I have been to the Oregon Coast a few times now and I’m always drawn to Nehalem Bay State Park near Manzanita. It is just one of the places I feel that has it all and is one of only a few places in the world where I don’t get antsy to go somewhere else. I admit that I like to stay active and have a hard time relaxing, I can do both here.
The park has a large campground that has sites for tents as well as big RV’s. It is clean and well organized, without feeling cramped or over-crowded. The park is set on a narrow four mile long sand spit with the Pacific Ocean on one side and Nehalem Bay on the other. Its location gives you easy access to a beautiful stretch of sand beach on one side, with the relative calm of the bay on the other. The small town of Manzanita is just a mile or so away with a grocery store and several restaurants.
On the ocean side there is a long beautiful stretch of Pacific beach that you can have mostly to yourself, especially if you walk south along the water from the campground. Unlike Cannon Beach to the north, there are no beautiful offshore rocks to see but the upside is that it keeps the crowds away. Unfortunately, the Pacific can be heard but not quite seen from the campground, but a short walk over some sand dunes leads directly to the water. The beach is one of the cleanest anywhere that I have seen. Be sure to take a camera when you head down for a sunset, and if you’re lucky maybe you can see one as good as we did.
The bay side is a completely different vibe altogether. The water is much calmer and has many outdoor activities such as kayaking, fishing, crabbing, and boating. We were able to do three of the four and had a blast. While kayaking in the bay we found a few areas with winding, river-like passageways that are more reminiscent of the bayou (sans alligators) than coastal Oregon. There was also some of the straightforward paddling that you would normally find in a flat and calm bay like this one.
If you like crabbing but don’t have a boat, nearby is Kelly’s Brighton Marina where you can rent a boat with baited crab traps for a two hour adventure of setting traps, catching Dungeness crabs, and boating around the calm waters of the bay. We only caught one crab of legal size but it was the crabbing experience itself that made it worth it. Earlier in the day, when we went out kayaking, we met a couple from Portland who were going to try crabbing from their kayaks, something that would be extremely challenging but immensely rewarding. We caught up with them later in the day and they had caught a crab just as big as the one we had caught in two hours of crabbing with three traps and two people to haul them in with. They were very proud of their catch…and should be!
And last but not least, I love picking blackberries here, anywhere for that matter but especially here. As with most parts of the Pacific Northwest, they can be found here at Nehalem Bay State Park. Blackberries straight off the vine taste better than any store bought varieties that I have ever tasted, and that includes organic berries from places like Whole Foods. The problem with picking blackberries, (if you’ve ever picked them you know what I’m about to say) is that the plant will bite back and often draw blood. The bush has thorns that grab you and get hooked right into your skin and/or your clothes, but the taste of fresh Oregon blackberries is worth the bloodshed.
So if you are only looking to get wowed by spectacular scenery this isn’t the place, go to Cannon Beach for that. If you want to get close to nature in a relaxing setting, Nehalem Bay State Park is the place for you. It is definitely the place for me!