Oregon State Parks- Fort Stevens

A great place for discovery!

Exploring a bit of history, observing wildlife, kayaking, and beach-combing kept us quite busy during our stay at this  activity-rich 4,200 acre park.

Exploring military and maritime history-

Fort Stevens & Battery Russell

Long before recreational campers bedded down for the night at Fort Stevens, military soldiers and officers resided here.  The neat loops of tent, RV, yurt, and cabin sites have been constructed over recent times… since 1955. They join a legacy of historic sites that  date back over 150 years.


In 1865, the first fort was built in the area to protect the mouth of the Columbia River from Confederate gun boats and the British Navy during the Civil War. The earthen fort was named for Union Army General Isaac I. Stevens and first territorial governor of the state of Washington. We didn’t see any remnants of this original fort.

During the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II the post served as Oregon’s only coastal defense fort. The Army Corps of Engineers built Battery Russell at the turn of the twentieth century as a addition to a large military installation built earlier to defend the mouth of the Columbia River. This battery became part of the harbor Defenses of the Columbia along with eight more gun batteries at Fort Stevens, and two more forts in Washington- Fort Columbia and Fort Canby. Military operations here have ceased, all the guns are removed, and the remains of Battery Russell became part of the Oregon State Parks in 1975.

I am comforted by the fact that my visit to this massive concrete structure occurred at this point in its history. The Battery Russell serves as an artifact and a reminder of past conflict, and is dedicated as home to Pacific Rim Peace Memorial- a monument for everlasting peace.

It just so happened that two soldiers were visiting the memorial while I was there. It was an honor to have an opportunity to thank them for their service to our country, and a privilege that the two were willing to pose for a photograph. They chose to momentarily stand guard at a place where war was once a threat and now commemorates peace. I wish for a time that all places of conflict in the world can serve this purpose…

Wreck of the Peter Iredale

The Peter Iredale arrived at the Oregon north coast in 1906 at the peak of a storm with high winds and high seas. The captain gave the order to stand off the mouth of the Columbia with the intention of sailing the empty cargo vessel across the bar when conditions calmed.

But, Captain H. Lawrence never had the chance, the ship was forced to ground on the beach. It rests there still. What metal was not salvaged as scrap remains at the mercy of the ocean and weather forces to slowly rust away. The twisted skeleton provides an unusual backdrop for shipwreck visitors to include in iconic photographs much like the ones I took…


Columbia River Navigation

Some, like Captain Lawrence, lived to tell the tale. However, countless others died with stories untold… the waters off the Oregon coast near the mouth of the Columbia River are treacherous. In fact, the area is dubbed “Grave yard of the Pacific” or “Pacific Graveyard.” Why? Because over 2,000 shipwrecks have occurred here. A fact that inspired the creation of the Columbia River Bar Pilots in 1846 when trained pilots began to provide guide service for ships’ safe passage over the bar.

“One of the most challenging and dangerous water passages on the planet,” is how one Columbia River Bar Pilot refers to the Columbia Bar. This Bar Pilot is a member of a highly trained and skilled team responsible for preventing ships from disastrously running aground or crashing into other vessels while traveling through these difficult waters. From a vantage point inside Fort Stevens park, I watched the Bar Pilot launch, Astoria, as it traveled downriver with the ATB Dublin Sea.

The Astoria came about at a navigation buoy and proceeded to the stern of the Dublin Sea. Pulling up along side the ATB allowed the Bar pilot to board the tugboat and assume control. His job is to guide the vessel safely across the Columbia Bar. Once across the bar, a Columbia River Bar Pilot Helicopter picks up the Bar Pilot.  Then control of the Dublin Sea is returned to her captain and she is clear to head out to sea.

“Pilotage across the Columbia River Bar and up or down the river is compulsory for U.S. vessels sailing under registry and for all foreign vessels, except foreign recreational or fishing vessels not more than 100 feet in length or 250 gross tons international.”
(Cut from site 07/10/14:http://www.columbiariverbarpilots.com/columbiariverbarpilots_pilotage.html)

I also watched as this tugboat pulled a double-hulled barge down river toward the ocean. There was no Columbia River Bar pilot launch along side. I’m curious about the rules for tugboat/barge combinations. Was the Columbia River Bar Pilot already on board? If you know about this, please leave a comment. 


