Post Overview: Best Things to Do Fort Stevens State Park | Visiting Fort Stevens State Park
Often regarded as the best state park at the Oregon coast, Fort Stevens State Park sits at the very tip of northwest Oregon.
But it’s not hard to see why — this 4,000+ acre park is ripe for exploration. A former military base, Fort Stevens now boasts one of the largest campgrounds in the country as well as a never-ending list of outdoor activities. Read on to learn about the best things to do at Fort Stevens State Park. Enjoy!
Best Things to Do at Fort Stevens State Park at the Oregon Coast
Learn about the Wreck of the Peter Iredale
Walk along the beach to get a closer look at the historic Peter Iredale shipwreck, one of many ships that fell victim to the treacherous waters along this stretch of the coastline back in the early 1900s.
The Peter Iredale was a four-masted steel vessel that ran ashore in 1906 while en route to the Columbia River. Built in England in 1890, the vessel was owned by a British shipping firm called Iredale & Porter.
The Iredale left a port in Mexico bound for Portland where it was scheduled to pickup cargo of wheat for the United Kingdom. Treacherous weather conditions made the journey challenging, but the captain was able to safely reach the mouth of the Columbia River before calling in assistance from a pilot.
However, while the crew waited for the pilot, a powerful wind gave way to a volatile current that ran the ship ashore. Launching the vessel into the sand at Clatsop Beach, the impact was so powerful that three masts snapped upon impact.
Luckily none of the crew were seriously injured, but the captain deemed the ship unusable and ordered that it be abandoned. Over the years the structure deteriorated, becoming a victim to the unforgiving natural elements. All that remains is the rusted wreckage visible today.
Visiting the Peter Iredale is one of the most popular things to do at Fort Stevens State Park. This spot is a huge hit with kids especially, and it’s always fun to watch them get excited as they study the structure.
Explore the Historic Military Site
This area was the site of a military installation that guarded the Columbia River for 84 years. The base was built near the end of the American Civil War, and today visitors can tour the area to learn more about the history of this important place.
Make no mistake — this gem isn’t reserved exclusively for history buffs. Touring the Historic Military Site is one of the best things to do at Fort Stevens State Park.
The reason? Essentially, Fort Stevens was the only time a military instillation in the continental US was attacked during World War II. If helpful, you can read more about the Bombardment of Fort Stevens.
Visit the site to get your fill of interesting military displays and gun batteries. I highly suggest touring Battery Russell, one of nine batteries at Fort Stevens. It was active for 40 years (from 1904-1944).
Together with Fort Columbia and Fort Canby (in Washington), the three forts created a Triangle of Fire and made it challenging for enemy boats to sneak up the Columbia Rivier.
Local’s Tip: If you’re interested in a guided tour while visiting Fort Stevens State Park’s Military Site, connect with the Friends of Old Fort Stevens.
Visit the mouth of the Columbia River
Astoria is where the Columbia River dumps into the Pacific Ocean. This is one of the most dangerous river bar crossings on the planet where waves can exceed a colossal forty feet in height. Can you imagine?
Well, actually you can (if you wanted) because you’re able to take in the views from various jetties. Rugged, wild and striking, this meeting point is significant, which is why seeing it first hand is one of the most popular things to do at Fort Stevens State Park.
Bonus: Swing by the Columbia River Maritime Museum
Located a mere 20-minutes from the park, swinging by the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria is one of the best things to do while visiting Fort Stevens state Park.
Founded in 1962, this maritime museum has a national reputation for being one of the best in the country, largely thanks to the impressive exhibits and the scope of the collection.
The collection is so impressive, in fact, that the Columbia River Maritime Museum is the official state maritime museum for Oregon. Needless to say, it’s worth a stop for anyone planning on visiting Fort Stevens State Park.
The musuem was founded by an avid marine artifact collector named Rolf Klep, who launched a public fundraising campaign to acquire the Old Astoria City Hall and convert it into a museum for his collection. The campaign was successful and the Columbia River Maritime Museum opened to the public in 1963.
Relax at the beach
I’m hardly the first to tell you that spending a day relaxing at the beach is one of the best things to at Fort Stevens State Park. Whether your definition of enjoyment means lounging on long stretches of sandy shores or getting your heart pumping through sport, you’ll find something fun to do.
Comb the sand in search of discarded crab shells, sand dollars, and agates while keeping a lookout for migrating Grey Whales as they feed close to shore.
