Is there anything more exhilarating than cantering your horse down a beautiful beach, with the surf pounding and the sand stretching away for miles before you? If you love this kind of riding (and who doesn’t?), then Nehalem Bay State Park is the place for you.
Nehalem Bay State Park is located on the Oregon coast between Cannon Beach and Tillamook, just south of the town of Manzanita. The park offers access to a beautiful four-mile stretch of beach along the Nehalem Spit, as well as the two-mile Spit Trail, a gravel trail that runs through the dunes to the North Jetty.
Nehalem Bay State Park also offers the only horse camping facilities on the northern Oregon coast. It has nice accommodations with corrals, toilets, and drinking water spigots, and the campsites are well separated by dense stands of coastal pines.
The entire beach at Nehalem Bay State Park is open to horses. You can reach the beach from either the horse camp or the day-parking area by riding west on one of the trails through the dunes. As you ride beside the waves, watch for seals playing in the surf. The beach is shared with other visitors to the state park, of course, so you may encounter kite fliers, Frisbee throwers, dog walkers, and other, um, exciting distractions during your ride.
The Spit Trail leads south from the day-use area and runs down the middle of the peninsula to the North Jetty. After about 1.2 miles the trail splits and makes a lollipop loop with the jetty at its far end. You’ll also find several spur trails that lead to the beach so you can vary your ride by returning beside the waves. In the wet season, parts of the Spit Trail may be under water.
Note that the Nehalem Spit is a Western Snowy Plover Management Area. In order to protect the birds’ nesting areas, between March 15th and September 15th you are allowed to ride or hike only on the wet sand.
Getting to Nehalem Bay State Park: Located 27 miles north of Tillamook and 15 miles south of Cannon Beach, off Hwy. 101. At the sign for Nehalem Bay State Park, turn south off Hwy. 101 and drive 1.3 miles to the park entrance. Continue 0.5 mile, turn left toward the campgrounds, and continue 0.9 mile to the horse camp. If you’re going to the day-use parking area, don’t turn off toward the horse camp, but instead continue straight for another mile.
Season: Year round
Facilities: 17 campsites, each with a 2-horse corral. Toilets, drinking water, fire rings, picnic tables. Most sites are back-in with room for one trailer, but a few are pull-through. You’ll find hot showers and flush toilets at the nearby family campground. The day-use area has parking for several trailers, plus a toilet and a warm-up corral.
Fees: Fees for camping or for day-use. Camping reservations recommended. Call 800-452-5687 or go online to www.reserveamerica.com.
More Information: Nehalem Bay State Park is covered in more detail in Riding Northwest Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, Ponderosa Press, 2013).