The Battle For Oregon’s Coastline

For a place with such serene beauty, Oregon’s coastline, though famed, has a surprisingly thorny history.

After Oregon became a state in 1859, and railroads were built over the Coastal Range, the Oregon Land Board began encouraging development in areas like Astoria, Newport Beach, and Seaside. By the early 1900s, tourists from the Willamette Valley (Portland, Salem, and Eugene) were flocking to Oregon’s coastline for vacation, and more than 23 miles of coastline was locked up as private property.

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In 1911, a man named Oswald West ran for governor in Oregon, and was elected—largely because he promised to take back Oregon’s coastline and beaches as public land. (He was so beloved that the gorgeous Oswald State Park, west of Portland, is named in his honor, and fittingly it also has one of the best surfing beaches in the state). In 1913, the entire length of the coastline from Washington to California was designated as a state highway, and the Parks and Recreation Department bought parks every ten miles—a boon to coastal tourism.

Haystack Rock along Oregon's coastline

Private landowners pushed back. In 1966, a hotel owner in Cannon Beach (which was posh even back then) fenced off a section of the shoreline as private property for his guests. The good citizens of Oregon flipped, especially Tom McCall, Oregon’s beloved governor. McCall staged a big media event to gain support for keeping Oregon’s coastline open to the public—he and an entourage of scientists and surveyors flew via helicopter to Cannon Beach. The stunt helped support for the “Beach Bill,” which declared that “all wet sand within 16 vertical feet of the low tide belongs to the State of Oregon” and gave public access on all beach areas up to the line of vegetation, regardless of private property.

The result of all this righteous fighting against the land grabbing means that you can hike Oregon’s coastline entirely, camping along the way. The hiking is easy to moderate, most at sea level, with a few hundred feet of elevation along the way (great spots for whale watching). Starting at the Washington border (at the north jetty at the mouth of the Columbia River), the Oregon Coast Trail covers more than 360 miles. The scenery is postcard perfect…rugged sea stacks, robust tidal basins, and crashing waves. The end of the trail—at the California border, is just south of Brookings (in an area known as the “banana belt” of Oregon due to its balmy weather. So you can be ambitious and scope out a schedule to hike the whole thing, or just dip into locales for a week, or a weekend.

Camping is free, provided you’re not in a state park or area where it is prohibited by a state or local ordinance. A fun option is to stay in one of the more than 150 yurts that have been built along the coastline. Designed in the same manner as those developed by Mongol nomads, these circular structures have all the amenities of a simple hotel room as well as mosquito screening on the windows, skylights, and great ventilation. We love the views of the ones at Beachside State Park (south of Waldport). Many offer electricity, heat, decks, and locks on the doors. Most have futon couches, bunk beds, fire rings, and picnic tables; just bring your own sleeping bags, pillows, food, and cooking supplies.

When’s the best time to go? We love October through April as there are no crowds, and, more often than not, spectacular weather—but don’t forget warm clothes, good walking shoes (and a pair of slippers for the yurt), and a raincoat.

Maps and Yurt rental information can be found at:

Cannon Beach along Oregon's coastline at Dusk