Surf’s Up: Coastal State Parks

By Nancy Mueller 

Summer is upon us, signaling that it’s time to get outdoors. From camping to hiking and biking, to beach fires, s’mores and more, where better to start your summer quest than in one of our coastal state parks? Head to the most scenic shorelines of Washington and Oregon for summer adventure in these top coastal state park picks. 

Oswald West State Park, Oregon 

Visitors to Oregon’s Oswald West State Park will have miles and miles to go before they sleep if choosing to hike all trails within this spectacular 2,484-acre park. Why not start with one of the more popular outings, a half-mile walk through a wooded wonderland leading to a picnic area overlooking sheltered Short Sand Beach, nicknamed “Shorty’s” by locals? Hearty hikers can extend their excursions to two prominent headlands, the end of Cape Falcon, or a more ambitious climb up mighty 1,661-ft. 

Neahkahnie Mountain for panoramic views as far south as Cape Lookout. Not in the mood for a hike but still want to bask in the views? Several roadside turnouts on Highway 101 will help you do just that. 

Bring a boogie board or surfboard to experience high-wave park adventures. Or try your luck at finding the hidden treasure supposedly buried at Neahkahnie Mountain by marauding pirates a couple hundred years ago. Finders keepers! (though park officials might say differently). 

Bandon State Natural Area, Oregon 

As a quintessential beach getaway and photographer’s dream, Bandon State Natural Area near Coos Bay on the southern Oregon coast features a treasure trove of coastal attractions. 

From Beach Loop Road, Devil’s Kitchen and China Creek, beach trails provide easy access to a scenic shoreline noted for plentiful offshore soaring sea stacks and small islands. 

Seabird and seal watching, cave discoveries and tide pooling within sight of Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint (so named for its resemblance to facial features) make for a fun day of beach play and exploration. Score bonus points for finding other likenesses among the formations that inspired the names of Howling Dog and Elephant Rock, and even more for coming up with your own. 

Wander off the beaten Bandon State Natural Area track to Old Town, adjacent to Bandon’s riverfront boardwalk and public crabbing dock. Farther to the north lies Coquille Point, a haven for seabirds spreading their wings, and South Jetty Beach, whose gravel-laden shores are a rock-hound’s delight. 

Cape Arago State Park/Shore Acres State Park, Oregon 

One of three state parks on Cape Arago, Cape Arago State Park lies at the end of the line affording scenic headland views of migrating whales, fishing boats plying Coos Bay, and seals and sea lions lounging on Simpson Reef and Shell Island. 

Explore tide pools and intertidal plants by way of the south cove trail together with fishing and beachcombing from the north cove trail. 

Hiking trails connect Cape Arago State Park to Sunset Bay’s picnic areas and campground while dramatic views of crashing surf at Shores Acres also include views of the Cape Arago Lighthouse. The well-maintained formal gardens of former owner timber baron Louis J. Simpson with plantings from around the world attract visitors year-round to this Oregon State Park. Step inside the observation building, once the site of Simpson’s magnificent mansion, to learn more about the history of the estate. 

Moran State Park, Orcas Island, Washington 

Enter through the “Welcome Arch” to Moran State Park to begin your explorations of this expansive 5,252- acre park. Unlike the proverbial bear who had to go over the mountain to see what he could see, you can drive, bike or hike to the top of Mount Constitution, a 2,409-foot pinnacle wonder, for panoramic views of the San Juan archipelago. Stop by the Summit Visitor Center for interpretative displays of the surrounding topography, then climb the steps of the stone lookout tower for spellbinding sunset scenes. 

Beyond Mount Constitution, the park offers 151 day-use and/or overnight camping sites, five lakes for water sports, and 38 miles of well-marked hiking, biking and equestrian trails of varying difficulty, from a fairly flat-level 2.7-mile walk around Cascade Lake to the summit of the island. Wildlife spotting comes free with the territory so watch for blacktail deer, kingfishers and great blue herons. 

Cama Beach Historical State Park, Camano Island, Washington 

Escape the drone of daily demands with a throwback in time at Cama Beach Historical State Park on the southwest shore of Camano Island, an hour north of Seattle. What began as hunting and fishing grounds for indigenous peoples became a family-owned fishing resort in the 1930s. Since then the property has been transformed into a unique state park welcoming visitors to slow down, relax and immerse in nature. Remnants of the property’s resort charm remain with Historic Gas Pump Island, the children’s play area and cute vintage cabins that dot the shoreline overlooking Saratoga Passage. 

Enjoy wildlife spotting or stargazing from the front porch of your cabin. Gather with others around the large campfire circle and be sure to stop by the general store/museum for tasty treats. 

Enjoy a breakfast brunch at Cama Beach Café, then explore nearby bluff and forest hiking trails. Also on site, The Center for Wooden Boats offers boat rentals, boat building classes, events and exhibits. 

Saltwater State Park, Washington 

For an easy getaway to a sandy beach with urban proximity, it’s hard to beat popular Saltwater State Park, a 1,445-ft stretch of shoreline between Tacoma and Seattle, only two miles from I-5. Here the two cities buried the hatchet on their long-standing sibling rivalry, memorialized in the literal burial of said hatchet during the park’s dedication in 1926. 

Scuba-diving enthusiasts come for the only state park with a protected underwater artificial reef while shore-hugging visitors opt for walks on the driftwood-bearing beach, wading in saltwater tide pools, or picnicking with waterside views of Vashon Island and the Olympic Mountains. 

Lose the crowds and head for the shade on warm summer days on more than 2 miles of forested hiking trails, like the lesser-traversed North and South Rim paths that loop around the park’s deep ravine cut by McSorley Creek, a seasonal salmon spawning site. Stay to catch the evening dusk or reserve a spot in the 137-acre campground for a starry overnight adventure. 

More Information: 

Washington State Parks, 

Oregon State Parks,