The magic of canceled plans: Early spring coastal camping in Bandon, Oregon

Bandon, Oregon

Learned…

…Multiple state parks in the Coos Bay/Bandon, Oregon areas make for incredible drives and romps.
…Our camper extends our camping season and activity options.
…Highway 138 drive along the Umpqua River is one of the nation’s finest drives.
…If the camper’s inside lights aren’t working, check the wires under the sink.
…Thousands of seabirds fit on one rock.

Made…

…Totally new coastal camping plans just days before leaving for our yurt trip.
…Bark and pine cone mandala sculptures.
…1,743 footprints in the sand at a surprise beachside labyrinth and lots of climbable rocks.
…Friends with other kids at nearby campsites.
…One heckuva scar.

Our plans for a Spring Break camping trip had come together better than we could have expected: Coastal camping! On the Oregon Coast! At one of our amazing state parks!

We thought we’d be coastal camping in Oregon, in a yurt, like this one, but near Coos Bay, not Bandon, Oregon.
We thought we’d be coastal camping in Oregon, in a yurt, like this one, but near Coos Bay, not Bandon, Oregon.

We scored a yurt (a round cabin-ish tent with heating, lights, and beds) at an Oregon State Park on the southern Oregon Coast, just outside of Coos Bay. It was so exciting to yurt camp again! The last time we’d camped in a yurt, Connor was 2, and Jodie was very pregnant with Aster. Now, we’d finally get to introduce Aster to yurt camping!

A what failure?

2-year-old Connor, covered in green mint chocolate chip ice cream, the last time we yurt camped, in Newport, Oregon.
The last time we yurt camped, this is what Connor looked like.

Then Jodie got an email from Oregon State Parks:

“Due to a sewer failure, the park is canceling all tent and yurt reservations.”

Oh.

If all our travels—not to mention parenting and running businesses—have taught us anything, it’s to roll with the punches. Luckily, the email also said we’d have dibs on campsites being opened for reservations at the Bullards Beach Campground on the Oregon Coast, at Bullards Beach State Park. As soon as we got the email, we chucked our old plans… and put together a completely new trip. Now, we were going to camp a few days at a place we’ve been longing to spend more time in: the seaside town of Bandon, Oregon.

Wait though… what about our camping? A yurt was no longer an option, but it was still a rainy, chilly March on the Oregon Coast.

Thankfully, we had our camper.

Family travel video: Camping in Bandon, Oregon

Watching for whales and counting nesting sea birds on the rocks at Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, just outside downtown Bandon, Oregon.
Watching for whales and counting nesting sea birds on the rocks at Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, just outside downtown Bandon, Oregon.

For starters, we’ve already got great memories of Bandon. We actually did a Spring Break in the area many years ago, back when we were first dating.

A cliffside motel room with a view of the rock formations.

Dinners in fancy restaurants.

Wandering downtown, hand in hand.

Roaming bookstores and other shops.

Seafood and beach combing along some of the scenic beaches in Bandon.

When it comes to slow family travel, Bandon is one of our favorite places on the entire Oregon Coast. Returning wasn’t just a chance for us to remember those wonderful times and share memories with the kids. It was also an opportunity to introduce Aster and Connor to one of our favorite places.

SURPRISE! Popup Camper Camping on the Oregon Coast… in March?!?

You can see more about our roll-with-the-punches camper adventure in our latest family travel video:

After a first chilly night

Connor, now: cleaner face, mad skills at the camp stove, and still those gorgeous eyes!
Connor, now: cleaner face, mad skills at the camp stove, and still those gorgeous eyes!

Let’s be real: March on the Coast can be chilly, and Bandon, Oregon is no exception. Yet the misty mornings can also give way to brilliant sunshine, clear skies, and first-rate romps, drives, and adventures.

When we arrived late in the afternoon, a damp chill hung over Bullards Beach State Park Campground. Salt hung in the air, but so did lots of mist. We layered up and set up the camper. While the kids scootered around and explored our loop at the campground, we worked on seeing how we were going to make the most of our few days.

The night was chilly, with a bit of rain. We were grateful for the camper’s propane heater—and that we had a site where we could plug in the camper’s electricals and fire up the built-in mattress warmers.

