In the tradition of the beautiful state park system that makes Oregon camping such a pleasurable experience, Oswald West is a crown jewel.
It is a rather unique crown jewel, actually. There are 36 primitive walk-in tent sites that are reached by a one-third-mile trail from the parking area. The park service provides wheelbarrows for carting your camp gear up and down the angled, paved pathway. Part of the camaraderie that quickly accompanies a camping trip to Oswald comes from the exchanges of greetings, sympathy, and an occasional helping hand that fellow campers offer as they push, pull, tug, and otherwise maneuver their overloaded carts between car and campsite. It is not unusual to find a heap of spilled goods lying in the path as a frustrated youngster valiantly attempts to right his overturned one-wheeled craft before Dad comes looking to see what in the world is taking so darned long.
It's all in the spirit of camping at Oswald West, but you can tell the veterans from the novices around here. They've learned to travel light.
The lush surroundings are the first thing you'll probably notice when you descend into the inner sanctum of this primeval coastal rain forest. The trees here look as old as time, soaring skyward and looking formidable in their heavy, shaggy coats of moss. The campsites are private little grottos of greenery interspersed among the venerable collection of western red cedar, hemlock, and Sitka spruce. The entire camping grounds are shrouded in a rich undercover of salal, sword ferns, huckleberry and salmonberry bushes, with wildflowers such as trillium and skunk cabbage adding spots of color when in bloom.
Getting around the campground is easiest by way of established trails. Crashing through the underbrush to use the rest-room is a definite camping faux pas. It is a rare treat to have flush toilets in such an undeveloped facility.
The Coast Ranges hug the Pacific along this section of the Oregon coast, resulting in steep bluffs that rise high above the shoreline but limit the beach-combing options. Short Sands Beach, within the protective curve of Smuggler's Cove, is the only choice in an expanse of 2,500 acres of parkland that stretches from Arch Cape to Neahkahnie Beach. It's a good spot to watch surfers ride the waves as they thread their way through tricky waters dotted with rock"stacks."
Headlands hiking is an alternative activity. Both Cape Falcon and Neahkahanie Mountain have trails to the top for dramatic views. The 3-mile route up Neahkahanie zigzags its way to a 1,710-foot promontory, with views north that extend beyond the Columbia River. In all, there are 15 miles of trails in "Os West," as it is affectionately known by the locals. Twelve of these are part of the lengthy Oregon Coast Trail. Ask the park rangers for more information about this popular and unique trail.
One of Oregon's best state park campgrounds. Primitive walk-in sites in an inner sanctum of coastal rain forest.
Rain forest conditions mean wet weather regularly as the moisture heavy marine clouds meet the unyielding Coast Ranges and dump their load on Oswald West. It can also be quite blustery. An extreme example came in 1982 when gales raging at more than 150 miles per hour leveled six million board feet of old-growth Sitka spruce on Cape Falcon. It took two years to replant the area, and the loss of those huge, old conifers will never be fully compensated.
The park's peak season is June through August, but some of the best weather occurs in September and October. In spring, Neahkahanie Mountain provides a splendid display of wildflowers in bloom, particularly the pink coast fawn lily.
To get there from Cannon Beach, drive south on U.S. 101 for about 10 miles. Access to the campground is from the southernmost parking lot, which may be full. Overflow parking areas are nearby.
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