Buzz the Elk, Land Your Plane, Pitch Your Tent

Most of the campgrounds we’ve stayed in across the country are designed with the usual drive-around loops, with sites along each side for RVs or tents. Sometimes the sites are in a grid, sometimes set around a reservoir or lake. But they’re all about driving in and where you park your vehicle.

Hike in & Bike in Campsites

Our campgrounds on the Pacific Coast have been along popular biking routes and hiking trails (like the Pacific Coast Trail here), so they offer special hike- and bike-in campsites. These don’t have an area for a vehicle (duh), and here they’re set aside from the craziness that’s RV camping.

Just a spot to lock up your bike and pitch a small tent, maybe a fire ring in case you want to buy firewood from the park ranger and cook a meal from your pack. I think these travelers are super cool. (Although dangerous to drive around on the narrow coastal highway!)

Horse Campsites

Okay, people don’t actually ride their horses into these campsites (you need so much gear for horses), but people do camp here with their horses in areas also set apart from the RVs and tents. Each horse campsite has a fenced-in paddock and a pad for a horse trailer. Folks set up their campsites with pop-up tents and sleeping tents, or they sleep in those fancy horse trailers with living quarters inside.

I saw a guy on the roof of his trailer extracting a folded-up thing that looked like a standard campchair, but when he unfolded it, it turned out to be a lightweight wheelbarrow. How cool is that? One of the few benefits of camping in a campground is walking around looking at everyone’s gear. This was a first for me.

Here at Nahalem Bay State Park in Oregon, folks can ride their horses out on the beach, but also along the Nahalem River where it feeds into the Pacific and along trails through tall seaside brush.

This morning I was walking Banjo at 5:30 before the rain set in (again), and I found myself behind this lady who looks older than me, rushing with a wheelbarrow full of manure, adeptly dumping it in the camp’s manure pile, then heading back to her campsite for a ride before the rain. Horse people are tough.

Fly-in Campsites!

Okay, this is a big-time first for us. On the state park grounds is a very small, limited-access landing strip with a sign saying it’s the Nahalem Bay Airport, but it’s so small that only kit planes and the smallest of private planes must be able to use it. Here’s the fun part: you can fly your plane in and then pitch your tent and camp in the woods right by the landing strip.

So at this state park, you can walk in, bike in, drive your RV in, drive your horses in, and fly in! This is like an all-access campground, and yet it’s still full of wildlife.

I love to tell the story (I’m sorry if you’ve heard this several times already) that my dad had a small plane he kept in a hanger at a friend’s farm, and he’d take off and land in the cow pasture right there. It took a little extra work though: to land he had to buzz the cows off the landing strip first.

Here, fly-in campers have to buzz the elk off the landing strip! Seriously, each time we ride our bikes along the two-mile path that winds through the various campsites, we see elk, and often grazing right among the small planes. They seem so used to people that I bet pilots have to make several passes over them to get ’em to skedaddle.

Human Masses Campsites

Because this state park is right on the beach and within an easy drive of Portland, there are tons of people in the regular camping areas. I would guess maybe 300 campsites (including a few yurts), all positively packed with people. Let’s say each campsite has 30 children. 50 dogs. 70 wheeled toys that rattle and buzz.

It is not a veritable zoo out there; it is a zoo.

Our Postage Stamp Home

And then there’s our campsite, where we’ve set up chairs and Banjo as far from the chaos as possible, largely behind the trailer. We don’t have a little flag at the front of our site declaring how ”Friends are made around the campfire,” and we don’t have our names on a plaque proudly declaring our state. We don’t chit chat with other campers in front of the camphost site.

Instead, I gave Tracy a haircut by the firepit yesterday. When it rains today we might scrub the dirt off the outside of the trailer. We must look like the strangest vacationers ever. We do add to the diversity here at this wild campground!

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