South Jetty- Safer entrance to Columbia River Ports of Call

The Mouth of the Columbia River’s jetty system was built from 1885 – 1939. The system consists of three rubble-mound jetties with a total length of 9.7 miles, constructed on massive tidal shoals and designed to minimize navigation channel maintenance and provide safe transit between the Pacific Ocean and the Columbia River.  (Text cut from site: http://www.nwp.usace.army.mil/Missions/Currentprojects/MouthoftheColumbiaRiverjetties.aspx)

Observing Nature

By kayak-

Coffenbury Lake, a small inter-dune fresh water lake, provided a lovely setting for an evening paddle. I sought out nature photography opportunities while my husband cast a few flies. The misty calm waters created a perfect environment for both our interests.

On trails,

There are a variety of settings and ways to enjoy the trails in Fort Stevens. Trails pass through forests, along lakes, and through dunes. Travel by foots, bicycle, or on horseback. My exploration was along foot trails.

Beside byways,

Roads run through the park are narrow and scenic. They link historic and natural areas with ample parking at all locations.

Along River & Ocean Beaches

As I walked along the park beaches, there was time to contemplate some of the ways nature attracts my attention…



cycles of life,

unexpected moments,

struggle for survival…

Barn Swallows chasing Crow


At the South Jetty observation deck, a barn swallow nest failed; the baby birds lay dead on the ground. Within moments, an opportunistic crow swooped in to carry away the first of three dead hatchlings. A flight of swallows chased to no avail; as this process was repeated two more times until each tiny swallow was scavenged away.


After the crow left the area, the Barn Swallows resumed feeding babies, brooding, and keeping watch.

Geologic Reminders…

Tsunami watch

It just so happened that we decided to check our “Tsunami Evac” app on the drive to Fort Stevens. Much to our surprise, there was an information bulletin posted for the West Coast. Earlier in the day, an earthquake occurred in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands.

Upon checking in at Fort Stevens, we inquired about the message. Rangers knew about the event, and were watching bulletins. In the event evacuation was deemed necessary, park personnel had a plan in place to alert campers and to move people to a designated meeting spot.

Nothing became of the bulletin release, but it was good practice for us. For more information on the “Tsunami Evac” app and the Cascadia Subduction Zone, please click on the icon- app-phones3-sm

Fort Stevens is a big park with a lot of room for amazing discoveries. Click the links below for a sample of what this diverse park has to offer.


Battery Russell History

Fort Stevens Park Information

Fort Stevens Trail Guide

Graveyard of the Pacific Guide to Shipwrecks

Snowy Plover Management Area


Live Ships Map: an interesting website for tracking marine vessels:  http://www.marinetraffic.com/en/

Oregon Master Naturalist ties-

This post takes a more in depth look at the Human History activities of the North Oregon Coast- topics we briefly explored in our first OMN field study, February 2014.


 More Oregon State Parks-

Beverly Beach State Park

Ecola State Park


  1. I was there the other weekend…first time staying at an Oregon State Park. I really love this park! So much to do, see, and learn! Plus, unlike a lot of other state parks (like ours in WA), no digging for change to shower, plenty of hot water with no time limit and sinks with water that stays running until you turn it off (so no trying to hold the knob while washing one hand at a time). I can’t say enough good things about this park!


    1. Hello Anita,
      Good to know you had an outstanding experience at Fort Stevens.Now that you’ve mentioned the shower facility, my first memories of camping at Oregon State Parks comes back to mind. That was 45 years ago… and my reaction then, was much as the one you just shared. Comments like yours are appreciated so we don’t take our Oregon State Parks for granted 🙂
      Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm.
      ❤ Jane


    1. Hello Mark-
      I’m happy to hear you enjoyed the post that includes another aspect of Oregon heritage history. I hopped over to your blog and left you a message on your “About” page. It was great to be reminded of the visit we made to your park about six years ago. It sounds like we need to head your way again to appreciate the renovations that are taking place.


      1. Yes, another visit is warranted since the state has invested over $400,000 this summer in the most aggressive restoration project since it has owned the park! Be sure to let us know when you can make it….we will arrange a private tour just for you (could we hope for some of those great camera shots too?) 🙂


        1. Whoa… you are making an offer that will be difficult to refuse! The challenge will be when to make the trip out your way. We are expecting our first grandchild any day now! Once we have our new-grandparent mission accomplished travel plans will be easier to make.
          Thank you so much 🙂 for the invitation. It would be interesting to photo the restoration project…


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