I’ve been driving past the entrance to Fort Stevens State Park on my way to the Oregon Coast beaches for years now. I had heard of a shipwreck right on shore there, but it was never convenient to stop and traipse around the park and go see it for one reason or another, most recently that it seems always when we got there, my toddler had fallen asleep and it wasn’t worth waking her up.
But let it be known – there is indeed a shipwreck right on the beach and it’s worth it! It’s so easy to get to I could have just left my husband and toddler in the car and run out to see it myself!
The shipwreck is the Peter Iredale and it’s just…right there. Follow the signs once you enter the park and you’ll find yourself at a parking lot right on the beach. Park, crest the sandy hill at the end of the parking lot, and you’ll see the Peter Iredale.
What You Need to Know
First and foremost, you need to visit the wreckage of the Peter Iredale at low tide, at least if you want a guarantee that you can get up close to it. During high tide, all or part of the ship may be surrounded by water. Check your tide charts and aim for a sunny day if you can. I’ll bet it looks even more spectacular at sunset, but I have a toddler and don’t do anything at sunset anymore other than get a toddler ready for bed.
The Peter Iredale is located within Fort Stevens State Park, which has a day use fee of $5, including to use the beach where the shipwreck is located or to go out and view the shipwreck. You pay at the ranger station on your way into the park.
What You’ll See
If you look online like I did before you go, you’ll see photos of the Peter Iredale in all kinds of conditions, from when it first wrecked on the Oregon shore to what it looks like today. And make no mistake, it is definitely in ruins today. In fact, I made a point to stop and see it because I feel like it’s in such ruins that it might not be there too much longer.
What you’ll see is the skeleton of the bow of the ship, and a few bits of the body of the ship and the bases of a couple of masts sticking out of the sand as well, but that’s about it. Still, it’s exceptionally cool. In fact, in general, I think things that are in ruins are a tad bit cooler than things that aren’t.
You can walk into the bow of the ship, right inside the metal framework, and stand inside this piece of history. I dig that kind of thing. While I was trying to balance my toddler on my knee for a photo through the rusty steel framework, you can bet your booty I was imagining myself on that ship, running aground in the foul weather, and listening to the various shouts of, “Oh fiddlebottoms! We’re upon a sandbar!” (Because it was 1906 and that’s how people spoke…#historyexpert)
History of the Peter Iredale
The Peter Iredale was a four-masted sailing ship that ran ashore on October 25, 1906 as it was making its way to the Columbia River. At 3:20 a.m., Captain H. Lawrence spotted the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse and set course for the opening of the Columbia River, but thick fog and changing tides made the journey treacherous. Strong winds pushed the ship toward shore and despite efforts to keep afloat, the Peter Iredale ended up grounded on the Clatsop Spit. Sailors were evacuated with lifeboats and no one was lost in the accident.
While there were originally plans to tow the ship back out to sea, the ship had other ideas. It listed onto its side and became embedded in the sand. In 1917, salvage rights to the ship were sold, but it was never actually broken down. Instead, it just sat there on the beach, slowly giving way to time.
The Peter Iredale is actually one of hundreds of wrecked ships in the area, but the only one you can walk right up to. The entire area off the Oregon Coast (and Washington Coast, going up to the Strait of Juan de Fuca) is called the Graveyard of the Pacific due to the dangerous nature of the area – fog, shifting sandbars, challenging tides, and other factors aren’t easy on boat traffic. The list of shipwrecks off of Oregon alone is frighteningly long.
Exploring Fort Stevens State Park
I did not have time to explore Fort Stevens State Park (because naps were coming…always with the naps…and we were on our way home from Seaside), but just driving through to get to the beach, it’s a beautiful park with a whole lot more going on than the wreck of the Peter Iredale.
Sprawling over 4,300 acres, Fort Stevens is a former military defense site so military and history buffs can explore military displays at the museum and information center, or go see some of the gun batteries up close and personal.
Beyond military history, the park is also an expansive natural playground. Stay overnight at one of the campsites, yurts, or cabins (there’s also a KOA across from the park entrance). By day, go beachcombing, swimming in one of the lakes, hike or bike the nine miles of trails, or go boating in Coffenbury Lake. Or, if you have a toddler who’s about to fall asleep in the back seat, drive through the wooded trails with peek-a-boo views of the ocean and put some tunes on. That works too.