What happens when 13 families show up to camp at Fort Stevens State Park? A loud, crazy, incredibly good time, that’s what!
For the third year in a row we camped with an expanding group of friends, a group that has added a few families each year. This September our numbers reached 26 adults and something like 18 kids under the age of 6! Camping truly is more fun the more people you have, although our unsuspecting neighbors in the yurt village may have begged to differ.
Fort Stevens is an ideal park for a large group, especially with kids. First of all it’s huge at 3400 acres, with over 500 camping spots and 15 yurts (a cross between a cabin and a tent, pictured at right), the ocean and beach, a freshwater lake, biking and hiking trails, an historic fort, and access to the Columbia River. There is so much to do within the park that we never even left, apart from a few members of our group who couldn’t live without their mochas. Various members of our party came and departed at different times but our family spent three nights and four days exploring this park and its surrounds.
Our first afternoon, a Thursday, was spent settling into the yurt and exploring the campground itself with other early arrivers, Son and Heidi. Heidi and Beth took the little ones, Josh and Grace, on a walk on some of the campground’s trails. We were trying to make it to Coffenbury Lake, the pristine lake perfect for boating and swimming in warmer weather, but with two pairs of very short legs accompanying us we only got a glimpse of the lake in the distance. Still we enjoyed wandering around a bit and had a nice campfire that evening while the rest of our friends trickled in into the late hours of the night.
The next day, Friday, most of the other families had arrived and a quorum decided to explore the remnants of the historic Fort Stevens, a short drive (or long walk) from the campground itself. Fort Stevens was the primary military defense installation for the mouth of the Columbia River from the Civil War through the end of WWII. It even saw a little actual fighting when a Japanese sub fired into the vicinity of the fort during WWII.
Grace (dark hair, middle) with three of her little friends resting during our hike around the Fort
At the fort itself we took a short hike around the periphery, which led us to a reconstructed Native American longhouse. The trail then took us through grassy wetlands and beautiful views of the Columbia River. We then explored what is left of the gun batteries, including some dark underground tunnels which the kids thought were cool and the parents thought were kind of creepy. There are still some big cannons and other military paraphernalia which helped visualize what the fort would have been like in its heydey. During the summer there are live tours offered which probably offer much more insight into the fort than we were able to glean on our own but it was still an interesting spot. At the end of the hike our loop brought us back to the small historical museum, which provided some background on the fort as well as an old (out-of-repair) model train which the kids would have loved had it been working! Since it wasn’t, they settled on temporary tatoos from the giftshop instead.
That afternoon the kids enjoyed riding their bikes around the yurt neighborhood, playing in the sand pit near the yurts, and avoiding the intermittent rain that fell on us. The great thing about camping with lots of other families is there is always someone else able to keep an eye on your child while you take a shower, make dinner, etc.
Speaking of dinner, another great benefit of camping with our huge group of friends is each family only has to cook once! We split up all the meals for the weekend and each family, usually paired up with at least one other family, is responsible for one meal. It’s a big task for our one meal but it’s wonderful to not even think about meals the rest of the weekend! The food was great too. Dinners included taco salad and a chicken sausage/hot dog roast. One gourmet breakfast involved homemade (i.e. not instant) oatmeal and homemade banana bread. Lunches were build-your-own sandwich bars. Needless to say, we didn’t suffer for want of good food.
Saturday was a bit cloudy but that’s what we got for camping in early September in Oregon. That didn’t keep us from heading down to the beach, which at Fort Stevens State Park is about 3/4 mile from the actual campground. Those of us with little ones drove down, others with bikes got there with their own power. There’s an old shipwreck on the beach at Fort Stevens which is fun to explore. It’s getting filled in with sand more and more every year but the hull of the boat still sticks out enough play in (watch for rusty metal though!). We flew kites and dug big holes and buried each other’s legs, all the usual beach things but a little windier and chillier than we would have preferred.
Following the afternoon nap-rush, most of the kids and some of the adults took part in a Camping Scavenger hunt. It seems to now be a mainstay of our annual camping trip and Beth is trying to make it a little harder each year as the kids grow up (and the parents get smarter!) The favorite task on this year’s list was the required “digital photo of your team crammed into a bathroom stall!” The girls team won, of course. Better luck next year boys!
That night we had a giant campfire complete with the above-mentioned sausage/ hot dog roast, s’mores and hot cocoa. After the kids went to bed we adults sat up talking and laughing until late into the evening. Another great thing about camping with kids – the adults can hang out long after bedtime and no babysitters are required. If you’re a parent to a young child, you know how huge this is.
Sunday was departure day but that didn’t mean we didn’t cram as much in as possible! Following the incredible homemade oatmeal, sausages, and banana bread breakfast, some of us parents played board games while kids played in the sand. Eventually we got around to packing up our cabins, eating a hasty potluck lunch with all the leftovers (mainly chips!), and then most families headed down to the beach one last time before the two-hour drive back to Portland.
Our family skipped out on the beach as we were the only family not heading back to Portland. We still had another week of yurt-camping stretching out before us, this time in southern Oregon. We hit the road that afternoon and we’ll tell you more about the rest of that trip in a forthcoming post.