Adjacent to Brookings, Oregon, Harris Beach State Park features quintessential, beautiful Oregon coastline, dominated by lovely beaches decorated with rocky headlands, sea stacks, and many boulders. The park's campground is the finest one in which we've ever camped. It offers most of the amenities of a private RV park at a fraction of the price but with a setting only a public park can offer: heavily wooded and thickly landscaped to provide an element of privacy to nearly all of the very large campsites.
[Photo, left: Harris Beach from the Rock Beach Trail, high above the beach.]
However a great beach and campground does tend to attract a lot of people. You don't come to Harris Beach for a private wilderness experience. Still it is possible to enjoy a private, peaceful experience. The solution is the 2:00am hike.
For many people, getting up at 2:00am may be the first challenge and getting out of a nice warm sleeping bag may be the second challenge. For me, it was a spontaneous experience. I woke up, needed to use the restroom, and then just kept on going.
The campground is mostly dark and silent in the middle of the night, the only sound coming from the nearby pounding surf. Nightlights show on a few RVs but the campground roads are pitch dark. It is a moonless night, and starlight doesn't penetrate much with the many trees. I carry no flashlight and expect to see by starlight on the trail.
[Photo, right: the headland above Harris Beach. It is the site of the 2:00am hike. The arrow indicates the location of the vista point where the photo at the top was taken.]
There is a street lamp at the campground's entrance station where I am greeted by a large skunk staring at me warily from the edge of the road. I give him a wide berth to avoid getting sprayed. Past the station I descend back into darkness and leave the camp. Upon reaching the main road, it is easier to see by starlight.
Across the road, the Rock Beach Trail heads onto a headland that overlooks Harris Beach. The trail is paved to the vista point so there is little risk of losing my footing. Tall shrubs surround the trail on either side so there is no danger of going over the cliff (as long as you don't go past the vista point after which the trail becomes unpaved, uneven, and exposed going down the edge of the headland to tiny Rock Beach). However the shrubs make it impossible to see where I'm going. I just walk slowly and hope there's no creepy crawlers.
The spectacular vista of Harris Beach shortly comes into view, and surprisingly it is just as spectacular by starlight, perfectly visible, only in shades of black and grey rather than in color. The rocks and sea stacks are the darkest black, quite visible in contrast to the ocean and starlit sky. The pounding surf is still white, as if it’s daytime. The beach is a lighter shade of gray and quite obvious.
[My graphical rendition of Harris Beach at 2:00am. I started with the photo at the top,
taken from the same place in the afternoon. This image is a very close depiction of what I observed.]
There is not a soul on the beach or on the trail; the only sound is the pounding surf. The vista and circumstance are compelling. I have no desire to leave this place. My reluctance to leave is spectacularly rewarded a few minutes later. A large shooting star crosses the sky high above the ocean. It must have been fairly close. The meteorite's head and tail both had breadth, a stunning sight.
The vista and shooting star gave me a very memorable moment. I couldn’t have asked for more, not at 2:00am, or any other time for that matter. Sadly and happily, I retraced my steps back to my warm sleeping bag and called it a night.
Park Info. Harris Beach State Park is located just north of Brookings, Oregon, off of US-101. Brookings is about ten miles north of the California border. The park offers a great campground and a lovely beach. For more information, visit the official Harris Beach website.