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Into the Untamed Wilds of Nehalem Bay / Manzanita on N. Oregon Coast

Published 08/12/21 at 6:49 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Into the Untamed Wilds of Nehalem Bay / Manzanita on N. Oregon Coast

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(Manzanita, Oregon) – Sometimes, the wild things are just next door to the beaches of the Oregon coast – the stuff that's even wilder. Between those high-profile resort towns of Cannon Beach and Rockaway Beach sits the sprawling Nehalem Bay, an area so large it encompasses three towns. Nehalem, Manzanita and Wheeler each boast their own civilized delights in the realms of deliciousness to dizzying fun. Yet it's the untamed natural wonders – sometimes just inland – that often set this section of Oregon coast apart from others. (Above: Nehalem Bay State Park)

Hit the waters, hit the beaches, fish the Nehalem river, camp in the outlands of this densely forested masterpiece of scenery or hike to sights and sites so unique you can't find anything like them anywhere else on Oregon's coastline. It's the roughing it that really makes the memories around the Nehalem Bay area, and it does so in jaw-dropping ways.

One of the Tillamook Coast's more sprawling and spectacular pleasures is Nehalem Bay State Park, with the main entrance at the north end of Nehalem, after a snaking little drive either from this charming burgh or the beach haven of Manzanita. This chunk of shoreline filled with nothing but sand ambles on for miles and features oodles of camping stuff to do, aside from the beaches itself.

You'll find at least two hundred campsites, full toilet systems and hot showers. Each campground features a picnic table and a fire pit. There's also a horse camp with numerous sites and two corrals.

There are boat docks in one section that faces Nehalem Bay. Dunes are also in abundance here, leading to just about every kind of watery and beachy landscape you could hope for.

Then there's the Nehalem Spit. A good two miles down this stretch of sand you may find spots to watch seals rather closely. But don't get too close: bothering them in their natural habitat is illegal.

The beach here gets surprisingly busy for an area that's a bit off the beaten path, unless you're on the spit.

Or, drive around the bay, through Wheeler, until you reach Brighton at the mouth of the Nehalem Bay. There, two marina businesses allow you access to crabbing, boating and all sorts of marine-based fun.

In Wheeler, there are also some kayak rental possibilities, along with a powerfully burgeoning stand-up paddle-boarding craze that is really taking over much of the Oregon coast these days. One of the big pleasures here is wandering by kayak through the reedy marshes of the Nehalem Bay and finding bundles of hidden niches and nature spots teeming with wildlife.

A tad closer to the civilized, the strands and sands of Manznanita include loads of wonders all their own. A wide and beautiful sandy beach fills the eye here. Although at the beach's northernmost access - near Neahkahnie Rd. - it quickly becomes large cobblestones until it ends at the base of Neahkahnie Mt. some 200 feet down. If you want to rough it, this is where to go. It's a harsh, forbidding and vastly uncomfortable trek with all those large stones. Plus, you can't go much of the time because of insane tidal conditions.

The most obvious of the beach accesses lay past its downtown and at the bottom of the main road, Laneda Rd., along Ocean Road. But there are numerous hidden ones south of there, between the homes, along the beachside roads. These eventually dead-end at a back entrance to Nehalem Bay State Park.

In spite of being tucked away, these accesses don't usually make for less people.

For an even wilder experience, head just north of Manzanita to the Neahkahnie Overlooks, undoubtedly one of the most expansive views along the entire Oregon coast. On clear days you can see all the way down to Oceanside, a good 40 miles away.

Ever more savage, hit the hiking trail to Short Sands (look for the gravel patch immediately north of the overlooks) and instead of heading downward to that surfer hotspot, go straight west. You'll discover the deliriously surreal sights of a set of forbidden cliffs looking down on broiling, bonkers oceanic madness. This includes the Devil's Cauldron, a sort of gigantic tube-like structure that plummets a few hundred feet (and so will you if you're not careful) to what has been called Smuggler's Cove.

Along that pathway, catch closer sight of massive, monolithic mysteries such as Cube Rock and Pulpit Rock, seen more easily from these steep and soaring cliffs.

And don't forget hiking to the top of Neahkahnie Mountain. Two trailheads lead you upwards and onwards onto this magnificent mountain, several more hundred feet above the famed overlooks.

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