Camping by the ocean should be easy and relaxing – Fun in the sun and toes in the sand. That’s what you can expect to find at Whalen Island County Campground in Tillamook County. This 33-site campground sits inside the Sand Lake Estuary, a special spot along the Three Capes Scenic Loop between Cape Kiwanda and Cape Lookout on the Oregon Coast.
Right from the campground, it is easy to go kayaking, paddleboarding, bird watching, fishing, clamming or hiking. You can walk from the campground straight onto Whalen Island Loop Trail and there are plenty of nearby places in Coastal Oregon to hike and explore.
Located in the middle of an an estuary, Whalen Island isn’t too far from being an island right in the Pacific Ocean. Instead, Whalen Island is just behind the actual ocean coast. Also, full disclosure, Whalen Island isn’t technically an official island since it is bordered by estuary wetlands on one side and only becomes convincingly surrounded by water during seasonal high tides. Whalen Island County Campground is about 3/4 of a mile inland from where the waves meet the beach. It’s not on the ocean, but it is ocean-y.
Whalen Island County Campground has 33 campsites spread out around a few paved and gravel loop roads. The campground occupies a grassy area at the southeast end of Whalen Island. Shore pines along two sides of the campground provide shade and protection from the ocean winds.
A day use area and boat launch next to the campground provides access to the Sand Lake Estuary. The tidal waters are only a few feet deep, so they are too shallow for motorboats, but work well for kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding.
A path from the campground goes west to a beach area that has nice views across the estuary toward Sitka Sedge State Natural Area. The beach has plenty of nice sand. Depending on the level of the tide, a sizable mud flat stretches out between the sand and the water. A path along the beach goes north up the west side of Whalen Island, approaching greater views out the mouth of the estuary, where ocean waves can be seen coming in toward the beaches.
At the back of the campground, near site 6, there is a path connecting to Whalen Island Loop Trail, a scenic and relatively easy 1.5-mile hiking trail around the perimeter of Whalen Island.
Whalen Island County Campground has 33 numbered sites that can be reserved in advance. Unlike many of Oregon’s popular state park campgrounds on the coast, you may not need to book too far in advance to find a weekend campsite at Whalen Island.
During the winter season, fewer sites may be open for camping. Campsite prices are also lower in the winter. The summer season runs from May through September. The campsites are color coded with blue sites and brown sites on the campground map. The blue sites are roomier and cost a bit more.
The brown campsites have an area for one 10-foot by 10-foot tent and space for one or two vehicles (extra charge for a second vehicle). These sites allow up to 6 people in one party.
The blue campsites have areas for two 10-foot by 10-foot tents. These sites allow up to 10 people in one party. These sites also have parking for two vehicles (extra charge for a second vehicle or a second tent). RVs are allowed to park at blue sites, as long as they fit in the campsite driveway. Dry camping only.
The campground pricing structure is a bit intricate. Each campsite reservation comes with an $11 registration fee. This works out to a higher price for the first night of camping and a lower price for subsequent nights. The summer rates are:
- Blue sites: $38 for the first night and $27 for each additional night ($22 per night in the winter)
- Brown sites: $33 for first night and $22 for each additional night ($16 per night in the winter)
- Hiker-Biker: $20 for one person for the first night and $9 for additional nights. If more than one person are sharing a site, it is $9 per person per night.
Setting up a second tent? That will be $8 per night per tent (RVs are counted as tents). Bringing a second vehicle? Extra vehicles, boats, or utility trailers are $6 per night per vehicle. Are you bringing a dog? There is a $6 fee for each pet per stay.
If you are coming to Whalen Island County Park, but don’t intend to camp, the day use area by the boat launch charges a $10 fee per vehicle (all prices as of 2021). Most of Whalen Island is actually preserved by Clay Myers State Natural Area, which has a parking area near the campground that does not charge a fee.
Guests should check in with the camp host before settling in. Pets are expected to be on leash at all times. Check-in begins at 3:30 p.m. Early check-ins are not allowed. Campers must check out by 1:30 p.m. The campground has a dump station, a bathroom, and spigots for drinking water. Each campsite has a picnic table and a fire ring. The walk-in hiker-biker area is for those who arrive at the campground by “people-powered travel.” Although it is permitted to collect small pieces of wood, it is best to bring your own firewood.
Campsites may be reserved in advance by calling (503) 322-3522 or online at reservations.co.tillamook.or.us. Visit Tillamook County’s webpage for Whalen Island County Campground for more information or send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- For additional nearby camping, check out Cape Lookout State Park Campground.
To get to the campground: From the center of Tillamook, where US 101 intersects Route 6 (to Portland) and Route 131 (to Oceanside and Cape Meares), travel south on Highway 101. Take US 101 for 11 miles to a major intersection (4 miles past the road to Munson Creek Falls). Turn right onto Sandlake Road and drive west for 4.3 miles. At an intersection with Cape Lookout Road, turn left to stay on Sandlake Road, following signs for Pacific City. (If you are taking the coastal route south down Cape Lookout Road, the Sandlake Road intersection is just 3.3 miles past the Cape Lookout Trailhead.) From the intersection, drive south for 3.6 miles on Sandlake Road and then turn right onto Whalen Island Road. Drive down across a bridge. Pass the day use parking area on the left and then turn left into Whalen Island County Campground (Clay Myers State Natural Site is located at the end of the road).
Campground address: Whalen Island Road, 25210 Sandlake Road, Cloverdale, OR 97112
Campground coordinates: 45.2729, -123.9496 (45° 16′ 22.4″N 123° 56′ 58.6″W)
Use the map below to view the campground and get directions:
|Whalen Island Loop Trail|
This 1.5-mile hike explores a lovely island-like park in Sand Lake Estuary with ocean and wetland views.
|Munson Creek Falls Trail|
This short hike near Tillamook travels up a forest canyon to the tallest waterfall in Coastal Oregon.
|Oceanside Beach to Tunnel Beach|
This 0.8-mile beach walk comes with an adventurous twist, a man-made tunnel through a cliff that leads from one beautiful beach to another more secluded beach in Oceanside.
|Cape Meares Lighthouse & Octopus Tree|
This easy 0.8-mile hike in Cape Meares State Park visits a beautiful lighthouse and an equally impressive tree, exploring a coastal cape with tall cliffs and big ocean views.
|Cape Lookout Trail|
This 5-mile round trip hike ventures down a promontory on the Oregon Coast with beautiful ocean views.
This short beach hike explores tide pools and sand dunes at a rugged headland on Oregon’s coast near Pacific City.
|Alder Island Nature Trail|
This short, easy hike off the coast south of Lincoln City explores a small island at the mouth of the Siletz River.
|Ecola Point to Indian Beach|
This 2 2/3-mile round trip hike explores a wild and beautiful section of Oregon Coast Trail between Ecola Point and Indian Beach in Ecola State Park.
|Saddle Mountain Trail|
This 5-mile round trip hike rises through fir forests and wildflower-filled slopes up to a summit with panoramic coastal views.
This short hike slips down through forest to a beautiful waterfall plunging over a basalt wall.
|Trails in Oregon|
Explore more hikes throughout the state of Oregon.
|Cape Lookout State Park Campground|
This grand, oceanfront campground has over 200 sites right behind a big, beautiful beach.