Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Bayocean Spit

I've hiked most of the trails along the northern Oregon coast, some several times.  But now hoping to avoid the popular crowded coastal areas in this time of Covid, I perused the internet for lesser known destinations.  Bayocean Spit, a sandy finger of land jutting into Tillamook Bay, garnered my attention.  An 8-mile loop that circled this skinny peninsula boasted sandy beaches, lovely bay views, and great birdwatching.  Not only that, but it was also the site of one of Oregon's strangest ghost towns.  How had this place managed to fly under my radar until now?  Intrigued, I added it to my "must hike" list.

Walking the road towards the trailhead

The last Friday of May I decided to check it out.  However, it was strawberry season and after spending the morning picking berries at a very crowded, un-social distanced u-pick farm (I swear when strawberries are ripe, some people lose their minds!) I needed a break from crowds.  Heading west towards the coastal town of Tillamook I looked forward to a quiet afternoon of beach walking, photography, and bird watching.

Map of the spit

The hike traversed a narrow sliver of land jutting between Tillamook Bay and the Pacific Ocean.  An abandoned road hugged the bay side of this spit, while hikers followed the sandy coastal shoreline on the ocean side.  Trails between the two criss-crossed the interior, so one could make the hike as long or short as they desired.

Interesting patterns at water's edge

Happy for the sunny skies, I was looking forward to capturing some great beach and bird images.  But as I drove through the town of Tillamook, strong winds began buffeting my car.  Hmmm... not a good sign - if it was already windy in town, this didn't bode well for the beaches.

The trailhead parking area was accessed by driving one mile across a narrow dike onto the spit itself.  However, upon arrival I discovered the road to the spit closed, gated at the highway.  Parking in a nearby gravel shoulder, I stepped outside only to be blasted by a huge gust.  Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.

Marshy fringe of Tillamook Bay

Although gated, the road to the spit appeared to be open to hikers.  Should I go for it anyway?  Walking the road to the trailhead would add an extra mile each way to my daily total.  Since it was already afternoon, covering the entire loop was unlikely, especially now that it would be 10 miles instead of 8.  After a bit of hemming and hawing I decided to give the loop a try - I'd driven all this way and it was silly to let a little wind and two extra miles stop me.

Interesting clouds

Shouldering my backpack and camera bag, I took off down the long gravel road connecting the spit to the main highway.  High winds blasted my face, threatening to blow off my cap (until I got smart and buried it in my backpack).  Views were wonderful.  Tillamook Bay's grassy, muddy shore on one side, and Cape Meares Lake on the other.  Pebbly clouds floated in a blue sky.  Bright yellow Scotch Broom lined the grassy road edges.  Although invasive, it provided a nice punch of color.

Old homesite marker

During research for this trail, I'd stumbled across a wealth of history.  This narrow strip of land was once home to a planned resort community.  Nicknamed the "Atlantic City of the West" the city of Bayocean was platted in 1906 by a realtor named T.B. Potter.  Potter had high hopes, touting his development as the "playground of millionaires."  He built a hotel, roads, and sold homesites.  By 1914 with over 600 lots sold, the town's population swelled to 2,000 people and it boasted a dance hall, hotel, movie theater, bowling alley, tennis courts, a private railroad, and 4 miles of paved roads. The crowing accomplishment was construction of a 160-foot long heated saltwater swimming pool right on the beach.

Bayocean townsite marker

However, built on unstable sand dunes, in 1928 erosion started claiming the seaward side of the beach.  Construction of a jetty on the north side of Tillmook Bay further hastened the town's destruction.  In 1932, waves from a large storm destroyed the swimming pool building.  Winter storms throughout the 30s and 40s further demolished the town, as one by one, houses crumbled and fell into the sea.  By 1952, the road connecting the spit to the mainland was washed away, creating an island.  What little remained of the town was demolished during a dike building project in 1956.  The last building, a garage, finally tumbled into the ocean in 1971.

Colorful salal bushes

Ironically, construction of a second jetty on the south side of Tillamook Bay's entrance caused sand to re-accumulate on the spit, rebuilding the once-lost land area.  Today the old townsite has become a county park, with hiking trails and informal walk-in campsites.

Ocean side of the spit

After a long walk along the road, I came to the parking area and trailhead.  Although eager to see the beach, I decided to continue along the road a little longer.  A half mile later, I came upon an interpretive display, explaining the history of the "town that fell into the sea."  A side trail led into the brushy interior, taking hikers to the Bayocean townsite.  There wasn't much to see.  A large sign commemorated the townsite's former location, and a few scattered posts marked past occupant's houses.  Staring across this barren land, it was hard to imagine a town of 600 plus homes once existed here.


