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