camping: Sunset Bay State Park

The Sunset Bay campground provides access to several scenic miles of the Oregon Coast Trail – where I spent three days hiking with a fellow photographer friend so we could focus on landscape photography.

October is generally not a month that I consider good for camping, but since the Sunset Bay campground near Coos Bay, Oregon is open year round, I figured it would be worth trying to find several good weather days to check it out. The campground provides access to easy trails with viewpoint after viewpoint, perfect for practicing the landscape photography skills I’ve been learning this year.

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

After a long drive down the Oregon Coast from Portland, we setup camp and prepped for the next day’s hike. Most of the people staying here were in RVs, so we were one of the few in tents. We had a spacious site with a campfire ring, picnic table and plenty of space for two tents. Due to COVID, the showers were closed but the bathrooms were open. : )

Hiking the Oregon Coast Trail

A trail that starts at the campground entrance leads to Sunset Bay, a small beach that’s protected from ocean winds.

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

trail access at campground entrance

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

Sunset Bay day use area

Next to the beach is access to the Oregon Coast Trail, which winds its way along the shoreline from Sunset Bay all the way to Cape Arago. It’s not always easy to tell which trail to take since there are many side trails in this area, but we were using the Gaia app to track our hike so we followed every trail that led to viewpoints above rocky cliffs and headlands. The coastal forest is a highlight here too, with sitka spruce and shore pines mixed in with ferns and heavy thickets of salal.

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

starting on the Oregon Coast Trail

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

a wall of ferns lining the trail

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

coastal rainforest beauty

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

I love views through trees… especially when the scenery is so grand

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

view of a hidden cove from the trail

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

 

The view of Cape Arago lighthouse would become a favorite feature on this trip… we returned to photograph it at sunset later the same day, and again at sunrise the last morning before we headed home.

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

We continued following trails that wound along the shoreline, capturing scenic vistas along the way. In the mid-afternoon, the sunlight was directly above us and created harsh light for photos, so we headed back to camp for an early dinner with a plan to come back to a few viewpoints at sunset.

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

After dinner at camp, we drove to a parking pullout and hiked to capture the scenery at Shore Acres at sunset.

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

 

After hiking out in the dark, we returned to relax next to a campfire. It was much colder on the second night so it was nice to be able to stay up late (past 10:00!) and stay warm.

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

In the morning, we got up early to shoot photos of the Cape Arago lighthouse at sunrise, then continued to hike a few more trails that we hadn’t explored the day before.

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

Cape Arago lighthouse at sunrise, shot with 85mm lens

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

Cape Arago lighthouse, shot with 28mm lens

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

we hiked through this section of forest several times on this trip… this spot was one of my favorites

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

Cape Arago

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

some of the trees are massive, like this one

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

watching waves crash on the rocks is mesmerizing

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

the color and texture of this rocky shelf was different from everything else around

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

 

Camping Gear for Fall

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

Since I spend most of my time backpacking using minimal lightweight gear, this trip allowed me to go luxe on camping gear while still keeping my setup simple. Instead of my ultralight one-person backpacking tent, I took the REI Half Dome 2 Plus so I would have plenty of room for more gear.

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

We were expecting cold temps overnight with high wind, so my sleep setup included two sleeping pads and two sleeping bags for cushy warmth. I used an extra large 25″x76″ self-inflating pad (Wilderness Technology Bird Nest) on top of a foam pad with a reflective silver coating (Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol) to reflect heat. I doubled up on sleeping bags, placing a down quilt inside a rectangular synthetic bag I had to buy on another camping trip when I forgot to take my sleeping bag. And instead of an inflatable pillow that I take backpacking, I was able to take a larger foam pillow (Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow, medium) for ultimate comfort. Multiple pads and bags may have been overkill, but I stayed warm and it was sooo comfortable.

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

Oregon Coast - Sunset Bay camping trip

my tent palace, all lit up with twinkle lights

 

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