but the dirt trail is easy walking. For this PCT day hike you don’t need much more than a parking permit, sunscreen, snacks, and camera. Enjoy!

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Willamette Valley, Oregon: Schwarz Campground

We stumbled upon this Oregon Campground when we were on our way to Baker Bay but got discouraged by the crowds. It offered everything we needed and then some.

Campgrounds, dispersed camping, rivers, lakes, and parks fill the Willamette Valley. There are so many options that it may not be easy to find the campground that is the best fit in Oregon. Schwarz Campground is currently top of the list for our last minute, mid-week, get-a-ways.

Here are 5 reason why!

Open Space!

I will even say this again- Open Space! This campground is full of space. There is at least a hundred yards of open grass for any one to use. It was just calling for a pick up football game or a practice round with my pitching wedge.

In addition to open space, this campground closed approximately every other site to allow for better social distancing. Double sites are limited to one at this time (summer 2020), sites closest to the public river access are closed, and a good percentage of the regular sites are closed.

Row River Trail

The Row River Trail is a paved 14 mile rails to trail route. Grab your bikes and hop on just outside the park entrance!

I chose to drive to Dorena Reservoir, drop off CD and the kids and drive back down to the main road in order to ride back towards them. Dropping the car this way was overkill for sure as the trail was easy riding, fast, and fun. Next time we will just leave from the campground and ride as far as we like, then turn around and go back. Either way, this trail was a win!

River Access

The campground is located below Dorena Lake, downstream from the dam. Only two sites offer high quality private river access but there is a well stationed common access. Even in these times of social distancing, there was room to spread out along the river bank.
Note that the dam is several hundred yards up stream but there is a sign indicating that water levels may fluxuate without warning. I took note of the sign as I sent the kids out in their kayaks and I think it is worth paying attention but we were far enough from the dam that I wasn’t too concerned.
We kayaked, explored a nearby island, watched and heard a beaver chewing on a stick, fished for hours, went swimming (it is cold!), and found lost treasures on the river bottom. There was never a dull moment.

Campground. Site access to river.
Oregon Campground: common river access

Huge campsites at this Oregon Campground!

Again, there is plenty of space here, even in non-COVID times. Each side has a large picnic table, fire ring, parking area, and tent site. There are just enough big trees to enjoy but not so many that you are cold and attached by bugs.

Oregon Campground

Hiking Trails, Horse Shoes, A Playground, and Wildlife

There are plenty of wild turkeys, lizards, and ducks. There is a huge open space, horse shoe pits, a playground (closed currently), and hiking trails. You can walk from the campground, through the woods, and to the overlook on the dam. From there you can view Dorena Lake and its recreational boaters. There is a public boat launch several miles up the road and several campers were obviously headed that way.

Oregon Campground

Which park amenities did we use? Well, this is it and it was awesome!

HELPFUL TIPS:

My Sprint cell service was sufficient to download texts but not emails. After driving 4 miles to town, I had enough bars for a zoom conference.

There is poison oak along the trail.

Bring water shoes if you plan to get wet!

Keep an eye out for the alligator lizard. Seriously, we saw it and it was weird!

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Oregon’s Coast, Manzanita: A Hidden Gem.

It is well known that the Oregon coast if full of breathtaking scenery and widespread ocean access. Hidden among the 362 miles of Oregon’s coastline is the town of Manzanita.

Manzanita is in Tillamook county, north of Lincoln City and south of Astoria. It is home to seven miles of coastline and beaches. With a population only in the triple digits, the effects of tourism are obvious. The benefits to those that vacation there are great.

The Main Street

Lenada Avenue is the heart of downtown. Restaurants, coffee houses, and shops have names like Left Coast Siesta, Neahkanie Bistro, Bread and Ocean Bakery, and MacGregor’s: A Whiskey Bar.

The Beach, Oregon’s Coast

From town, the beach is steps away. Our Meredith Lodging rental house was across from Hallensted Park, 6 blocks from the main street and two blocks from the beach.

This sign says it all!
Great beaches!
The main road from town ends where the other people are standing. Oregon’s Coast.

NeahKahnie Mountain

Don’t miss this hike! Oswald State Park offers a 8 mile long mountain loop trail or a 2.8 mile shorter version. The trail is well taken care of and inviting.

