For 7 nights immediately before Labor Day weekend, I stayed at Fort Stevens State Park, on the Oregon side of the mouth of the Columbia River. This served as the perfect base to explore the Washington side of the river, up into the Long Beach peninsula, as well as the Oregon coast down to Cannon Beach. I was also able to spend some time in nearby Astoria, Oregon.
Fort Stevens Campground
With 470 campsites, plus some yurts and cabins, the Fort Stevens Campground is massive. There are 12 loops of campsites and I stayed in Loop O, which was the very southern one.
I stayed for a week, departing the Friday of Labor Day weekend. The first night brought an incredible wind storm, with gusts up to 60+ miles an hour. Fortunately my campsite was sheltered by trees so I wasn’t feeling the full brunt of the wind, but there was plenty of debris from the trees, including some good sized branches. I did some exploring the next day and the wind was still blowing pretty hard down at the beach, and the skies were gray and ugly. Then it was beautiful the rest of my stay.
There are miles of roads in the park giving access to the beaches and the various historic military installations. There is also a great hiking and biking trail network, which I took full advantage of. While the park is heavily used, you don’t have to try very hard if you want to be alone.
Wreck of the Peter Iredale
The Columbia Bar, or the mouth of the Columbia River, is part of the area known as the Graveyard of the Pacific. Since the late 1700’s around 2,000 ships have sunk on and around the Columbia Bar, making it some of the deadliest waters in the United States. The Coast Guard operates the National Motor Lifeboat school here, as these are some of the roughest sea conditions in the world.
While a rather large number of ships have wrecked in the area, very few are as accessible as the Peter Iredale, a 285 foot long steel sailing ship that ran aground on the Clatsop Spit in 1906. Today all that remains is the rusted out bow, which is easily accessible from a beach parking lot about 100 yards away.
The Peter Iredale is probably the most photographed object at Fort Stevens and visited it on several occasions. This was my favorite place to watch the sun go down and end the day.
Before it was an Oregon State Park, Fort Stevens was one of three coast artillery forts guarding the mouth of the Columbia River. Construction of the fort started in 1863 and it was an active installation until 1947.
Fort Stevens holds the honorary place of being the only mainland US military base to have come under enemy fire since the War of 1812, when a Japanese submarine fired 17 shells in its direction in June of 1942. No lives were lost and little damage was done.