The Magic of Short Sand Beach
BY HEATHER DOWDY
LEAD PHOTO COURTESY TRAVELOREGON.COM
OTHER PHOTOS BY HEATHER DOWDY
This past weekend, I needed to escape the suffocating smoke haze that had settled over Portland like a blanket, swept in from nearby forest fires. My best friend, Lacie, was itching to take her dogs to the coast and invited me to come.
Unfortunately, we have to trade off dogs on these adventure outings. Our own rescued pittie, Briley, isn’t great with other dogs, so traveling as a pack isn’t an option. Last coastal getaway was Briley’s turn, so this time around we let Lacie’s rescued pups, Pono and Luna (@themonkeyandthemonster on Instagram), hop into the Honda Element for a day trip.
The destination: Short Sand Beach, our favorite spot along the rugged and wild Oregon coast. This Pacific Northwest gem is located just north of charming Manzanita and takes about two hours to drive from Portland.
A Magical Forest Wonderland
Stretching along four miles of coastline amid lush rainforest, Short Sand Beach is nestled within Oswald West State Park. Nicknamed “Shorty’s” by locals and surfers, this beach cove is a magical wonderland just waiting to awe and inspire–and is packed with four-legged friends. In fact, the beach might as well be an off-leash dog park, with dozens of pup pals chasing one another down the coastline and huddling in packs to wrestle in the sand.
From the parking lot and restrooms situated along Highway 101, the trail meanders through the thick, cool rainforest, following the curves of trickling Short Sand Creek. Old-growth Sitka Spruce trees tower over the trail like gods, dripping in emerald mosses and snaking vines. You half expect to find fairies peeking from behind the massive red trunks!
After a short and easy half-mile hike, the enchanting forest trail crosses a bridge and empties you onto a swath of flat ground, speckled with picnic tables, dog waste stations, restrooms and wind-battered trees. Making your way across this stretch of park, you begin to hear the crashing ocean waves, taste the salty breeze and descend the jagged rocks that lead down to the beach. And just when you thought the journey couldn’t be any more breathtaking, you are birthed from the canal of deep green forest into the mystical fog, golden light and driftwood-littered sand… and you stop dead in your tracks. Because you realize it is heaven.
The forest embraces the edges of the beach in a sacred hug, waterfalls trickling down the volcanic basalt and sandstone cliffs and swirling into ocean tide pools that collect starfish and sea anemones. Bobbing surfers patiently hold their positions on their boards, waiting out the perfect wave. Kids splash through the tide pools and climb the rocks while pups sniff out the buffet of crabs washed ashore and playfully chase one another past clusters of people on blankets.
It’s a truly idyllic scene.
By the time our feet hit sand, the dogs were wiggling with anticipation. We let them off their leads and they burst like rockets onto the landscape, tearing down the length of coastline in such a fury of utter joy that it almost brought me to tears. Every dog should experience this level of unbridled freedom along the Upper Left Coast.
We spent the day here, exploring colorful beach rocks and caves soaked in lime green algae and lounging on a blanket, watching the pups play.
Luna, Lacie’s adorable little red mutt, channeled her inner Mountain Goat and spent much of her time scaling the basalt and sandstone rocks, striped with colorful layers. Pono preferred to play chase with a few dog friends then spend the rest of the afternoon rolling in the sand and digging for dead crabs.
It was an epic day trip that left us motivated, recharged and ever grateful to live among such unspoiled Pacific Northwest beauty.
Bonus Hike + Tips
Although a trip to the coast is magical any time of year, Short Sand Beach is most heavily trafficked in the summer and experiences the mildest weather from April – September. If you prefer sunnier, warmer days opt for spring or summer. Winter months are best for avoiding the crowds, especially if you have a reactive dog that will do better with more space.
If you’re spending more than just the day at Short Sand, be sure to take advantage of the longer nearby hikes, including the 8-mile Neahkahnie Mountain Loop Hike, which begins at the Short Sand South Trail and continues along a 2,300ft elevation gain to the Neahkahnie Mountain Viewpoint. The switchbacks can be challenging for newer hikers (or people like me who struggle with chronic illness), and there’s a scramble over rocks at the top, but the epic views are more than worth the effort!