Oregon State Parks are among the best state parks in the country. Fort Stevens, where the epic Columbia river meets the mighty Pacific, is a crown jewel among them.
In the northern corner of coastal Oregon, just south of Astoria, there is an old decommissioned military base that has become part of a 4,300-acre state park. Teaming with trails through wetlands and lakes, dunes and beaches, Fort Stevens is more than just a historical fort and civil war batteries. Fort Stevens State Park offers plenty to do and explore. It would take multiple days, perhaps even a week, to adequately cover all of the things to do and see at Fort Stevens.
Daisey and I have camped at Fort Stevens five times — or more — in our campervan. Every time we stay there, we find new reasons to love it. The trails (both bicycle and pedestrian) are top notch, weaving through shoreline pines, as well as Hemlock and Spruce forests, leading to the beach, Coffenbury Lake, the fort, the jetties, or the batteries. The beach is beautiful, with its dark sand and raging surf made only more dramatic by the carcass of the Peter Iredale shipwreck from 1906. The jetties offer tremendous expanses for bird watching and fishing.
The historical military installations, spanning from the Civil War to World War II, are endlessly fun to explore. The multiple views and vistas are equally astounding, often gazing over the seagrass that opens up to the yawning mouth of the Columbia River as it yields to the Pacific. The park is open year-round which has allowed us to appreciate the impact of the seasons on the terrain.
A Park Of Wonder
There is, undoubtedly, a sense of mystery about the park, between the shipwreck, the old armaments, and Army buildings, the overgrown woodlands filled with giant trees hovering high above ferns and carpets of green moss. In the morning, fog often clings to the forest. At nighttime, when clear, there are sweeping views of the firmament overhead, including the increasingly elusive Milky Way. In present times, wildlife holds sentry over Fort Stevens. Filled with elk, black-tailed deer, sea otters, sea lions, squirrels, rabbits, fish, and an endless parade of an impressive variety of birds, bald eagles among them. Fort Stevens has wildlife!
Interestingly enough, Fort Stevens was the only military base to come under fire in the continental US during World War II. On the night of June 21-22, 1942, a Japanese submarine surfaced nearby and fired 17 shells into Fort Stevens. The fort was undamaged; only the baseball field was destroyed from the shelling. Ironically, the fort never fired any shells that night — or at any time during its long history.
After the war, the park was decommissioned, eventually becoming an Oregon State Park in 1955. The Friends of Old Fort Stevens is an active non-profit organization that helps preserve and restore the aging fort. They maintain a small museum that offers coverage of the fort’s history. There are many reasons it’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Not since the War of 1812 has an American military installation been under attack inside the contiguous United States.
Fort Stevens is in Hammond, Oregon, not far from Astoria. As with most attractions on the coast, it is off Highway 101. Follow the Fort Stevens State Park signs to the nearby entrance. There are grocery stores, restaurants, shops located nearby. I would recommend also visiting Astoria for fish ‘n’ chips, as well as afternoon adventures at nearby Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark’s expedition shelled up for the rainy winter before embarking back east.
One Word Of Caution: Mosquitoes
If you are camping at Fort Stevens in the summer, be prepared to be sucked dry by mosquitoes. These Lil’ aeronautical vampires are particularly unrelenting if you have a shady campsite. For this reason, during the summer months, we highly recommend reserving a sunny spot or bring a blood bank. Just ask a park ranger for a sunny site. With over 450 campsites, there are plenty to choose from.
Britt is a photographer/music producer & proud member of #teamtraynham