As far as I know, there’s only one beach on the Oregon coast where you can walk up to, and inside, a real shipwreck that’s halfway buried in the sand. There are other reasons to visit Fort Stevens State Park, at the northwestern tip of Oregon, but the shipwreck is so incredibly cool, it makes the trip worthwhile.
I was on the 10th day of my vacation. I had already put 2,500 miles on the odometer. I had my room for the night, and all that was left was to finish the drive to Portland and fly home. I was exhausted. And it was cloudy and drizzling. But there was one thing missing from my trip to the Pacific Northwest.
The Pacific Ocean.
Driving out to the coast was never part of my plan. My goal was Glacier National Park. There wasn’t anything on the coast I hadn’t seen before. At least, that’s what I told myself. But I knew it wasn’t true. I hadn’t seen the shipwreck, buried in the sand on a beach near Astoria.
With the weather so dismal, and with me being so road-weary, was it worth an extra hundred miles or so?
It certainly was. With just a couple of hours until sunset, I left my motel room in Longview, Washington, and booked it out US 30, stopping for nothing but red lights. 90 minutes later, give or take, I was standing on a cold, grey, unwelcoming Pacific beach. More accurately, I was standing in the wreckage of the Peter Iredale.
The ship ran aground here in 1906. Much of it was sold for scrap, but the steel and iron bow, and pieces of its masts, were left behind.
And here it sits, as it has for more than a century.
The shipwreck is a photographer’s dream, even on a day that’s certainly not photo-friendly. There are so many ways to shoot it: from the front…
… through the middle…
… out the side. If only there had been a sunset peeking through the old bones of the ship.
The biggest challenge was shooting around people. A couple of folks in the distance was no problem, but there were plenty more, climbing up and into the ship’s skeleton, or circling around it. Patience is key.
Aside from the shipwreck, this isn’t a thrilling beach, as Oregon beaches go. Out here, you’re on the Clatsop Spit, which is just a really long sand bar. No dramatic cliffs or waterfalls or sea stacks.
If you drive all the way up to the end of the road, at the end of the spit, you will find some driftwood. I drove up here, before stopping at the shipwreck. At the time, I thought I was at the Pacific, but the end of the spit curves around into the Columbia River. That’s probably Astoria in the distance.
The end of the spit also offers some grassy trails. It would be much prettier on a clear day.
It’s also worth noting that there is an actual “fort” at Fort Stevens. It was constructed during the Civil War and was active as a military installation through World War II. The Japanese fired a few shots at it in 1942 — making it the only military installation within the U.S to come under enemy fire during the war. Some relics of the old fort, including some old concrete structures.
Before arriving at Fort Stevens, as I made my way over from US 101, I found this pretty spot at the north end of the community of Hammond, Oregon. It’s just outside the park, and I had hoped that there was an entrance here, but there is not. There are, however, a lot of old pilings, rocks, and birds, all of which would have made for some nice pictures on another day.
The Bottom Line
Driving out to the coast in drizzly weather when I was already tired probably wasn’t the best idea, but I’m glad I put the effort into visiting Fort Stevens. It was certainly worth the trip, if only to see the shipwreck. A longer visit, on a clearer day, is certainly in order.
Fort Stevens State Park is located west of Astoria, Oregon. From Astoria, take US 101 south across Youngs Bay, then exit and head north and west. I took Harbor Street and Oregon 104 through Warrenton and Hammond, but this was probably the long way around. A better route is likely 104S,104, and then 18th Street, which turns into Ridge Road.
Once you find the park entrance, head north through the park, and watch for the parking area clearly signed as “shipwreck”.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Longview, Washington to Astoria, Oregon and on to Fort Stevens: