Oregon

Sand Dollars at Fort Stevens State Park

We watched a white gull unceremoniously rip apart its breakfast while our toes went numb and the waves bit at our ankles. The beach was littered with the shells of recently discarded crab and the shrill cry of seagulls echoed in our ears. But our hands were full of the delicate fruits of our morning adventure — fifteen beautiful sand dollars — and we enjoyed our walk down the beach at Fort Stevens State Park.

We were on the search for sand dollars on Clatsop Beach in Fort Stevens State Park. The Fort is located in the northernmost part of Oregon and is only a few minutes drive from Astoria. It’s home to the Wreck of the Peter Iredale and Battery Russell. The fort can become quite busy in the summer!

Sam and Jacob hold 15 sand dollars with the ocean in the background.
Sam from Explore the Map holds a sand dollar on Clatsop Beach near Fort Stevens State Park.
Jacob from Explore the Map searches in the wet sand.

Local secrets

The day before our adventure, we met a dad and his young son who shared the secret of finding sand dollars on Clatsop Beach.

The Wreck of the Peter Iredale, a 100-year-old shipwreck, stood proudly in the background as I watched the small family climb the sandy hill. Their arms were bursting with gorgeous sand dollars. I’d never found a full one before so I approached them. The dad told us that only a mile up the beach there was a jackpot of sand dollars scattered along the sand. He advised us to go at low tide because the waves wash them away. His son beamed beside him, ecstatic from their adventure.

After thanking them we returned to brushing wet sand off our feet and watched the setting sun fade behind the overcast clouds. Afterwards, we checked the tide schedule for Clatsop Beach before heading in for the night. It was going to be an early morning!

A panoramic view of Clatsop Beach with the Wreck of the Peter Iredale in the middle.
Jacob from Explore the Map holds eight sand dollars.
Sam from Explore the Map holds one sand dollar.

Searching for sand dollars

The salty ocean air and the vast expanse of blue-gray sky greeted us as we navigated the potholes of the long road that led to the Peter Iredale parking lot. The overcast sky and heat of the day were still too shy to appear, so we layered on a jacket and abandoned our shoes in the car. The soft, cool sand squished between our toes.

We were the first people to the beach, so we enjoyed a solitary moment alone. We gazed towards the calm ocean and steel skeleton of the Peter Iredale, a 100-year-old shipwreck. The tide was out so we inspected it up close. Afterwards, we wandered down to the water, hoping that perhaps a sand dollar had washed ashore. We found a few broken dollars and crab carcasses amidst the jellies and seaweed, but no elusive full sand dollars so we continued down the beach.

What are they?

Sand dollars are the skeletons of sea urchins. The urchins themselves are pretty cool! When the sea urchin dies, its skeleton washes ashore, turns white, and becomes a sand dollar.

When they’re alive they range in colour from blue, green, or purple and live just below the mean surface of muddy areas. The urchin’s velvety underbelly lets it move and contains grooves that bring food to its mouth, which is the center of the star-shaped pattern on its underside.

Sam from Explore the Map holds a handful of sand dollars.
Sam from Explore the Map walks down Clatsop Beach.
Jacob holds two sand dollars.

Walk down the beach

The tide had just reached its lowest point and we stumbled upon many small pools of cold water. Like a small child, I peered into the first few pools hoping to find small marine wildlife. A shrimp or small razor clam would have made me ecstatic! Sadly, the pools were only full of sand and cold water, though. Instead, I ran between the pools and tried to avoid splashing the cold water onto myself. I wasn’t entirely successful, but we had such a great time in the brisk morning air that neither of us cared.

We walked only a portion of the 18-mile beach as we made our way a mile north of the shipwreck. We were interrupted only once by a full-sized pickup truck that sped past us, heading south towards the shipwreck. I cringed because I thought of how many beautiful dollars were shattered as its tires beat relentlessly against the wet sand.

Elusive sand dollar

We found our first dollar half buried in the sand. As my fingers gingerly brushed away the cold, wet sand, I felt the excitement deep within my chest — I’d found my first! Meanwhile, Jacob was slightly dejected because he’d only found broken dollars so far. It didn’t last long, however; no sooner had I dried mine than Jacob proudly held up his newly found sand dollar for inspection. It was a perfect circle, beautifully white-grey with a few small marks.

We spent the next half hour gleefully running across the beach and bounding into shallow water when we spotted the telltale white edge sticking out of the sand. Before long our toes were numb but our hands were full of treasure. Our smiles stretched across our faces as we marveled at our discoveries.

A relaxing end

We washed the dollars in the small pools and creeks that snaked their way along the water. We retraced our footprints back to the shipwreck after putting the newly cleaned sand dollars carefully in our pockets. It was still blissfully empty of the tourists that usually flock to it during the day and we checked for any dollars we may have missed.

When we found no more dollars, we climbed the sandy hill back to the parking lot and laid our dollars to dry. We sat with our toes buried in the sand and enjoyed the empty beach before heading back to our campsite.

Jacob from Explore the Map washes a sand dollar in the ocean water.
A handful of sand dollars with the Wreck of the Peter Iredale in the background.
Clatsop Beach with tire treads.

What to pack

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Final notes

It’s not every day that you’ll get the chance to find a whole slew of dollars on the beach. But that’s exactly what’s waiting for you at Fort Stevens! Make sure to check the tide schedule so that you visit at low tide.

Distance~3.2 km (2 mi)
Duration~2 hrs
DifficultyEasy
PricingYou’ll need to purchase a parking permit to enter Fort Stevens.
• Day-use permit: $5
• 12-month day-use permit: $30
• 24-month day-use permit: $50
• Included with your camping fee
NotesBring a jacket because it’s cool on the beach in the early morning. Make sure to check the tide schedule for low tide.
Collect unique souvenirs and create unforgettable memories as you search for sand dollars along the Oregon coast at Fort Stevens State Park. This is a really fun, free activity for families or couples on your travels or road trip in Oregon. #oregon #statepark #fortstevens #sanddollars #thingstodo #freeactivity

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