Free Camping in God's Valley

the lush green of the undergrowth of Tillamook State Forest, precisely in the God's Valley area

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Oregon’s Coast is not all mountains and shoreline.

Just east of Manzanita, through Nehalem and into the shadow of Neah-Kah-Nie after noon, sprawling fields of what farmer’s have sowed and the Nehalem River banks weave together like a green and blue patchwork quilt decorated in milk cattle and old tractors. This little patch of farmland makes for a great slow drive over your morning coffee, but when you’re ready to find yourself some back country camping where nothing but you, the Sitkas and whatever creatures stir in the night might lurk, you’ll want to head north off of US 101, just after the bridge out of Nehalem, and onto the Necanicum Highway for five and a half miles until you come to God’s Valley Road.

Turning right onto the soon to become dirt road leads you through a small clump of houses, some in a state of disrepair shouting “keep it down, no one lives here anymore!”. The houses thin out quickly as the road leaves its pavement behind and you enter the Tillamook State Forest. High clearance is recommended. Lush forest is guaranteed.

Some friends of mine drove in from Portland and we packed a truck bed full of tarps, tents and ice cold beverages for a weekend in the back woods. Tire after tire over a road that has given way to runoff ditches in many a spot, and boasts no guard rail as you make snake winding curves up and up the Coastal Range along cliffs where, if the trees don’t catch you on your way down, the bottom might prove your very own valley of the shadow of death.

Fear not, though, brave traveler, for after you crest the mountains, the occasional desolation of mighty old forested chunks of the woods appearing sparsely between mostly the densest green you can find in these rainforests, you’ll begin your ascent into God’s Valley. Eventually the forest gives way to a massive patch of grasslands, the opening in the canopy revealing what sunshine the day might afford to pour in like a pitcher of lemonade over a welcome patch of flat mint leaves. Before the road can lead us back into the forest, we spot a grove of Sitka Spruce on the right, a massive mud circle clearly a favorite spot for local kids on quads to do donuts to their hearts’ content the clearest marker for this best spot to camp back in these woods. Assuming you’ve left your four wheel drive vehicle behind, be sure to avoid this ATV playground and make your way to the back of it all, just before the trees rise up again.

A makeshift teepee was on it’s last leg as we arrived, a fire pit made of moved earth itself playing host to our quickly lit fire which I tended to as the boys unloaded the truck and began pitching tents and tying tarps up to form a temporary porch. Rains can come and come hard at any moment when they do, so it’s best to have a place to call shelter before getting to festive and into the night.

The crack of our beers couldn’t be heard by anyone save perhaps a few raccoons or some squirrel as we leaned back in beach chairs gone mountain and watched the fire compete with the stars for brightest light of our night. One of the guys had brought a camera with a tripod and a remote shutter, setting it up a few yards from our fire and snapping occasional pictures, an activity which I can’t recommend highly enough if you want to get some candid, typically hilarious, shots of you and yours doing your thing in the middle of the wilderness sometime.

The fire raged, the beers flowed, and the animals of God’s Valley kept themselves at bay as two of us fell asleep right underneath that blue tarp of a porch. As morning came calling down on us it was all dew and silence, my companions slowly stirring one after another to break away the sound of nothing but birds this forest holds so solemnly when the random camper in search of a free spot to pitch their tent doesn’t taint its pristine natural beauty.

I shuffled back into the woods a little as my friend who’d slept in an actual tent began making a pot of boiling water over our still smoldering fire. A box positioned over a hole in the ground with a toilet seat fashioned to the top provided for waste of a humanly nature in as civilized a manner as possible way out here, a rope strung from two trees above allowing its occupants to hold on and hover over the seat, which is as nasty as you might suspect a homemade port-o-john in the middle of a backcountry campsite to be. Further back the trail lives a sleepy little creek that Bob Ross himself might have imagined, cold enough to keep beers crisp and clear enough to imagine one might never go too thirsty if somehow they found themselves stranded. Not a great idea though, I imagine, as in several trips we ended up making back there, I only once saw another camper and so while you’re unlikely to have to share this piece of gorgeousness with any other nature lovers, you’re also likely to find yourself stuck for awhile waiting for someone to show up with a friendly ride back into town.

I made my way back out of the forest to enjoy a cup of the coffee that my friend’s boiling pot of water had become before we packed it all up and left it all as we found it.