Updated Friday, June 21, 2013 at 12:05 PM
On a recent weekend, my husband and I checked into a yurt at Nehalem Bay State Park on the Oregon Coast. If we’d been looking to test a yurt’s storm-survival capabilities, we could hardly have asked for better conditions.
A massive storm was bearing down. The forecast made us wonder. But then, weren’t we here for an adventure?
We’d gone online to reserve our yurt (see “If You Go”). Since we arrived late in the evening, our state-park camp host had already turned on the lights and wall-unit electric heat. When we arrived, the rustic round structure was spotless, without even a trace of sand.
That heater came in handy. Shortly after we arrived, rain pounded down, with the kind of spattering sound it makes on a tent’s rain fly. Wind began to blow. The vinyl walls, reinforced by crisscrossed wooden slats, gently vibrated. We glanced toward the roof, the center of which was a clear Plexiglas circle, and hoped it was watertight.
We didn’t need to worry. Through two nights of strong and often gusty winds, our humble but aerodynamic home never blew down. And even though the yurt was soon surrounded by a puddle 6 inches deep, its platform kept us dry. It was secure and yet a bit scary at the same time. The hardest part: showering in the unheated camp bathroom (I was fine once I jumped under the hot water).
Winter gusto, no crowds
But winter on the coast is not just about long, cozy nights. Almost any outdoor activity that people can do here in the summer, they can do in the winter — anything from guided horseback or kayak tours to leisurely beachcombing.
This section of the coast stretching south from Cannon Beach and Manzanita is one of its most upscale, partly because of easy access from Portland. In the summer, it’s overflowing with visitors, all competing for the same vacation rentals and restaurant dinners.
But since the area is so dependent on vacationers and second-home owners, it’s much quieter during midweek and especially during the winter. At this time of year, tourist traffic is just healthy enough to support the same variety of eateries and accommodations as in summer — but everything’s easier to come by. While you’d have to reserve a yurt at Nehalem Bay months ahead in the summer, a few weeks of advance planning will get you one on a weekend, and they’re available at the last minute on weeknights.
Our pattern on this weekend: We watched the weather reports and the sky. When the rain slowed, we dashed out for a quick beach stroll or a hike. When the torrents started again, we headed for a bakery, a museum or a bar.
We armed ourselves with the foul-weather accouterments we’ve accumulated living in the Northwest: waterproof bag, waterproof camera, waterproof jacket — and bulletproof attitude.
Given the strong winds at the coast, we thought of heading for one of the many inland hikes, keeping in mind a park ranger’s advice to avoid the forest when winds were strong enough to bring a “widowmaker” tree down on us.
At Cape Meares, south of Nehalem, we hiked up a short trail to a cliff’s-edge overlook. The wind was so strong that it blew blobs of sea foam hundreds of feet up to where we stood — another form of precipitation. We hiked back down to see the cape’s squat lighthouse with red Fresnel lens and the abundant bird life for which it’s famous.
On our second day, we dashed to Oswald West State Park for a quick hike to Short Sands Beach. There, Mother Nature unleashed another torrent onto us, three other intrepid beachcombers and one insane surfer who stayed in the water despite strong winds, high tide and even lightning.
The weather, and especially the lightning, made us rethink our original plan to join Kayak Tillamook that afternoon for a guided tour of one of the sloughs that feed into Tillamook Bay. But the afternoon miraculously cleared, and we went for a three-hour paddle on near-glassy waters without any rain or wind.
Our guide, Marc Hinz, said he rarely cancels a trip; the slough is sheltered by surrounding forests and rarely gets scary. He also brings hot cider on every winter trip. He explained that the U.S. Department of the Interior recently designated the area’s vast system of rivers and sloughs an official National Water Trail.
For the brief periods when the weather is too horrible for even the prepared, this part of the coast offers plenty of indoor activities giving respite from the rain: Tillamook’s cheese factory and the air museum, for example, plus an abundance of art galleries and what seems like thousands of antique and thrift shops.
Enough to wear you out and send you back to your yurt for another cozy night’s sleep.
is a Seattle-based freelance writer and the author of “Motorcycle Touring in the Pacific Northwest.”
If you go
Where to find them
Many state parks in both Washington and Oregon offer yurt accommodations, including 18 parks on the Oregon coast and four on the Washington coast. For Washington, see parks.wa.gov/yurtsandcabins ($49 a night and up). For Oregon ($35-$41 a night), see oregon.gov/OPRD/PARKS/Pages/rustic.aspx.
Tips for yurt campers
Bring your own bedding (including pillows). Most yurts are wheelchair-accessible and some allow pets.
Great pastries, breakfast and picnic lunches at Bread and Ocean bakery in Manzanita: breadandocean.com.
Kayak Tillamook guides tours throughout the year: kayaktillamook.com.
Marinas, especially those on the bays (Netarts, Nehalem, Tillamook), rent kayaks for do-it-yourself flat-water tours. Pick up a Tillamook Water Trail guidebook locally or download it from the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership website: www.tbnep.org.
Christy Karras / Special to The Seattle Times
Beachcombers and their dog brave the stormy shores of Oswald West State Park.
Christy Karras / Special to The Seattle Times
Heated canvas yurts such as these at Oregon’s Nehalem Bay State Park make winter camping more pleasant.