Our Epic West Coast #Vanlife Journey 2022 – Part 7

Camping at the huge Fort Stevens State Park in Hammond, Oregon.

We battle mosquitos among the tall pines, have a “melt-down” while making pizza, and tour a historic coastal military outpost at one of the nation’s largest campgrounds – Fort Stevens State Park.

In our last blog installment, we had left Washington, crossed over the mighty Columbia River via the world’s longest continuous three-span through-truss bridge in the world and landed in Astoria, Oregon.

You can read that blog post by clicking here. https://jkandkiminthecamper.com/2022/08/25/west-coast-trip-2022-part-6/

You can also watch our travel videos at our YouTube channel by clicking here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcimpqqW-OlaK4zW2T8LF-g

Coastal camping life among the pines

Our plan was to spend two nights camping in our self-converted Ford Transit van at the huge Fort Stevens State Park in Hammond, Oregon.

The 4,300-acre park is located near on a peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and the mouth of the Columbia River.

The entrance to Fort Stevens State Park is off NW Ridge Drive, just a couple of miles northwest of the Astoria/Warrenton area.

The massive state park is pet friendly and offers 74 full hookup sites, 302 electrical sites with water nearby, 6 tent sites, 15 yurts, 11 deluxe cabins and a hiker/biker camp area. Reservations can be made up to 6 months in advance by going to the state park website: www.oregonstateparks.reserveamerica.com

Lucky to find a spot

Although it was still the Independence Day Holiday weekend, we were able to reserve two nights at a back-in electric site amongst the tall costal pines.

The campsite did offer some privacy with the trees and some bushes, but with a packed campground, and swarms of attacking mosquitos, our stay wasn’t going to be a peaceful, quiet one.

Our campsite for the two nights we stayed was a little off from level, but we used our bright orange Maxtrax recovery boards to lift the front end a couple of inches and we were quickly good to go.

There was a fire ring, picnic table at the site and a water spigot a few steps away. The restrooms and showers were nearby as well which made our location convenient for quick potty runs to and from the van.

While at the campgrounds we cooked a delicious smoked salmon pizza in our new Coleman Camp Oven. We used fresh ingredients we purchased locally.

To see how JK put the quick and easy pizzas together and why we had a serious “melt-down” afterwards, checkout “Cooking In the Camper with JK” by clicking the link here: jkandkiminthecamper.com/cooking-in-the-camper/

Year-round exploration

The reason Fort Stevens is such a popular year-round destination for camper is the access to several beaches, a freshwater lake, tons of biking and hiking trails, including the northern-most trailhead for the Oregon Coast Trail.

Driving or biking north up the Clatsop Split will take you to the northern tip of the Fort Stevens State Park. There are several parking areas and trails that access the coastline beaches.

At the very top of the peninsula is the Shorebird Conservation Area and the South Jetty Observation Tower.

Construction efforts to fortify the rock jetty were going on when we visited, but the jetty and observation tower were still accessible in the Army Corps of Engineers construction zone. We had to watch for big trucks and heavy equipment as well as closed and fenced-off areas.

The elevated view from the tower allows you to see for miles and miles down the shoreline or view the rock jetty that protrudes into the Pacific Ocean to the north.

On the eastern side of the peninsula is the Columbia River beach access point and a wildlife viewing bunker that overlooks Trestle Bay and the Jetty Lagoon.

Lots more to do and see at Fort Stevens

The park also offers a frisbee gold course, kayak tours, a historic 1906 shipwreck, and, of course, the historic Fort Stevens military installation.

A nearby relic of a by-gone era is the long-surviving shipwreck of the Peter Iredale. All that remains is a rusted and saltwater corroded skeleton of the former 275-foot-long, four-masted sailing ship.

The shipwreck happened during a storm on October 25, 1906. The angry seas slammed the steel ship onto the Oregon beach on the Clatsop Spit south of the Columbia River’s mouth, embedding the hull deeply into the sand where it remains to this day. Luckily, the entire crew made it to shore safely.

Visiting the old Fort

One of the many highlights of the Fort Stevens Park is the namesake historic military outpost located within the park boundaries.

Admission to the Old Fort Stevens grounds and doing a self-guided walking tour loop is free with paid camping at the campgrounds. If you are not camping, a minimal day-use park fee will get you in as well.

Guided tours of the fort are available during the summer months. There is ample parking for RVs and motorhomes near the visitor’s center.

Military history galore

Military history buffs will appreciate the backstory of this wartime outpost once manned and armed to protect and guard the mouth and vital shipping routes of the Columbia River. The original earthen fort was built to keep British and Confederate gunboats out of the Columbia River. 

The coastal defense fort was on active duty for 84 years, seeing service from 1863 during the Civil War to the end of World War II in 1947. The Fort property and remaining structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

We’re under attack!

Old Fort Stevens saw its only wartime action when took on enemy fire on the night of June 21, 1942. Shells were fired towards the Fort from a Japanese submarine. No damage was reported from the enemy shelling, and the Fort Commander refused to return fire that night.

This wartime incident made Fort Stevens the only U.S. military installation to be attacked by an enemy since the War of 1812!

Be ready for a good walkabout

It’s a good idea to wear comfortable shoes or hiking boots to be comfortable while walking and exploring the Fort grounds. It’s a good uphill hike to the overview of the Columbia River. A World War-II era gun turret still stands guard over the mouth of the river atop this hillside.

Be sure to visit the museum and giftshop (open 7 days a week) located in the visitor’s center building. They have a collection of authentic military uniforms and artifacts dating back to the different eras when the fort was on active defense.

Volunteers of the Friends of the Old Fort Stevens, Inc. continue restoration and maintenance efforts of the buildings and grounds and operate the museum and giftshop.

For more information on Old Fort Stevens, go to: https://www.visitftstevens.com/

NEXT TIME: After a quick visit with some friends at the KOA campgrounds across the street from Fort Stevens, we say goodbye to Oregon and head right back to Washington. We dodge Seattle freeway traffic and zoom north to discover the most beautiful national park we have ever experienced.

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