The next morning, mist chilled our cheeks as we piled on the layers: thermal undershirts, sweaters, fleeces, rain jackets, hats. As we prepared breakfast on our new Eureka camp stove, the air began to warm. The sky began to lift—then clear. Mist faded and sunshine beamed down.

That’s the magic of the Oregon Coast. The rain, mist, and fog have their own charms and beauty. When the sun comes out, you appreciate it all the more—and make the most of the day.

Things to do in Bandon, Oregon

Camping, beach romping, and lighthouse viewing at Bullards Beach

Bullards Beach Campground is a great base for camping near Bandon, Oregon, so you can adventure at the beach, in Bandon, and beyond.
Bullards Beach Campground is a great base for camping near Bandon, Oregon, so you can adventure at the beach, in Bandon, and beyond.

Just a few minutes drive (or bike ride) from the campground itself, Bullards Beach was the perfect way to start our sunny day adventures.

For starters, we knew that the forecast said the following day would be rainy and chilly again. Naturally, that meant if Connor and Aster were going to get to any sort of water romp, today was the day. As we walked past the lighthouse, near both the sea and the Coquille River, the wind picked up. The rain and clouds might have given way for the day, but the punching wind wasn’t going to be so kind.

No worries though. The kids dashed through the waves (and, thank goodness, listened well to our instructions to go in only up to their ankles). Colorful stones lay like dream gems all up and down the beach, backed by a horizontal forest of driftwood. All the years we’ve lived and traveled in Oregon, it still amazes us how powerful the ocean is, tossing trees onto the beach like the kids tossing a ball.

Downtown Bandon, Oregon

Downtown Bandon Oregon combines walkability, an attractive Old Town feel, and ample free parking.
Downtown Bandon Oregon combines walkability, an attractive Old Town feel, and ample free parking.

Back in the car, we followed the signs for a scenic drive. Heading south from Bullards Beach, we neared the crossing of the Coquille River at Highway 101. A green giant loomed before us: the Bullards Bridge (also known as the Coquille River Bridge), one of the many Art Deco spans that makes driving the Oregon Coast even more stunning.

On the south side of the bridge, we slowed our roll and cruised through downtown Bandon. People wandered the shops and seafood shacks. Folks emerged from fish shops with a fresh catch of the day.

Later that day (and the next day) we would make our way back to downtown to get our share of the some of the amazing food that makes Bandon special:

Face Rock Creamery, Bandon, Oregon

Local cheese! Renowned for their award-winning cheddars, Face Rock has a gorgeous store. Whether their 12-month aged cheddar, fromage blanc, curds, Deschutes & Face Rock Black Butte Porter Cheddar, or Vampire Slayer Garlic Cheddar, Face Rock’s cheeses are perfect for meals, snacks, or gifts. At their 2nd Street Bandon Creamery, you can also pick up a bounty of gourmet foods and beverages—and snag yourself some ice cream… and maybe some for the kids too. Maybe.

Coastal Mist, Bandon, Oregon

Fine chocolates. Croissants. Macarons. Baguettes and focaccias. Right in downtown Bandon, Coastal Mist is a perfect treat stop (and a great chance to snag a hot beverage for warming up after your outside adventures). Connor and Aster loved the treats, and this is a spot we know we’ll hit up anytime we’re in Bandon.

Tony’s Crab Shack, Bandon, Oregon

Right on the seaside Bandon Boardwalk, Tony’s serves up incredible seafood fare, from Oregon’s famous sweet pink shrimp and Dungeness crab, to grilled fish, fish tacos, and crab cakes. Check out the articles on the walls to get the lowdown on the curious history of Tony’s (and learn why they don’t serve fish and chips). While you wait, the attached shop is a great spot to snag a few souvenirs.

Old Town Bandon is full of walkable restaurants, cafes, shops, seafood markets, pubs, and more:

Check out the downtown Bandon map and directory

Nature watching and the surprise sunset labyrinth at Bandon, Oregon‘s Face Rock Scenic Wayside

During our sunny day adventures, we continued a little south of downtown, through neighborhoods and the expansive Bandon City Park, which we will be spending a lot of time at on our next Bandon visit.

Located just outside downtown Bandon, the Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint is one of our go-to spots for…

Jaw-dropping rock formations

Connor's new power pose: Coast camping oregon.
Connor’s new power pose.

