You wrap up work on Friday, load your kids into the car and make a beeline for Seaside on Highway 26. We certainly share your enthusiasm, but there’s the simple matter of having to get here. If you’re starting from Portland or passing through the city it’s an easy trip through the Coast Range on the Sunset Highway, with some surprisingly cool stops to enjoy along the way. Before you ditch your car to explore the beaches and shops of Seaside, here are four ways to make the drive more fun.
Oregon’s First Rails-to-Trails Park
As far back as the 1920s, a rail line shuttled logs, lumber, freight and passengers around the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range. The line was abandoned in 1973, laying the groundwork for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to take control of the tracks and eventually repurpose the land as the state’s first rails-to-trails park.
Today the Banks-Vernonia State Trail stretches 21 miles between its namesake communities. The 8-foot-wide, gently graded path has five trailheads and is popular among hikers and bicyclists as it heads through lush forests, working farms and wide-open meadows. One of the path’s many highlights is the 733-foot-long, 80-foot-high Buxton Trestle, an old railroad structure that can be accessed from the Buxton Trailhead just east of the junction of Highway 47, after you’ve traveled about 40 minutes on Highway 26.
Hydrate With Fresh Oregon Spring Water
Just past milepost 30, at a sign labeled “Drinking Water,” sits an unassuming water spigot alongside Highway 26. (A second spigot, on the eastbound side of the road, is a few hundred feet farther east along the highway.) You’ll likely spy a few vehicles parked on a thin strip of land surrounding the drinking fountain — with drivers patiently waiting to fill their bottles and jugs.
The fountains have been around since at least the 1960s and are hooked up to nearby natural springs via underground pipes; no matter the season, the water seems to come out ice cold at all times. And according to those who line up with jugs in tow, the fresh spring water tastes positively sublime.
Wildlife Watching at Bloom Lake
For an under-the-radar outing along Highway 26, consider a 3-mile (round-trip) jaunt to Bloom Lake in the heart of the Clatsop State Forest. Best of all: No matter the day or time of year, you’ll likely have the mostly easy trail to yourself.
The unsigned trailhead sits at a gravel parking lot on the south side of the highway, just past milepost 25; you’ll see a map board at the trailhead but not much else.
From there a 3-mile loop heads to (and around) Bloom Lake, with about 675 feet of elevation gain along the way. Most of that comes early, before leveling out as you approach Bloom Lake through a forest of Douglas fir, western hemlock and vine maple; the latter turns vibrant shades of red, yellow and orange in fall. Keep an eye out at a pond along the trail for beavers, and once at the lake, watch for ducks, herons and other waterfowl that frequent the crystal-clear body of water.
Experience Oregon’s Logging History
The sprawling log cabin setting of Camp 18 Restaurant and Logging Museum isn’t just an iconic sight along Highway 26; it’s an Oregon institution, as beloved for its hulking cinnamon rolls as the uniquely Beaver State experience it offers — inside and out.
Even before you head inside, Camp 18’s charms are apparent: A restored water tower lords over logging-equipment displays that date back decades; the lineup includes historic tools, tractors and more. And across the parking lot sits the Camp 18 Loggers’ Memorial, which pays tribute to the workers who made logging their life’s work.
Walking inside, meanwhile, feels akin to entering the world’s most audacious mountain retreat — with a sprawling log-cabin interior, crackling stone fireplace and chain-saw carvings all coming together to create a cozy dining experience.
Make sure you come hungry. Camp 18 serves filling breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes, with a menu that reads like a veritable bingo card of comfort-food classics: country-fried steak with homemade gravy, filling omelets, towering sandwiches and more. Whatever you do, save room for a homemade cinnamon roll — which is large enough to feed a whole family of hungry loggers.
Once you’ve eaten (and boxed up your leftovers for the road), you’re just 25 minutes from Seaside — and are that much closer to catching the weekend’s first sunset.
Banks-Vernonia State Trail photo by Russ Roca / Travel Oregon