By Jamie Hale | The Oregonian, OregonLive | Posted May 13, 2019 at 08:00 AM
John M. Vincent/The Oregonian
People make a bonfire on the beach at the D River Wayside in Lincoln City.
As a travel writer in Oregon, it’s one of the most common questions I get: Where can you camp on the beach at the coast?
The idea sounds romantic enough, but in reality beach camping in Oregon is typically unpleasant, dangerous and effectively illegal in most places. While all of Oregon’s coastline is public, those who pitch a tent by the ocean – including the rare few who through-hike the 382-mile Oregon Coast Trail every year – find themselves at the mercy of both mother nature and the law.
Oregon’s public beach bill gives many people the false impression that overnight camping is legal everywhere. In fact, state and local laws dictate specific restrictions on where camping is and isn’t allowed.
Jamie Hale/The Oregonian
The sun sets over the ocean at Cannon Beach.
Terry Richard/The Oregonian
Two backpackers lug loads along the beach, looking for a tent site in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.
Overnight beach camping is not allowed within or adjacent to any Oregon state park, nor on beaches within most major city limits. Those restrictions alone count out huge swaths of the coastline. But even at beaches where camping is allowed, overnight parking typically isn’t, forcing folks to hike in, often from several miles away.
“The gist is beach camping is best suited to people who are through-hiking,” said Chris Havel, spokesman for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. “If there was a convenient place to park a vehicle overnight and camp on the beach, you can bet that place would already be pretty crowded.”
However, those through-hikers understand that beach camping is less a luxury and more of a nuisance. Bonnie Henderson, an author and blogger at Hiking the Oregon Coast Trail, said she only camps on the beach as a necessity on some of the long stretches of trail without developed campgrounds or small towns to stay in.
“You have to camp illegally, there’s no option,” she said.
Even then, camping on the beach isn’t ideal. It would be better to tuck away into a forested headland, close to a restroom on the side of the highway, she said. Because while pitching a tent in the sand might sound romantic, in reality it’s a pain.
“Sand gets into everything. If it’s raining, sand really gets into everything,” Henderson said. “Then you just have the problem of, where are you going to take a [poop]?”
Those nuisances don’t even take into consideration issues of high tide, lack of drinking water or the discomfort of camping on uneven sand. Hikers on the Oregon Coast Trail only camp on the beach when they have to, Henderson said, since it’s not usually an enjoyable experience.
Jamie Hale/The Oregonian
The Oregon Coast Trail heads north from the House Rock viewpoint in the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor on the southern Oregon coast.