Face Rock. Howling Dog. Elephant Rock. Wizard’s Hat. Not only does Bandon have some of the coolest rock formations on the entire Pacific Coast, many of those rocks have awesome names (and stories to match). A great way to fascinate your kids and stoke their imaginations!

Nature watching

Face Rock is an amazing spot for spring and winter whale watching. The surrounding islands are part of the coast-wide Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Don’t be surprised to see thousands of seabirds nesting—especially on Aster’s fave formation, Cat and Kittens Rocks. When we were there, the birds were packed so tightly on top, it was like looking at a sunflower packed with seeds. 

Rock hopping

You can enjoy Bandon Oregon beaches from the top of the cliff… from the sandy beach… or from your favorite rock.
You can enjoy Bandon Oregon beaches from the top of the cliff… from the sandy beach… or from your favorite rock.

Along with taking in the sights along the horseshoe perimeter trail around the headland viewpoint area at Face Rock, there are lots of rocks on the inside grassy area where the kids can stretch their legs with some mini-parkour.

Labyrinth wandering

As if the labyrinth wasn’t enough, Face Rock’s rock formations add an extra dose of magical to the beauty of an Oregon Coast sunset.
As if the labyrinth wasn’t enough, Face Rock’s rock formations add an extra dose of magical to the beauty of an Oregon Coast sunset.

We’d heard about Bandon’s public art seaside sand labyrinths, called “Circles in the Sand.” While a public schedule of labyrinth drawing and guided walks runs April through August, imagine our surprise when our March visit to Face Rock showed us a beautiful labyrinth on the beach below.

Connor especially was transfixed by the labyrinth. “Daddy,” he said to me, those big blue eyes open wide, “can we come back at sunset and go to the labyrinth?”

Oh, heck yes, kid. Heck yes.

Accessible by a wooden staircase from the viewpoint, the labyrinth we meandered through combined floral patterns, yin-yang designs and more. As the sun dipped into the Pacific, we walked the labyrinth, explored the rocks, and wandered the beach. Our sunset labyrinth wander was one of the highlights of our Bandon trip, and we bet it can be yours too.

Things to do in Bandon, Oregon: Made by local artists, these Circles in the Sand labyrinths are like walkable mandalas. Different every time, enjoy these Bandon beach Oregon labyrinths while they last. Eventually, wind and wave will wash the labyrinth away.
Things to do in Bandon, Oregon: Made by local artists, these Circles in the Sand labyrinths are like walkable mandalas. Different every time, enjoy these Bandon beach Oregon labyrinths while they last. Eventually, wind and wave will wash the labyrinth away.

Face Rock is a unique place to view the coast, spot wildlife, or wander down to the shore to explore the waves and the rocks. It can be pretty windy, so pack warm, windproof, waterproof layers, and check the tide tables to time your visit.

Kids finding other kids

Wanna be camp friends? Connor does!
Wanna be camp friends? Connor does!

Part of why we love slow family travel is the way it gives the kids breathing room. When we camp, for example, we work with Aster and Connor on the areas they may go on their own, and where they have to have a trusted adult with them.

Typically, our kids-roam-free zone includes the loop where our campsite is. Not only does it give the kids autonomy and a sense of exploration and freedom, it also lets them make not only their own discoveries, but new friends.

Long memories from short friendships

Part of the magic of this trip? Connor and Aster befriended two kids at a nearby site. For the rest of the trip, if we were at camp, there was a good chance the four of them were zipping around on their scooters for their “morning races,” or tossing a ball back and forth.

Will we ever see these kids again? Probably not. But did it give our kids some wonderful memories and appreciation of people and moments while we have them? You bet.

Rainy day scenic drive

Near Coos Bay and Bandon, Oregon: Even if you visit on a rainy day, get out and have a wander at lookouts and Oregon State Parks, such as Shore Acres and Cape Arago.
Near Coos Bay and Bandon, Oregon: Even if you visit on a rainy day, get out and have a wander at lookouts and Oregon State Parks, such as Shore Acres and Cape Arago.

Our last full day in Bandon, the rain returned. And made it clear it was sticking around.

Perfect for a scenic drive.

Charleston and Cape Arago, Oregon

Cruising north up Highway 101, we turned left toward the town of Charleston. The Cape Arago Highway winds through lush coastal forests—as well as some barren clear cuts.

