If you are a planner, you can skip this article entirely and get ahead of the game by booking your coastal spots up to nine months in advance. Just go to Oregon State Parks to select your preferred area, campground, type of site, and dates. From there, a slew of available sites will appear, and you can often see a picture of the open spot(s) before reserving. Please note that you can only make online reservations for camping adventures between March-October.
I tend to make plans closer to the day of an adventure and find pleasure in the unknown. That said, finding a campground on a summer weekend on the ever-popular Oregon Coast could be stressful if you don’t try a few loopholes. This article goes out to all of the busy people who need an urgent escape, all the spontaneous plans made on a whim, the wanderers, the last-minute planners, and the romantics. Here are a few tips for making your last minute coastal camping dreams happen. Long live your impromptu adventures!
Tip #1: “Campground Full” signs can actually mean “Campground Almost Full”
This sign can often be misleading in the state parks. If you can catch an attendant on duty, go to the booth of the state park and ask if anyone canceled or hasn’t shown for a reservation. On a recent coastal trip, my partner and I started visiting state parks with “Campground Full” signs on a Saturday morning between the hours of 8:00-10:00 AM and had success. I mention these hours because I noticed some of the booths close by noon.
At Beverly Beach State Park, the attendant told me to come back in an hour while she tried to contact the parties that hadn’t shown. She couldn’t take reservations over the phone, but she still gave me the direct phone number to her booth (not the 800 number you get online) to call and check on any status changes. We continued down the coast to another “Campground Full” sign at Beachside State Park. The attendant here gave me the option of paying $10 extra a night for an electrical site or waiting to see if any of the first come first serve tent sites would depart. The people in these spots could choose to extend their stay as they have first dibs on reserving another night, but a few parties hadn’t yet. See the options that become available when you blatantly ignore the ‘Campground Full’ signs?
Tip #2: Online Reservations.
Let’s say a few days before your adventure, you decide that you want to book a campground only to learn that most campgrounds only have availability for one night increments. Consecutive nights at a coastal campground on a summer weekend may not always be in your favor but if you are flexible, try booking nights at different campgrounds. There is so much to see on the coast, why not explore more than one? Maybe you will find a new favorite spot.
Now let’s say you are looking online to book a same-day reservation. Oregon State Parks don’t let you book on the website for the same day camping outside of business hours, so if you decide on a Friday night that you want to head to the coast, you won’t be able to book the weekend online because Saturday and Sunday will be blocked off as well. Side note tip: the 800 phone number they offer you to make reservations “outside of online booking hours,” actually has very similar hours to the online booking period, so be prepared for a voicemail box that won’t receive your message until after the weekend. Don’t let this fool you into thinking you can’t still find an excellent coastal camping spot though!
Tip #3: First come, first serve.
The good news is, you can still find a spot by showing up as early as you can. Each campground often has a handful of walk-up sites that are not available to book by phone or website. With so many campgrounds along the 101, why not keep driving until you find one? Carl G. Washbourne is one of my favorites for this feature as the only spots available to book online are yurts, leaving 41 full hookup sites, 14 electrical sites, 7 walk-in sites (these 7 are seasonal but worth it for those secluded rainforest feels) all completely first come first serve.
Tip #4: Be flexible.
Especially for last-minute weekend camping. If you ultimately strike out on a Friday, resolve to find a spot off the road or in a rest area to sleep in your car. Wake up early the next morning, maybe grab breakfast, and go back to the campgrounds you liked.
Tip #5: Food.
Several of the camping areas along the coast are a short drive away from at least one coastal town. Once you know where you are going, look up nearby farmers markets to see if you can snag some fresh produce or local baked goods.
Tip #6: Activities.
If you are playing on the beach, be sure to check out the signs regarding swimming as some areas have riptides and currents too strong to risk. For beach fires, also be sure to check out signs or talk to a camp host as some areas allow them so long as you are a certain distance away from driftwood. There are also many trails scattered all over the 101, and some of these trails have spectacular coastal views. Bring your bike if you want to explore coastal towns or take a ride on the beach. My last and possibly most important piece of advice is to make time for the sunset. On a clear night, sitting in the sand and watching the sun disappear behind the ocean is spectacular.