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And the Winners for Oregon Coast's Busiest State Parks Are....

Published 3/08/24 at 2:25 p.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

And the Winners for Oregon Coast's Busiest State Parks Are....

(Oregon Coast) - In 2023, Oregon's state parks witnessed an impressive surge in both day use and camping, reaching near record-breaking levels. (Above: Beachside State Recreation Site near Waldport - all photos Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

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Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) said this week that it was the second most crowded year for day-use visits, with a notable 52.2 million visits, just slightly trailing the historic record of 53 million in 2021. This past year turned out the fourth most popular camping year, with 2.9 million camper nights, which is slightly lower than the record peak of 3 million in 2021.

On the Oregon coast, some of the parks that saw the biggest growth in day-use visits were Beachside State Recreation Site near Waldport, Cannon Beach's Ecola State Park, Harris Beach State Recreation Area at Brookings, Oswald West State Park near Manzanita. Inland parks with the largest upsurge included Maud Williamson State Recreation Site, Lewis and Clark State Recreation Site, Clyde Holiday State Recreation Site and Farewell Bend State Recreation Site.

Camping experienced a minor decline overall, partly due to the closures of two well-loved campgrounds on the Oregon coast, Beverly Beach State Park and Bullards Beach State Park. These were shut down in the fall for renovation projects.

The valley and mountain region, however, enjoyed a slight boost in camping, with some of the largest increases at Detroit Lake State Park, Milo McIver State Park, Prineville Reservoir State Park and Lake Owyhee State Park.

Ecola State Park

OPRD did not have specifics on demographics of the numbers – just the general numbers themselves. For example, since Harris Beach is far down at the southern tip of Oregon and a much more out-of-the-way drive, were a good portion of visitors from California?

Reasons for popularity differed as well, and one of the other surprises was Beachside State Rec Site. A simple beach with miles of sand in either direction and a rather small parking lot, it doesn't seem likely to be a major attraction like Ecola's grand views or Oswald's dynamic beach and surfing possibilities.

According to Stefanie Knowles, a spokesman for OPRD, Beachside saw a jump from 70,000 visitors in 2019 to 1117,000 last year – an eyebrow-raising hike upwards.

Harris Beach, Brookings (photo OPRD)

“The recreation site includes miles of sandy beach for flying kites and whale watching, and it’s close to Newport,” Knowles said.

Park manager Ben Fowler said it can have to do with how busy other major parks are nearby, such as South Beach State Park at Newport or Seal Rock's accesses.

“More and more we see day-use parks within the South Beach Management Unit at full capacity at peak times during the summer, which in turn encourages visitors to explore parks further south that are less crowded,” Fowler told Oregon Coast Beach Connection.

OPRD calculated the overnight camping figures by taking the total number of occupied campsites and applying a multiplier to estimate the number of camper nights.

Silver Falls State Park - near Silverton

“The day-use figure is derived from car counter data. We then apply a multiplier to estimate the number of visits,” the agency said. “Car counters sometimes require maintenance and replacement, which can impact individual numbers. The overall results are OPRD’s best estimate for tracking trends over time.”

The two Oregon coast sites with the lowest visitation rates were Clay Myers State Natural Area at Whalen Island (near Pacific City) and the Coos Bay area's Golden and Silver Falls State Natural Area.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department continues with its GO Bonds projects totaling $50 million in improvements to aging infrastructure and to protect Oregon’s resources with projects at nine parks. The work will also add visitor facilities and expand camping at several parks including Silver Falls and Champoeg by 2026. The improvements were funded by general obligation bonds approved by the Oregon Legislature in 2021.

Improvements are still ongoing throughout the park system, with OPRD's GO Bonds projects bringing $50 million in upgrades around the state, shoring up aging infrastructure and protecting resources at nine of the parks. Silver Falls State Park (near Silverton) and Champoeg are getting expanded visitor facilities and camping by 2026.

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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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