The trees are welcoming also

It is a steady but not impossible climb with plenty of chances to slow down and explore. We used our favorite kids carrier a few times, more so for fun than out of necessity.

If you haven’t already, check out the Piggyback Rider Standing Kids Carrier.

Walking is good but a standing child carrier is great

For our hike, we opted for the shorter version. Once at the summit, we agreed that the effort to reward ratio of this hike was great! A short scramble at the top leads to some of my best views of Oregon’s coast.

Oregon Coast, looking south and beyond that as well.

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Tips for Handling Mosquitoes While Hiking the PCT.

CD’s trail journal entries become less consistent in Oregon. He documents damp air, cool nights, mosquitoes while hiking, and endless self reflection.

His journal entry from 8/7/04 addresses the mosquitoes three different times in two short paragraphs.

  • As I was alternating between swatting mosquitoes and pumping water today I wondered, “What can’t I just sit on the couch and go use the tap when I want water like most people?”
  • Soon, however, it was back to the woods and endless mosquito-hatchery ponds.
  • Today’s mosquitoes are worse than last night’s but seem to be staying outside (but close).

Tips for handling mosquitoes while hiking.

1. Setting up your Tarptent.

  • Lay down your floor cloth
  • Lay your tent on top of your things
  • Arrange your pack and other belongings on the floor cloth
  • Pull up your tent
  • Climb in quickly
  • Enjoy!
#PCT

2. Cooking dinner.

This may not be the best if bears are a consideration but you pick your poison I guess.

  • Get into your Tarptent
  • Set up your stove and prep your meal in your floor-less tent
  • Quickly move your stove just outside the vestibule, exposing only your hands. Light outside your tent
  • Wait inside the tent
  • Reach out, grab the food and eat

3. Hiking.

  • Expect to be bitten by mosquitoes as soon as exciting your tent
  • Wear your rain jacket for protection
  • Be organized and efficient
  • Start walking
  • Once you hit a good hiking speed, remove your arms from you rain jacket and tie them around your waist
  • Untie your rain jacket and slide it back over your arms and head as you approach water stops or other stops
  • Repeat as often as needed

4. Using your mosquito head net.

5. Embrace at least 20% DEET.

  • Longer hair
  • Thicker hair
  • A longer, thicker beard
#PCT. Notice the hat and the beard.

6. Embrace at least 20% DEET.

You will likely regret it if you don’t have it on hand.

#PCT

The trail through Oregon leads to Mount Hood. CD found himself sleeping close enough to the Timberline Lodge to hear the music and see the lights of two wedding receptions. Such common first-world activities brought forward the surreal reality of having walked there from Mexico.

Was it worth the mosquito bites and endless buzzing? A picture is worth a thousand words.

#PCT
mosquitoes while hiking
#PCT
#PCT

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A dead van battery and relief from social distancing.

Its 2020 and CD has been working on the van while social distancing. It was half taken apart but still put together enough for a day trip. I decided that today was the day that we would break out of isolation.

I woke up and quickly packed snacks, jackets, and even travel games. CD put the head liner back in the van and used the shop vac to touch up the interior. The kids were buckled in and I was choosing our road music . Then, our battery was dead.

We don’t know why it was dead. The interior lights had been disconnected while CD was working. Does anyone know if the electric step could drain the battery over time? In any case, we don’t know why it was dead. We tried to jump it with our mini van but didn’t have any luck.

Mary’s Peak social distancing.

We changed our plan, put everything in the Sienna and headed to Mary’s Peak. We were sure it was closed and it was. The road was gated 5 miles or so from the peak. There were 4 or 5 cars parked at the trail head near the gate. We felt good about going for a walk here in terms of social responsibility in the face of the pandemic and opted to avoid the trail and duck the gate.

It was a great choice. The road was empty. We walked for a couple of hours. The kids smiled more than they have in weeks. They kicked rocks, raced imaginary dogs, built pretend fires, and fetched sticks for each other.

social distancing. Mary’s Peak, Oregon

This was a day like I used to have when I was running fifty miles per week. There were endless things to see that I never noticed from my car. Everything was interesting and new. An owl seemed to be hiking with us. We didn’t see it but its calls were unmistakable. The trees were greener, the sun was warmer, and even gun shots from the shooting range sounded nice.

