After a private party donated the land for Nehalem Bay State Park in 1938, officials spent almost thirty-five years preparing the Park for opening day. It was worth the wait. Civilian Conservation Corps workers carved out a number of hiking trails and made some other improvements. Other workers planted grass, shrubs, and trees to stabilize the dunes. Today, over 700,000 people a year visit Nehalem Beach State Park.
The park is a microcosm of everything that makes Oregon such a nice place to visit The sprawling beach is so much larger that just a strip of sand. And the gentle surf is incredibly relaxing. Most of the beach faces Nehalem Bay instead of the Pacific Ocean. A little further inland, there are a number of wooded hiking trails, including several that are wide enough for horses. As if all this natural beauty was not enough, Nehalem Bay State Park also has a human element. The Park entrance winds through a quiet suburban neighborhood.
RV Rentals in Nehalem Bay State Park
Transportation in Nehalem Bay State Park
From Portland, take Highway 26 west. Just past North Plains (King Torta and/or Tenity’s Pizza and Subs, both on Glencoe), you have a directional choice. You can take Highway 6 west through the Tillamook State Forest. At Tillamook, go north on Highway 101. Go past Rockaway Beach, Nedonna Beach, Brighton, WHeeler, and Nehalem. When you reach Bayside Gardens, it gets a little tricky. Turn south on Necarney City Road, which is just past Bayside Gardens Road. Necarney City, which changes into Gary, winds into the Park.
Alternatively, you can stay on Highway 26 after you leave North Plains. Just past Elsie, go south on Highway 53. When you get past Mohler, go north on Highway 101 and into Bayside Gardens. The mileage between these two routes is about the same. The Highway 6 cutoff is a little more scenic, and the Highway 26 route is a little straighter.
For something completely different, you can fly into Nehalem Bay State Park. There’s an airstrip literally right on the beach.
Use 9477 Gary St., Nehalem, OR 97131 as a GPS address and 45°42'32.8"N 123°55'53.4"W as GPS coordinates.
Parking is available between the day use areas and the RV campground.
Campgrounds and parking in Nehalem Bay State Park
Campsites in Nehalem Bay State Park
Nehalem Bay Campground
265 electric and water hookup sites near the beach airstrip. Campground amenities include restroom/shower facilities, amphitheater, dump station, and play area. Ice and firewood are available for purchase. Most sites have fire rings and picnic tables. Trees and shrubs provide both shade and privacy, and also attract deer which can often be seen wandering through the campsite. Each loop of the campsite has its own toilet and shower block, and there is firewood for sale from the hosts. But the best thing about this site is its proximity to the beach.
Eighteen sites; nine sites are pet-friendly. A yurt is basically a tent/cabin combination. Each one is a domed, structure-supported tent with a wood floor and a lockable door. Every yurt sleeps five people (three on bunk beds and two on a futon couch). Yurt amenities include lights, heater, picnic table, and fire pit.
Seventeen campsites that can each accommodate up to four horses. Campground amenities include a manure bin and drinking water spigots.
Seasonal activities in Nehalem Bay State Park
Nearby Tillamook Bay gets most of the fishing attention in these parts, but Nehalem Bay is an excellent spot as well, even though it’s quite a bit smaller. The chinook salmon are very good in the summer and fall. The best action begins in July and peaks in August. September and October usually means a mixture of chinook and coho salmon. Reaching the limit usually isn’t a problem during these months. Occasionally, good salmon fishing extends into November. Avoid the fishing jetty and stay around the lower bay. However, if you’re looking for perch, stick close to the jetty, especially during the spring spawning season. There are usually rockfish around the jetty as well.
The main boat ramp is usually open from May through September. It’s located near the center of Nehalem Bay not far from the day use area. The calm Bay waters are ideal for canoeing and kayaking. The sailing is pretty good as well, though the winds are a little calmer here because of the dunes.
This park has over ten miles of equestrian trails, as well as some of the best facilities at any Oregon State Park. Most of the trails are along the beach, while a few are in the wooded parts of the Park. There’s also a public training corral in the main day use area. A horse concession operates here during the summer.
Nehalem Spit Trail
A very flat and mostly sandy trail that ends at a secluded beach. There is lots of wildlife at this location. Furthermore, the walk, bike, or horseback ride to the beach is not too windy. There’s usually lots of picturesque driftwood along this section of the beach as well.
Much of the aforementioned work prior to park opening involved the beach. Today, it’s a very natural beach that’s almost entirely man-made. To understand what we mean, you probably need to see it for yourself. Large, stable sand dunes separate the campground and the park’s bayside beach from the oceanside beach to the west. These dunes also extend the spit trail’s length. As a result, the beach is a very serene place to relax, and there is plenty of space to build epic sandcastles. A very cool bicycle trail runs around the perimeter of the beach, as does a shorter half-mile trail that leads to the city. Large picnic tables are available as well. Picnic area amenities include fire rings and restrooms. Beachcombing is a popular activity as well. Look for agates, shells, and the occasional glass float. The spots where the beach blends into the forest are good places to see elk, deer, and other wildlife.
This prominent peak dominates the entire Nehalem Bay area. For many years, Native Americans and later pioneer settlers burned the mountain’s forests to attract game or provide feeding areas for their cattle. But this practice ended a long time ago, and the mountain is now thickly forested. Supposedly, there is a buried Spanish treasure somewhere near the summit. There may be some truth to the legend, as Spanish galleons routinely anchored in Nehalem Bay in the sixteenth century. Five are known to have gone down in this area. Over the years, many people have found clues that are either tantalizing or meaningless, depending on your perspective.
Day Use Areas
Nehalem Bay State Park has two large day use areas located roughly in the middle of the beach not far from the airstrip. Facilities include a meeting hall that comfortably accommodates up to fifty people. So, the Park is a good place for work retreats, parties, and so on.
Forested Bike Path
A two-mile paved trail winds through the woods. Excellent for wildlife viewing, especially elk, deer, and coyotes.It's a great place to get out and explore on two wheels, so be sure to bring your bike with you. Alternatively, you could rent one in the nearby town of Manzanita.
Obviously, the shore is a great place to look for shorebirds. If there are nesting trees nearby, and there are, the birding is even better. The threatened Western Snowy Plover is a good example. During the March through September breeding term, these birds are here in large numbers. Certain parts of the Park may be closed during this time, so as to not disturb the bird’s habitat. Just watch for the signs. Also look for smaller birds in the wooded areas, like Great Horned Owls, Downy Woodpeckers, and Northern Flickers. In the beach areas, larger birds, like vultures and bald eagles, often abound.
If the weather isn’t cooperating, check out one of the many learning opportunities at Nehalem Bay State Park. Junior Rangers activities are available for ages 6 to 12. There are also a number of programs for adults. The Park has an interesting history, including its formative years as a beeswax depository for the area’s then-thriving candle industry.