Can I Drive on Oregon Coast Beaches? Rules, Regulations for Cars, Vehicles

Published 03/30/2014

(Oregon Coast) – It's a frequently asked question about Oregon beaches. Can I drive my car on the sand? And if so, where? (Above: vehicles at Tierra Del Mar).

The answers don't make everyone happy, either. There are a handful of places where you can drive your car on the beach, but it doesn't mean you should. Many locals, officials and regulars to the beach aren't happy about it as it does tend to dirty things up and create some extra unnecessary hazards.

Though if you must, there is one small place on the central Oregon coast and two sizable stretches on the north Oregon coast where vehicles are allowed on beaches.

While several areas allow vehicles on beaches for the purpose of launching boats, simply driving on the sand for recreational purposes is not allowed. Other spots are only available for driving at certain times of the year.

The short answer on drivable sandy spots is: Warrenton to Gearhart (about ten miles), some areas around Pacific City and Tierra Del Mar, and a small patch at Lincoln City. Other aspects and more information follows:

Perhaps the largest chunk of drivable beach is the roughly ten-mile stretch between Warrenton and Gearhart. You may drive on the sand at all hours and at all times of the year. This is from the Peter Iredale Road (at Fort Stevens State Park, bringing you to the shipwreck), down to the southernmost ramp at Gearhart. It includes beaches like Sunset Beach and Del Rey – all just north of Gearhart.

However, during the off-season you can drive north of Peter Iredale Road all the way up to the jetty at the southern side of the Columbia River mouth, about four miles. Driving there is prohibited from May 1 through September 15, leaving late September through April open to driving. Also restricted are the hours: no driving from noon to midnight during those months.

Heading down the north Oregon coast, you can NOT drive anywhere else in Clatsop County or northern Tillamook County, including Seaside, Cannon Beach, Arch Cape, Manzanita, Nehalem Bay, Rockaway Beach, Garibaldi, Bayocean, Cape Meares, Oceanside or Netarts.

Some parts of the northern border of Nehalem Bay State Park allow vehicles launching boats.

When you get close to Pacific City, this changes in some places.

There is the Sand Lake Dunes Recreational Area where off-road vehicles are allowed on some stretches – mostly just the dunes, however. You can drive the two or three miles or so from the dunes' entrance of that beach to the southern face of Cape Lookout. However, ONLY Off Highway Vehicles (OHV) are allowed here, such as ATV's, dune bikes, etc. No regular cars or trucks. There are other restrictions at Sand Lake Dunes Recreational Area as well, found here.

At Tierra Del Mar and McPhillips Beach (entrance is a mile north of Cape Kiwanda), driving is allowed here at all times of the year. There is one entrance at Tierra Del Mar and another at an unmarked beach access just north of Kiwanda. There is still some erroneous information about this, even on state websites, which indicate driving is restricted some times of the year. This is not true for this particular area, according to Oregon State Parks and Recreation.

Some areas around downtown Pacific City (the ramp just south of the headland) and just south of Bob Straub State Park allow driving and parking on the sand, including a stretch from the southern tip of the Nestucca Spit to three miles north. Drivable spots start and stop in this area, so be cautious of signage.

Driving is not allowed from the mouth of the Nestucca River through Neskowin to Cascade Head.

Driving on the sand is prohibited throughout all of Lincoln City except for a small patch perhaps 200 feet in length at the SW 15th St. ramp.

No other section of the central Oregon coast allows driving on beaches, including Gleneden Beach, Lincoln Beach, Depoe Bay, Newport, Waldport and Yachats – or the 20 miles of beaches between there and Florence.

Just south of Florence, some drivable spots exist at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.

It is important to note that places where road vehicles are allowed ATV's are not allowed – and vice versa.

Hazards of driving the beaches include getting your car stuck in the sand or worse – getting stuck where the tide washes over it. This happened recently in Lincoln City.

Other hazards include hitting someone, especially if you're driving these spots at night.

The big question to ask yourself: do you really need to drive on the beach? There are plenty who opposed to it, including CoastWatch executive director Phillip Johnson. He offers a few warnings and advice on the subject.

“Once upon a time, the beaches were the only highway north and south,” Johnson said. “But there is no longer a legitimate reason for driving on the beach (aside from scientific surveys and patrols by beach rangers), there are a lot more people competing for space on the beach, and we know a lot more about the ecological impacts. To name one, the disturbance of migratory birds by vehicles in otherwise remote areas could have serious consequences for their survival.

" It is time to ban recreational driving on all of Oregon's beaches--aside from some limited areas where people with physical challenges could be allowed access--and let the clam-crushers stick to the highway.”

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