So you’re interested in camping, but you’re kind of over sleeping on the ground and cooking by headlamp hunched over propane stove. We’ve got just the thing for you: van camping. Pop-up campers offer easily accessible beds, petite kitchens and fold-down tables for eating (or cribbage, anyone?). Compact and tidy, they are perfect for the car-camping section of the campground right next to the beach.
As a van camper, you can make your home away from home at a campground’s tent site or a site with an electrical hookup (for RVs), depending on your needs. Once October rolls around, tent sites are less busy and tend to be booked later, so spontaneous road trippers are in luck. Campgrounds, trails and attractions on the Coast are also delightfully less crowded in the fall, while the weather is still typically mild with crisp nights — which makes for blissful van-camping weather. Here are some sublime spots to cuddle up in on the Oregon Coast.
Oregon’s North Coast
Just south of Manzanita, Nehalem Bay State Park is perched on a 4-mile sand spit in a stand of shore pines. The park has 265 sites (all with electrical hookups) and hot showers. Activities include kayaking, crabbing, fishing, clamming, beachcombing and wildlife watching.
Located along the Three Capes Scenic Loop south of Tillamook, Cape Lookout State Park has 170 tent sites, 38 electrical hookup sites and two group camping areas. Year-round, the 5-mile out-and-back trail at Cape Lookout is an invigorating trek with panoramic ocean views (you can often see spouting whales). Enjoy more than 8 miles of hiking trails through the forest and strolling the beach on scenic Netarts Bay. Check out daredevil paragliders sailing down from the cliffs above.
Oregon’s Central Coast
Devils Lake State Recreation Area offers 54 tent sites and 28 electrical hookup sites situated near a scenic lake. It’s a great spot for fishing and bird-watching, as well as boating (kayak tours are available July through Labor Day), and yet you’re just a few miles from downtown Lincoln City.
Bring your bicycles to South Beach State Park, just a few miles south of the Newport historic bayfront, where you can ride down the paved jetty trail with views of the soaring Yaquina Bay Bridge. There are 60 tent sites and a whopping 227 electrical sites here, making it a hub for fellow van and RV campers. You may be camping, but you’re just minutes from the tide pools and tours at Yaquina Bay Lighthouse as well as marine-life exhibits at Hatfield Marine Science Center and the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
A bit farther south, camp just seconds from the beach at Beachside State Recreation Site, between Waldport and Yachats. Stroll the beach, watch for whales or access miles of nearby hiking trails. This park has 42 tent sites and 32 electrical sites, and it closes for the season Nov. 1.
Southern Oregon Coast
Located near the town of Coos Bay, Sunset Bay State Park is bordered by the soaring, rugged cliffs that make this part of the Coast so breathtaking. Choose from 65 tent sites and 30 full-hookup sites, with a trail network that connects to Shore Acres and Cape Arago state parks. Take in the wildflowers, epic ocean vistas and views of nearby lighthouses.
Just offshore from Harris Beach State Park near Brookings, you can see Bird Island, a National Wildlife Refuge and breeding site for the tufted puffin. Watch for migrating whales, seals and sea lions, and pick from 59 tent sites and 65 electrical hookup sites, plus 25 with water.
Umpqua Lighthouse State Park has 23 tent sites and 12 full-hookup sites situated at the tranquil Lake Marie, just 5 miles south of the Oregon Dunes Visitor Center (temporarily closed).
If You Go:
Van camping is a year-round delight in Oregon, with fall being an excellent time to enjoy the Coast without the crowds. Winter is fabulous for storm watching and feeling cozy while still adventuring in the great outdoors. And summer brings the warmest temperatures but also the biggest crowds to campgrounds and other coastal attractions.
Camper vans for rent come with bedding, towels, dishes and some basic kitchen supplies. For information on rentals, check out Road Trip Oregon, Camper Travel USA and Vagabond Vans. In the Central Oregon area, Bend Westy is a fabulous way to rent a camper van with all the comforts of home. Read up on tips for your first campervan experience.