Kayak tours are offered on trestle bay (sea kayaking is definitely a thrilling thing to add to your bucket list!), hike 15 miles of trails that wind through the park, and take in all of the sweet beachy views from numerous overlooks.
Enjoy a picnic at Coffenbury Lake
A peaceful respite from the powerful Pacific Ocean, Coffenbury Lake is the only place to be on a sunny summer day. This fresh-water lake spans 5 acres and is well-stocked with rainbow trout. As such, fishing here is one of the best things to do in Fort Stevens State Park.
If you’re not into fishing, fret now. The lake has plenty to offer. From paddle-boarding and kayaking to hiking and birding. Plus, ample picnic tables and lawns provide an opportunity to enjoy a slow picnic at the banks of the lake.
Regardless of your recreation, you’ll quickly see that visiting Coffenbury Lake is one of the most popular activities at Fort Stevens State Park for wildlife viewing. I enjoy spending quiet time looking for heron and elk before making my way into town for dinner.
Local’s Tip: You’ll need to pay to park or display an Oregon state Park pass visiting Coffenbury Lake.
You May Enjoy Reading: Where to Find Wildlife at the Oregon Coast
Take in the views from the South Jetty Observation Tower
The South Jetty Observation Tower is often overlooked by those visiting Fort Stevens State Park, but I think it’s worth a stop. Offering paralleled ocean views from the top of the tower, this is one of the best things to do at Fort Stevens State Park with kids (play a round of “I Spy” from the tower).
Watch waves crash against the jetty or take a stroll during calm weather. Bring binoculars if you have them, seals are all buy guaranteed year-round, and whales are known to hang out in the area during winter migration (December).
Consider camping at Fort Stevens State Park
Boasting one of the largest campgrounds on the Oregon Coast, camping is one of the most popular activities at Fort Stevens State Park (but not without reason!)
Even though this campground has 300 tent sites and 150 RV sites, it’s a well known commodity and the campsites fill up fast, especially during the summer months.
Hot showers, running water and flushing toilets are provided to campers alongside an amphitheater that swells with restless kiddos while parents plan the day’s events.
Further Reading: 12 Epic Campgrounds at the Oregon Coast
Visiting Fort Stevens State Park? Cool Things to Do Nearby
Visit Lewis & Clark’s Winter Encampment (Fort Clatsop)
While visiting Fort Stevens State Park, I suggest swinging by Fort Clatsop, a replica of the winter encampment used during the Lewis & Clark expedition. The encampment was recreated using notes from the expedition journals, how cool is that?
Lewis & Clark chose this location because of its close proximity to the ocean and ample hunting opportunities. Clark hand sketched the site plans and construction began December 1805. The fort was named after a nation of native Americans who resided near the area, called the Clatsop Nation.
Seeing the fort where Lewis & Clark hunkered down for a stormy winter is without a doubt one of the coolest things to do while visiting Astoria. The spot is a gold mine for history buffs (and kids too). Study the fort, explore the interpretive center and sign up for the ranger-led walk through.
Lewis & Clark spent a miserable (and wet) winter collecting supplies, making leather and salt, preparing maps and filling in journals. The history alone makes this one of the best things to do while visiting Fort Stevens State Park, you won’t want to miss it.
Perhaps best known as the filming location for The Goonies, Astoria is often considered one of the most charming coastal cities in Oregon. But — between you and me — it’s not technically an coastal town because it sits at the mouth of the Columbia River, but try telling that to a local.
Regardless of the technicality, nothing stops this gem from being one the most beloved and historic Oregon Coast beach towns. It’s also the oldest city in Oregon! The town is chock-full of maritime history, top-notch restaurants and some of the best breweries at the Oregon coast.
The only thing you won’t easily come across is boredom, so swing by!
Further Reading: 10+ Amusing Things to Do in Astoria, Oregon
Visiting Fort Stevens State Park Best Things to Do (Post Summary)
In sum, here’s a roundup of the best things to do at Fort Stevens State Park. I hope this guide is helpful for anyone planning on visiting Fort Stevens State Park, enjoy!
- Learn about the Wreck of the Peter Iredale
- Visit Lewis & Clark’s Winter Encampment (Fort Clatsop)
- Explore the Historic Military Site
- Visit the mouth of the Columbia River
- Bonus: Swing by the Columbia River Maritime Museum
- Relax at the beach
- Enjoy a picnic at Coffenbury Lake
- Take in the views from the South Jetty Observation Tower
- Visiting Fort Stevens State Park? Consider camping
- Explore Astoria
You May Enjoy Reading: 15 Best State Parks at the Oregon Coast
What do you think?