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Gateway to Another Side of Rugged Oregon, Coastal Nehalem Bay is the 'Other Bay Area' of U.S.

Published 5/13/24 at 8:45 p.m.
By Andre' Hagestedt, Oregon Coast Beach Connection

Gateway to Another Side of Rugged Oregon, Coastal Nehalem Bay is the 'Other Bay Area' of U.S.

(Wheeler, Oregon) – Just a ways inland from Manzanita (or from Rockaway Beach, depending on you think of it), Highway 101 abruptly wanders inland and to the east around a pristine body of water that is not part of the Pacific Ocean. It's not freshwater, either, at least until you get upstream, but it's uniquely a coastal thing. (All photos Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

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The Nehalem Bay is a thickly-wooded stretch of north Oregon coast that is often nicknamed the “Bay Area” by locals and regulars, a play-on-words that borrows from the more well known San Francisco locale. It's just as often linguistic amusement as it is simply being easier to say. It's also instant recognition that you're in kind of an exclusive club. To even know about the Nehalem Bay and what's in there is a badge of honor to some Oregonians.

The Nehalem Bay first pops into view a bit past Manhattan Beach in Rockaway Beach, as the northern part of that town gives way to a thicker forest and periodic glimpses of the marshlands, tidal flats and the Nehalem Spit across the other side. At first the waters are more robust, as seen from above, near the bay mouth, as you look past a couple of marina businesses that cater to the many crabbers and fishermen who frequent here.

You'll find about eight miles of curvy road along here, showing off the sights in between stands of dense foliage and trees. It's all primitive and mostly inaccessible for awhile.

The jetty of the Nehalem Bay mouth, seen from the Rockaway Beach side.

Soon, however, you arrive at Wheeler – the center point of the lush and varied Nehalem Bay. A quirky little town that's a mere few blocks long, it gives birth to a distinct kind of rugged individualism among its denizens, whose endeavors in the worlds of artisans, craftsman, culinary chefs, collectors and even historical research bring up a bevy of surprises. Wheeler is fun and funky, there is no doubt.

It's the natural aspects that really draw one in here, however. That calming bay with the island across the way creates spectacles in wildlife viewing, especially as the elk go to war over mates in the spring. You can see them in battle from the bay.

Nature is what really coaxes in one Portland resident. Back in 2013, Portland resident Lisa Lepine told Oregon Coast Beach Connection she actually prefered it over the beaches of the coast.

Nehalem Bay State Park

“The sheltered bay of Nehalem is to me a place where the ocean is dissipated, and yet wild and ancient,” Lepine said. “Where traces of native American life can still be imagined and the vibrant sea life that thrives in the calmer bay is always a wonder to behold.”

The bay has numerous grassland marshes hidden in little pockets around here. A couple of kayak-renting businesses thrive in this area for just that purpose. Paddleboarding is also a thing around these wild part – a hot thing. It's all part of what's called the Tillamook Water Trail, designated as such by the National Recreation Trail, including 250 miles of waterways that are linked throughout Nehalem, Wheeler, Nestucca area, Sand Lake and little Netarts.

There's a lot here for all experience levels. Of this the Oregon Coast Visitors Association says: “First-time paddlers or families can head to Lake Lytle County Boat Ramp, 6.6 miles south of Nehalem Bay — known for its calm and shallow waters — perfect for practicing skills.”

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Head up north and you eventually bump into more Nehalem River fishing spots by the bridge, and then you reach curiosity-filled Nehalem. Beyond that you can find the Nehalem Bay State Park (complete with campsites, copious hiking, and access to the untouched Nehalem Spit). See Historic North Oregon Coast Inn Gets New Life as Off-the-Beaten-Path Forest Getaway, New Hotel

After that you hit the third town considered part of the Nehalem Bay: Manzanita, with its long line of captivating beaches. A cool little secret around here: Manzanita is kind of the “banana belt” of the north Oregon coast. Check out the curious weather science about the area.

If all that's not enough, wait 'till glowing phytokplankton show up on the north coast. Then go test the bay at night by putting your hand in: you may see the telltale glowing wake behind your hand. It's unforgettably trippy and engaging. See what makes glowing sand and video of glow in Nehalem Bay

More at the Manzanita, Nehalem, Wheeler Maps and Virtual Tours


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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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