This out-of-the-way spot is home to some amazing sights. To the north, Bastendorff Beach has a dramatic cliffside overlook of the sea, and a short drive down from the Bastendorff Beach County Park and Campground, you can explore a long, wide stretch of beach.

One drive, three Oregon State Parks

Continue south, and you’ll take in a forested, seaside drive high over the Pacific. This area is also home to three state parks:

  • Sunset Bay State Park: Home both to a great campground and to Sunset Beach, a protected area, surrounded by cliffs in the water, where you can have some peace of mind while letting the kids romp in the surf.
  • Shore Acres State Park: Also home to a stunning Botanical Gardens that includes both Japanese-style space, and English-style formality. All at a tall cliff overlooking the Pacific.
  • Cape Arago State Park: At the end of the road, Cape Arago’s craggy rocks are a great spot to look out for seals and other sea life.

Seven Devils Scenic Drive

On the way back, we opted to check out the Seven Devils Scenic Drive, heading south out of Charleston along Seven Devils Road. The drive was all right (though we appreciated the historical context of imagining how harrowing this winding roller coaster route would have been in a wagon). 

At the end of the road, Merchants Beach, part of the Seven Devils State Recreation Site, can be a great spot for beachcombing out of the wind. If you don’t fancy the Seven Devils Road drive, you also can get to this area via Whiskey Run Road (there’s a right turn that’ll take you to Merchants Beach, or continue west on Whiskey Run Road to see Whiskey Run Beach instead.)

Big ouchie finale and an overcast homeward journey

Spring can be chilly at Oregon state coastal campgrounds, but the camper is cozy.
Spring can be chilly at Oregon state coastal campgrounds, but the camper is cozy.

Back at camp, around the fire, Aster handed her dad a roasted marshmallow and told us a story about werewolves and villagers (a side effect of all the One Night Ultimate Werewolf we’ve been playing).

Later, while the kids were off for one last scoot, an ear-piercing scream tore through our camp.

Aster’s scream.

Aster has done full faceplants off her scooter before, and has dusted herself off and continued on her way as if all she’d done was stop to look at a flower.

This time, though, we knew something was wrong. When she came back to camp, limping and muddy and crying, we learned from Connor that Aster had tripped off her scooter, fallen in a mud puddle, and cut her knee. Not scraped. Cut. More like gashed. Not quite to the level of an urgent care visit, but close.

She’ll have quite a scar there.

The magic of canceled plans

Watching the sun set over the Pacific, at the labyrinth beach near Face Rock Scenic Viewpoint, Bandon, Oregon.
Watching the sun set over the Pacific, at the labyrinth beach near Face Rock Scenic Viewpoint, Bandon, Oregon.

We closed out our last night with lots of post-ouchie snuggles, solitaire, Dragonwood, and Sleeping Queens. In the morning, we packed up and made our way back home, under a sunny sky, back along Highway 138 toward I-5 and home. The camper dipped and lifted through every rise and fall of the winding road. The sky shone blue and clear in many spots, and in others, the wipers worked overtime as we made our way through pounding cloudbursts. Sunshine and downpour. Golden and gloomy.

Back home, we took advantage of some sunny days and opened up the camper so it could thoroughly dry out. Aster’s knee is all healed up. We wondered how large this finale-night cut would dominate her memories of our Bandon camping travels. Yet when we talk about this trip, Aster talks about the beach, the rocks, the sweet treats, and playing with the friends she and Connor made at the campground.

This entire trip came together because our original idea didn’t. The magic of canceled plans is the possibility of making new plans.

Of rolling with things. Of getting comfort when hurt or scared. Or looking for one thing—whales, in this case—and finding something else, different yet just as amazing. In our case, thousands of nesting seabirds, and a sand labyrinth now long washed away by the tide.

The memories remain, growing like the new flowers in spring. The joy of the trip becomes part of us.

And we look at the atlas, the travel blogs, the calendar. Ready for new adventure.

Ready to go back to Bandon as soon as we can.

Visit Bandon on Oregon’s Southern Coast

Map your dream Bandon family trip

Where to stay in Bandon, Oregon

Directions to Bandon, Oregon

How to get to Bullards Beach State Park, Bandon, Oregon

Visit Face Rock Scenic Viewpoint, Bandon, Oregon

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

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