There’s nothing more freeing than ripping down a beach at a full gallop, with the crashing sounds of the ocean and the wind in your face. And if speed’s not your thing, riding on the coast offers abundant adventures like sand-dune trekking, swimming, wildlife watching, trail riding, and cave exploration for the equine equipped.
Bring what you need
The experience of camping with your horse strengthens any rider’s relationship to their animal, but it’s important to be aware and safe when you’re not near the barn. Since coastal camping is often primitive, it’s best to have what you need ready in the trailer. Always carry an equine emergency med kit—have vet wrap, Betadine, sterile gauze, and “Bute” (phenylbutazone) on hand at the bare minimum.
Some camping sites have nothing more than a hitching tie—no water, no corrals, no nothin’. These sites can be beneficial because they tend to be less popular and quieter. However, this kind of setup increases the potential for injury for horses not used to being tied overnight, like rope burn or in the worst case, getting off the lead. A good solution for this is to tie a high picket line, or a taught rope between two trees that the horses are secured to. Even doing this, it’s still a good idea to check on the horses a few times throughout the night to be sure they’re settling in away from home.
For those looking to be more relaxed on their camping trip, the peace of mind that comes from corralling a horse at night can be worth suffering the busy campground. There are several coastal sites that offer various corrals, usually double-stall setups, though some have capacities of up to four horses at a single site. These sites are reserved quickly during the summer and have higher fees. Site corrals are typically wooden and span the same dimensions as a box stall. Most corrals at these sites are built solid—but some only have two rails, instead of the usual three, so making them quite low for taller horses. If you bed these stalls, the Forest Service only allows the use of pelleted shavings, which must be cleaned out and removed after use. Feed is also required to be certified weed-free or pelleted.
Be sure to always tie with quick-release knots, fly spray and mask horses that are sensitive to bugs, and check the area for anything that might cause harm. For trouble-bound horses, try keeping a hay bag within reach so they can munch and stay occupied instead of causing mischief. For food-motivated horses, this also helps to create a positive association with camping that will make the next trip easier.
Bring enough fresh water for both you and the horses overnight—use a water-store tank or ratchet a couple of water carriers in the bed of the truck, even if camping somewhere that claims to have potable water. It’s always better to be over-prepared as conditions and amenities can change frequently at campsites. Remember that horses, especially when being worked, will need about 10 gallons of water per day, and you should be prepared with extra for the unexpected, like washing out wounds or kicked-over buckets. If you do run out of water and are on a longer trip, harvest from a running source, like a creek or stream, to avoid the bacteria and contamination that can fester in standing water.
Tip: Soft plastic buckets are especially handy for horse camping. They can be used to transport hay, manure, or as a ground feeder. They are also soft enough that you don’t have to worry leaving an anxious horse tied next to one and they’re resistant to pawing, making them harder to knock over and spill. They’re also good for soaking a hoof or leg in an emergency without exacerbating the injury.
It’s important to be aware of the impact horses can have on the natural environment. A 1200-pound animal hoofing it down a trail can do a lot of damage, so be cautious and keep on hard, durable surfaces when possible. Try not to ride off trail except on the beaches. Depending on the time of year, the endangered western snowy plover can be nesting on the coastal beaches, which can cause closures of camping areas and trails. This makes it critically important to stay within designated areas, being sure to ride on the wet sand that’s been packed down by the tide.
Where to Camp:
Baker Beach—Florence, Oregon
A short trail ride through some cool sand dunes puts you out on miles of open beach. Explore the coast line in either direction and you’ll find rock caves, see sea anemones, or spot starfish. Go for an afternoon ride to hunt for seashells, or a day ride up Lilly Lake, and come back with supplies for a sunset horseback dinner.
Fee: $13 / night, year-round
Sites: Five semi-primitive with hitching ties, trailer ramp for loading, picnic tables, no potable water; first-come basis
Bonus: Camping at Baker Beach means that for flighty horses or novice riders, C&M Stables is only a short jaunt down the road—just in case.
Bullards Beach—Bandon, Oregon
With tons of loop trails to choose from and four miles of ocean surf, Bullards Beach State Park is a dream for equestrians of any variety. Go for a ride to a quaint lighthouse, or stay inland and enjoy riding through the dunes and grasses. Bring lots of bug spray and flyspray in the summer as the bugs can get bad here.
Fee: $19 / night, year-round
Sites: Eight with corrals (three double, five quadruple), manure pits, picnic tables, drinking water; online reservation required
Wild Mare—Coos Bay/North Bend, Oregon
Part of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, Wild Mare is a fun but heavily used campground. Check out Wild Mare Trail for a ride that takes you from the forest to the dunes and ends at the beach for hours of exploration. Check for updates on the Forest Service website in the spring as flooding sometimes makes sites inaccessible.
Fee: $20 / night, year-round
Sites: Twelve with corrals, picnic tables, drinking water; online reservation available