We started our hike on the road at about noon. When we returned at nearly 3:00, the parking area was overflowing with cars. As a health care worker, I immediately felt guilty about going out during these times. Then I remembered that we haven’t gone out since this March 12, 2020 when we went skiing.

Today, we only saw one other family walking on the road and we hugged our respective edges when we passed. We didn’t get near anyone in the parking lot. We ate snacks in our car. I would have felt horrible if we had been on a single track trail walking past all of the people that arrived in all of those cars.

We were lucky. Walking the road was a great choice for us and we were able to enjoy it while still feeling like we were doing the right thing.

social distancing

Back to working on the Van.

Tonight, as I write this, the Sprinter battery is charged and all is well. We had been trying to jump it using 12 gauge cables and we needed more power. When we got home from Mary’s Peak, our neighbor tossed us his jumper cables from a socially responsible distance while standing on his homemade pickle ball court. By the time the kids and I sat down for dinner, CD was busy drilling holes in 80/20.

I look forward to taking the Sprinter the next time time we break out of home isolation.

How do you know when family van life has gone off the rails?

Here are the top three signs that life while traveling in a van with kids has gotten out of hand.

  1. You endorse a Burger King vs McDonald’s french fry taste test.
Yikes!

2. You stop to buy fly strips. Yes, they still make fly strips and, yes, we needed them in the van.

3. You have a can of easy cheese in your purse.

Embarrassing as it may be, this was actually one day in our life. I can’t remember what got us to this point but I imagine it was a hot day and we drove quite a few miles. I was obviously delirious.

The day ended with a relaxing dinner at our campsite.

THEN … We woke up to this and everything was okay. As the kids would say: We were “livin’ the life”!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Oregon winter day trips

Last weekend was a success! We sold our spare Sprinter seats and reclaimed our garage. We painted our bathroom while the neighborhood kids made a tent city in the front yard. I thought about options for Oregon winter day trips.

CD told me that he has a new plan for upcoming Sprinter modifications. I am anxiously awaiting the details.

So, what should we do with the rest of our Oregon winter? Here are a few ideas:

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area

Yaquina Head. Bring your inter-agency pass and hit the tide pools. There will be just enough but not too many people. You are sure to find something amazing!

Oregon Coast

Any Oregon beach. Sprinter DIY. Oregon winter day trips.

Cannon Beach

Cannon Beach. Rain pants, rain jackets, and spare socks are recommended. Sprinter DIY.

Sno-Park: Oregon Winter

Sno-park. Get your sno-park pass and hit the road. Hope for a rain-free day and you may be surprised how solid of a snow fort you can make with pacific northwest concrete.

Mary’s Peak, Oregon Coast Range Winter Day Trips

Don’t forget the snowshoes. Drive toward’s Mary’s peak until the road is no longer passable and then continue by foot. Bring a shovel and expect to help dig out a stuck car or two. The kids will love it!

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Oregon Winter Stay-cation: A Morning In Our Sprinter

Here we were in the middle of an Oregon winter. The sun was shining. It was nearly fifty degrees. We are waist deep in home projects and ready for a stay-cation.

Sunday morning started off lazily but the sun was too tempting to stay home.

McDonald – Dunn Forest is a short drive from our house. Using my mom instincts, I packed a light lunch and spare socks.

Sitting in the van is like a breath of fresh air. There is something comfortable, simple and refreshing about it. I think we all feel it.

The Vineyard Loop: Oregon Winter

It is a well traveled 3.4 mile route with a view from the top. We like to sit and stare off into the distance. The kids made up a game where they were having a Superbowl party for cats and dogs. They walked and talked the whole way.

We spent an hour and half walking and a half an hour in the van.

Van Life: Memories of Summertime

The kids took theirs shoes off and hopped up on the bed. They looked out the window with the door open and the sun shining in. I got the snacks out but they didn’t eat. CD and I ate the cheese and crackers until it was time to go. I am sure that they would have stayed up there looking out all day.

Sprinter life requires a different pace. It is good to be reminded that a slower pace is just fine too.

Our trail
The trail is easy to find.
Trees and sky. A scene from a book.
Our view was perfect. The end of the trail.
The woods were green and wet with rain and it was a great day.
The woods are thick and full of lichen, of course.

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Oregon’s Coast, Manzanita: A Hidden Gem.
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