Camping for the City Kids

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The kids are back in school, but it feels like summer just arrived. While we can’t transport you back to June, we can suggest a sweet outing that will make you feel like it’s still summer. Close enough for a day trip and fully loaded for overnight family fun, Nehalem Bay State Park is a great place to escape the city. While parents will love the ease and serenity of the place, there’s certainly no roughing it here. You could eat out for every meal if you wanted to and the showers are always hot. Kids will love playing in the grassy dunes, splashing through little tide pools, climbing the play structures and rolling over plenty of pavement.

What to Do and Sea:
The campground itself is a great place for kids to bike around, play in forts under the weather-dwarfed conifers and meet other kids on the playground structures. You can do this with a day pass if you’re just visiting for the day. The park also has a 1.75 mile paved bike loop. The terrain is gradual and even the most beginner of cyclist will have a blast pedaling to the bay. The beach of Nehalem Bay is sheltered from wind and a super place for a picnic or driftwood fort building. Watch for Blue Heron, elk and coyotes.

Just over the dune from the campground is a long sandy beach extending about a mile and a half north to the rocky base of Neahkanie Mountain and almost equally as far to the jetty at Nehalem Bay. Get up early to beat the seagulls to whole sand dollars and starfish. El Nino brings us slightly warmer water temperatures, so dipping little toes in the surf is more comfortable than many summer days when the water is icy.

Getting There
From Portland, the park is a 94 mile, mostly highway drive that even with a few stops takes less than two hours. Nehalem Bay is 17 miles south on Hwy 101 from Hwy 26, nestled between the small towns of Manzanita and Nehalem, surrounded by a stretch of coast-line and a sheltered bay. The campground is open year-round and yurts are only $36 a night, with prices dropping October 1st through April. Drives and parking are paved. Campsites have fire pits, tables and are a short walk to well-maintained bathrooms and showers. The town of Manzanita is a 1.5 bike ride from the campground and has a few restaurants, shops and grocery stores catering to visitors and residents alike.

Parking Info: There is a $5 day use fee per car. Make overnight reservations online at and find comprehensive park details here. For park information call 800-551- 6949.

Go by Bike: Tillamook County Transportation Services runs a shuttle every morning from downtown Portland to Tillamook. Round trip fare is $20. Kids under 4 are free and kids under 18 pay half the adult fare. From Tillamook, transfer to the Manzanita/ Cannon Beach bus and ride to Manzanita for $1.50. Bike camp sites at Nehalem Bay are only $5 per night.

Good to Know: Google Maps pins “Nehalem Bay State Park” improperly for driving directions. To use driving directions or GPS, make sure to enter the address 9500 Sandpiper Ln, Nehalem, OR.

Must Brings:
Swimsuits, beanies, sweaters and a wind breaker. The weather can range and change dramatically over the course of a day.

Bikes for all.

Sand toys and shovels.

Know Before You Go:
Plan to live without internet (gasp!) or the full capacity of your iphone. If you must get wifi, head to the Manzanita public library and access it for free.

The wind picks up in the afternoon at about 3:00 pm. It usually dies down in a few hours. After dinner walks on the beach are bound to be pleasant.

If the weather does suck, bundle up and walk in it or drive 18 miles north to Seaside and ride the carousel, play in the arcades, and discover unique toys.

There is only one coffee shop open early. It is one block off the beach on the main drag in Manzanita. Luckily, they serve fine coffee and fairly fresh bagels made in Seaside at Bagels by the Sea. The everything bagel has more everything than you’ve ever had on a bagel.

Where do you and your family plan to recreate summer this school year? Let us know your go-to weekend destination in the comment section below!

— Amber Dennis (she took the photos too!)