Following the trail through salal bushes led me up a dune to the beach itself.  Topping the dune I was hit full on by the wind.  And if I thought the gusts were strong along the bay, it was absolutely howling on the ocean side.  I staggered onto the beach, ducking my head against blowing sand.  I attempted a couple of photos, but wishing to preserve my camera, I quickly stuffed it safely back into it's bag.

Beach grasses blowing in the wind

My original plan had been to walk along the beach the entire length of the spit, round the northern end, and return along the bay side.  But five minutes of walking in gale-force winds was enough for me.  Spotting another trail leading back into the forested interior, I gratefully escaped.

Forested area in the middle

A forested knoll rose up in the middle of Bayocean spit.  Tall trees and lush vegetation lined its slopes, a welcome surprise from the barren beach.  Trails tunneled through thick vegetation, leading to campsites.  I'd heard of people backpacking in here and camping, and this seemed like a great place for an overnight adventure.


This trail once again led me out to the bayside road.  Sheltered by the forest, the wind was much gentler here and I resumed my walk northward.  Many varieties of wildflowers lined the forested roadsides - buttercup, foxgloves, wild rose, and the ubiquitous Scotch broom. 

Foxglove and Scotch broom

A bend in the road led me to another clearing with fantastic views across Tillamook Bay. 

Wild rose

Good place for a few photo ops - and a selfie attempt!

Selfie attempt

An old bench by another connector trail made a good break spot.

Break spot

I contemplated continuing north to the northern tip of the spit.  However, it was getting late, I was tiring, and knowing I had a 3.5 mile return trip to my car made me realize it was time to turn around.

Tillamook Bay looking north

On my way back, I noticed two blue herons fishing in the bay.  Although I contemplated switching out to my 200 mm zoom lens, the birds were still too far away for any good photos.  Instead, I stood and watched them for a few minutes.

I spied two blue herons

The walk back was lovely.  Evening light began to illuminate the bay's waters to a nice shade of blue.
Scotch Broom glowed golden in the fading sun.

Tillamook Bay looking southeast

Adjacent hills across the bay rose up to frame the scenes.

Loved the different colors and patterns

As I trudged past the trailhead parking area, I noticed a couple of cars were now parked here.  As I began the final mile across the dike a passenger vehicle came rumbling down the road.  Looking far ahead, I realized the gate was now open!  Not sure why it had been closed in the first place (maybe it was for some type of maintenance).

Looking east across the bay

No matter, I had a lovely walk across the final mile, peering across Cape Meares Lake and glimpsing Cape Meares and the ocean far beyond.

Colorful, swampy edge to the bay

Happy to fit in a hike and discover another new, fascinating place on the Oregon Coast!  I'll definitely return on calmer day and explore the entire coastline.  Maybe I'll even camp overnight.

Cape Meares Lake

While doing research for this blog post, I came across a very interesting video produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting.  It gives a great overview of the history of Bayocean city.


  1. ...I haven't been to Tillamook in years,thanks for taking my along.

  2. Hello,

    The spit looks like a great spot for a hike and birding. Just not on a windy day, the birds all hunker down. The views are beautiful. Love the wildflowers. Great series of photos. Have a great day!

  3. Very interesting photos. This looks like a lovely place to explore.

  4. Loved the info and history on Bayocean. These are different kind of hikes, but just as beautiful and fascinating. Beautiful pictures as always. You just keep getting better and better!

  5. Thanks for taking the time to share this wonderful post with us. It was so great to see all of these beautiful photos and we are getting some ideas for our travels soon. Have a great rest of your day.
    Greg Prosmushkin

  6. I believe The Bible has some advice about the folly of building on sand. It looks an interesting place to visit, given better weather conditions. We have the town of Dunwich here which has mostly fallen into the sea.

  7. Your cool, refreshing beach photos are just what I needed to see as I sit through a hot AZ summer! I've done a little hiking at Tillamook before, but not this one. We'll have to check it out next time we're in your state.

  8. I like a wild and windy coastal walk but blown sand can be desperately unpleasant!

  9. May be not the best conditions to set out in, but as always, you managed to save the day brilliantly.

  10. What a great Hike! I enjoyed all your photos! I follow a blogger withe the last name Reeder I will send her over to see that sign post! :)

  11. That would be a great easy backpack! The history is fascinating.

  12. Interesting post! On the East Coast, Assateague Island was the site of a similar attempt to establish a resort city. A few hurricanes put an end to that, and the asphalt roads and homesites were abandoned. Storms since then have upended and covered most of the roads with sand. It's a recreational area and nature preserve now.

  13. I was impressed by the location of the road on the edge of Tillmook Bay.
    I imagine the atmosphere there must be dramatic when passing through it.
    The natural scenery is also very beautiful.

    Have a nice days.
    Greetings from Indonesia.


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