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Tillamook Coast Life Blog

Grant’s Getaways: Trask River Camping

At long last, summer is hitting its hotter stride with temperatures forecast to reach the upper 90s! If you’re on the hunt for adventure that will cool you off, consider a gas tank getaway to reach a small coastal stream in Tillamook County called Trask River.

Trask River County Park, one of the easiest campgrounds to reach in Tillamook County, is a sprawling, forested affair with scores of campsites; many of the sites are situated streamside.

The park is open daily and is a destination that’s a bit of a secret, and except for holiday weekends, big crowds are seldom the rule.

You’re likely to find plenty of elbowroom at this paradise that is located high in the Oregon Coast Range.

The Trask River hides small pockets of cool water in summer. Oregon Department of Forestry’s Nathan Seable called it a “refreshing moment at a county park that’s often overlooked.”

“It is a really golden nugget for recreation and pretty much a full-service campground. While there are no RV hook ups, there is running water and vault toilets. It’s more of a family-oriented type camping area. A beautiful setting with a nice day use area and you can easily get down to the river.”

The trail I like to travel is just four miles from the park, along the narrow winding ribbon of asphalt named Trask River Road.

You’ll know the spot: watch for bald eagles soaring overhead, or mid-summer wildflowers still showing off, and a large trailhead sign that marks the start of a moderate hike called “Peninsula Trail.”

Seable added, “The Peninsula Trail is about a mile-long loop and it is on a unique geological formation of lava that bubbled up out of the earth eons ago. It became a hard basalt feature that the Trask River could not cut through, so it went around and created the peninsula.”

Along the trail, watch for charred remains of burned out old-growth trees from the four major fires, (collectively called the Tillamook Burns), which roared through this country in the last century.

When you reach the river, the trail loop turns to take you back. You’ll also find picnic tables for a river shore lunch. It’s a perfect place to linger for awhile.

“It’s a beautiful spot,” said Seable. “Especially when the river’s down in summer! There’s a nice beach for kids to play along the river and people can fish too.”

While salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout swim in waters, take some time to explore the river’s nooks and crannies for something else, for this is where the crawdads live.

I have been visiting the Trask River each summer for nearly 50 years and really enjoy exploring the river’s depths for small crustaceans: crayfish or crawdads or just plain “dads” are a creepy crawly kind of critter that kids love to catch.

My kids grew up enjoying the area—sometimes with a mask and a snorkel to dive and catch the crayfish by hand, sometimes with a rod and a chunk of bacon at the end of the line. You can also use a small wire-mesh trap (readily available at any sporting goods store) baited with a can of cat food.

Place the bait inside the trap as an attractant. The crawfish walk inside through the narrow funnel-like openings at either end. Once inside they can’t seem to find the way back out.

We attach a rope to the trap, toss it into a likely looking deep pool and then tie the rope off to a tree. We may leave it in the river for a few hours, or if we’re camping at the park, we leave it in overnight. We’ll retrieve it the next morning and it’s usually full of crayfish.

“You can find crayfish anywhere along the river in summer,” noted Fishery Biologist Robert Bradley, from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Walk out into any of the pools and even swifter water and start flipping over rocks, and you’ll find some pretty quick. It’s a bit like crabbing in the bay, only on a smaller scale. It’s an abundant resource that people can enjoy all summer long.”

No angling license or shellfish license is required to catch crayfish and the daily limit is a generous 100 crawdads per person.

My sons and I have always had a ball along the Trask River; whether swimming, diving, exploring, searching the river bottom’s nooks and crannies, and then rolling over the submerged rocks to see what secrets the river held.

Recently, my son Kevin McOmie joined me for an afternoon of crayfishing. We tossed our trap into the drink and spent the sunny afternoon lounging on the inviting beach. When the mood to move, or the heat of the sun, struck us—we would scramble into the river and cool off.

Whenever a sizable crayfish (we’d made a vow not to keep any under five inches in length) appeared, Kevin would carefully maneuver his fingers to capture the critter by its head, just behind its two impressive and sizable pincer claws. Catching crawdads by hand is fun sport and a delightful way to beat the summer heat.

And they taste good too.

We often prepare our catch using my good friend’s (see below for “Birt Hansen’s Basic Crawdad Boil”) recipe. The taste of fresh-cooked crayfish is sublime; a very mild shrimp-like taste that’s somewhat delicate.

The taste, the setting, and the adventure offer a stark contrast to the broiling sun during the heat of summer. A visit to Trask County Park is a perfect cap to a day’s adventure that your family will want to try soon.

Crayfishing and summertime confirm what you may suspect: you’re never too old to be a kid again; especially during the dog days of summer.

Getting there: From Portland, drive Oregon 6 to Tillamook. Approximately two miles east of Tillamook, watch for the Trask River Road cutoff. Turn left and continue for approximately six miles to the Trask River. Turn left and follow Trask River Road. The Peninsula Trailhead is located along Trask River Road approximately 9.3 miles from Highway 6; the park is approximately 3.5 miles further upriver on Trask River Road.

Birt Hansen’s Basic Crawdad Boil

This recipe relies on a handful of simple ingredients.

  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 cup vinegar
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup pickling spice
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 to 3 pounds crawfish

Bring the water and seasonings to a boil, then add the crawdads. Cook no longer than three to four minutes. Overcooked, the crawdads become rubberlike and flavorless.

Spread out a sheet or two of newspaper on a picnic table, dump out the steaming crawdads, and dig in. Grab the tail section, pull it away, and simply peel off the tail shell—everything else will pull right out. Same with the claws: crack them open and pick out the meat.

This is hands-on eating at its finger-licking finest, and that’s often best with youngsters who really get into their meals. Enjoy with a twist of lemon!

A Picture of Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who is putting his adventurous spirit to discovering and sharing with viewers places around Tillamook. He writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth-generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.