Do you dream of riding your horse along the ocean beach with waves thundering, hooves flying, and a sinking sun casting a jeweled net of color? Hitch up your trailer, and head to the Oregon coast. Here you’ll find six excellent horse camps, with beach trails, headlands, and nearby hills. (If you’d rather leave your horse at home, you can go with an outfitter; turn to page 66 for a list.)
An added treat to your Oregon adventure is driving down U.S. Highway 101 as you make your way down the coast from camp to camp. Known as “the road through paradise,” this 364-mile journey winds though one of America’s great wonderlands: pristine beaches; rugged headlands; wind-sculpted coastlines; historic lighthouses; quaint, wind-battered coastal towns—and the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America.
Up north, on the Columbia River, Highway 101 passes through Astoria, the oldest town this side of the Rocky Mountains; about mid-state, near Florence, don’t miss the Sea Lion Caves, one of the world’s great sea grottos.
We recently took this spectacular trip down the Oregon coast with our new equine trail partners. Charlene’s horse, Jake, is a 5-year-old, double-registered Tennessee Walking Horse/Spotted Saddle Horse. Kent’s 9-year-old mount, Cody, is registered with the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors Association, the Spotted Saddle Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association, and the National Spotted Saddle Horse Association.
Nehalem Bay Horse Camp
Nehalem Bay State Park (oregonstateparks.org), located between Cannon Beach and Tillamook, offers the only horse camp on the north Oregon coast. The park is situated at the beginning of a 4-mile sand spit between Nehalem Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
Nehalem Bay Horse Camp has 17 sites; each one has a two-horse corral. Amenities include drinking water, picnic tables, fire rings, and toilets. From here you can ride on the wide sandy beach, which runs 4 miles from the town of Nehalem to the North Jetty south of camp. Access this beach by taking the trail next to Site 15.
You can also ride on the Spit Trail; to reach it, take the trail next to Site 12. This 2-mile trail follows the peninsula between Nehalem and the ocean on a mostly straight dirt road edged with Scotch broom and wind-stunted shore pines.
Baker Beach Horse Camp
Head south on Highway 101, and you’ll come to Baker Beach Horse Camp (fs.usda.gov/siuslaw), located in Siuslaw National Forest near Florence. From here, you can ride on stretches of the beach that extend more than three miles. The campground is open year-round; note that western snowy plover restrictions are in place from March 15 to September 15. This state- and federally threatened bird nests along Oregon’s shores. You can also ride on the Baker Beach dunes trail, which offers incredible views of the largest coastal dune system in North America.
Horse Creek Campground
Baker Beach Horse Camp is the only coastal camp without corrals. If you don’t want to highline your horses and prefer corrals, take the Herman Cape Road east off Highway 101 and drive 5 miles to Horse Creek Campground (fs.usda.gov/siuslaw), located on the slopes of Cape Mountain.
It’s a little challenging to get to Horse Creek Campground with your loaded rig; the first 3 miles of Herman Cape Road are steep. At one point, we had to pull over and wait for our truck’s transmission fluid to cool down before continuing on.
Once you reach Horse Creek Campground, you’ll find a delightful place to spend a few days. The trees here are stately and beautiful. There are 11 campsites, each with two to four corrals. Bring your own horse water. Water is supposed to be in a trough located one-third-mile down a trail, but it was empty when we were there.
The highlight of this camp is a 50-mile network of trails around Cape Mountain. The trails follow side hills, ridges, and steep mountain slopes. You can easily create your own loops since trail junctions are clearly signed. From the top of Cape Mountain, there’s a magnificent view of the sapphire-blue ocean with white frothy waves pounding the beach. On the way back, we experienced unwelcome excitement in the form of ground bees resulting in a fast ride back!
Wild Mare Horse Camp
Continuing south, be sure to stop at Wild Mare Horse Camp (fs.usda.gov/siuslaw). Wild Mare is part of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, known for its wind-sculpted sand dunes towering up to 500 feet above sea level. This region is in the southern tip of Siuslaw National Forest, hugging the Pacific Ocean.
The lovely campground—set among shore pine, alders, Douglas fir, and huckleberry—is named after a wild horse that lived here from 1957 to 1984. There are 12 campsites; each has corrals for two to four horses.
The main access to the dunes and beach is the Wild Mare Trail, which leaves camp from Site #7. You’ll find miles of trails to explore. You can ride north on the beach 15 miles one way to the mouth of the Umpqua River or 7 miles south to Coos Bay. The dunes north of camp are designated as an ATV play area, so plan on riding in this area during the week when there’s less recreational traffic.
Bullard’s Beach State Park
Our next stop was at Bullard’s Beach State Park (oregonstateparks.org) near Bandon. The campground is pleasantly situated among shore pines, which offer protection against the blustery ocean breezes. There are eight sites; each site has two to four corrals. During our stay the park was installing a high center pole in the corral area. Now, when it rains, you can stretch a tarp over the pole to cover the entire set of corrals at your campsite.
There are three signed trails leaving the camp. The center trail is the direct trail to the beach, about a half-mile away. The Cut Creek Trail leads from the north end of camp; the trail to the lighthouse leaves from the south end. The Cut Creek Trail is a good first choice for breaking horses into ocean riding. There are a variety of sandy trails looping through dunes covered in varied vegetation, from dune grasses to shore pines. Horses can hear and smell the ocean on the left, but can’t see it. After this exposure, you can ride over to the ocean and along the beach.
If you’d rather leave your horse at home, look into one of these coastal-Oregon outfitters.
Bandon Beach Riding Stables
C & M Stables
Green Acres Beach and Trail Rides
Oregon Beach Rides
The ride to the lighthouse is only two miles, but this trail is also a good place to introduce your horse to the ocean. After leaving camp, ride on the east side of the road. Here horses can hear and smell the ocean but can’t see it. From the lighthouse, you may return following the beach and make a loop. Be sure to stop at the lighthouse, which was built in 1896. Volunteer staffers will give you an informative, enjoyable tour.
Cape Blanco State Park
Our last stop on the southern Oregon Coast was Cape Blanco State Park (oregonstateparks.org). This campground rings a circular meadow set among trees; each site has one or two corrals. For an interesting side trip, take a short drive to the Cape Blanco Lighthouse and the historic Hughes House. The tours offer interesting glimpses into bygone days and what life was like for a lighthouse keeper in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
For two rides from camp, take the trail across from Site 7. Ride to the gravel road, turn right, and follow the horse-trail signs. Eventually you’ll come to a locked gate. Ride around the gate, and you’ll come to a trail junction. Turn left to reach the Forest Loop Trail; turn right to ride to the beach. You can enjoy both trails in one ride; the loop trail isn’t long. The loop trail goes up and down small ridges and is mostly sheltered from wind.
A favorite ride we had in this area was to Blacklock Point and Flora Lake. We trailered north on Highway 101 about 3 miles to Airport Road and turned left. We followed this road about 2.7 miles to the trailhead, which is next to an airport hangar. The trailhead is gated with a potentially unsafe, narrow way around. However, we discovered that if you go a short distance to the left, you’ll find a narrow trail through dense brush leading back to the main trail.
Ride to a junction for Blacklock Point to the left and Floras Lake to the right. Blacklock Point provides a fantastic view of cliffs and the ocean. When riding to Floras Lake, avoid the hikers-only Coastal Trail; stay on the Floras Lake Trail. It’s a total of 9.5 miles to get to both locations and back to the trailhead, providing an invigorating day of coastal riding.