Tillamook Coast Life Blog
Grant’s Getaways: Bayocean, Barview, and the Big Tree
Some Oregon backroads reach into the distant past, but if you join the right people, the past can come to life! Drive west from the town of Tillamook to reach Bay Ocean Road, which skirts the southern end of Tillamook Bay. Soon, you’ll come face to face with the site of Bay Ocean Park, a now-extinct community that was a developer’s-dream-turned-homeowner’s-nightmare.
Construction of the subdivision began in the early 1900s when it was coined “The Atlantic City of the West.”
It boasted homes, cabins, restaurants and stores, even a centerpiece hotel with an indoor swimming pool. The trouble was that this sprawling concept was built upon sand—and sand is vulnerable to wind and tides. To put it simply, sand moves!
Between 1932 and 1950, the ocean cut a mile-long swath across the spit and across the town site.
“Buildings were falling down, houses were going into the ocean, and people had to move out. It was all so sad,” said longtime Cape Meares resident Barbara Bennett.
She remembers homes sliding down eroding sand dunes: “Many people lost their lots, their houses and their money and were able to save only their possessions.”
Today, Bay Ocean Spit is managed by Tillamook County as a day-use park, and it is great fun to stroll its four-mile length even though all signs of the former community are long gone. When you travel to the north side of Tillamook Bay, you‘ll find a wonderful home for a longer stay at Barview Jetty County Park.
Tillamook County Park’s Director, Del Schleichert, loves to show off the newest additions to the sprawling parkland: six rental cabins within easy reach of the beach are perfect for folks who don’t own a tent, trailer or RV. The roomy cabins offer a futon, twin bunk beds, table and chairs. Reservations can be made nine months in advance, and the rental price is $55 a night.
“These cabins are as comfortable as you make them,” said Schleichert. “They are really one of the best tents you’ve ever stayed in and it only takes a sleeping bag and a pillow to be in business.”
You’ll be in business when you travel north to the coastal village of Rockaway Beach and hike a trail that leads to something wonderful. Scores of old-growth spruces and cedars stand across a 45-acre preserve inside the city limits of Rockaway Beach. The Cedar Wetlands Preserve is protected for science and education. It was once a Nature Conservancy property, and the land was deeded to the city of Rockaway Beach more than a decade ago.
Local resident Don Best has been visiting since he was a boy.
“This is the last stand of old growth around here, with many of the giant trees dating back many hundreds of years,” noted the local historian.
The payoff for your short quarter-mile hike is a remarkable gift from nature: a giant cedar known simply as The Big Tree.
“This tree is between 800 and 1,200 years old,” said Best. “It’s amazing to stand here, gaze up at it and think about the amount of time that has passed. It really makes you feel small and a lot of people don’t know this is back here. It’s been a bit of a secret.”
The Big Tree measures 50 feet in circumference and rises more than 150 feet high in the air. The gargantuan cedar is marked by gnarly bark and a contorted truck, a magnificent champion tree.
“It’s got a lot of character, that’s for sure,” added Best.
Directions to The Big Tree: Drive north from Tillamook on Coastal Highway 101 to Rockaway Beach. Turn right on Washington Street (as you enter the city limits). Drive east until you reach Island Street. Turn left on Island St. and drive to its end, where you will find the trailhead. It is a beautiful hike and about a half mile (total) out and back.
Please note: the trailhead parking area is extremely small, and this is a residential neighborhood. Do not park on private property or block residential driveways.