Explore Oregon's Wreck of the Peter Iredale
When Captain H. Lawrence set sail from Salina Cruz, Mexico, bound for Portland on September 26, 1906, running the four-masted, steel Peter Iredale aground likely wasn't on his mind. Commissioned to pick up a cargo of wheat and deliver it to the UK, the ship, upon reaching the mouth of the Columbia River twenty-nine days later, encountered a heavy northwest squall that veered her off course. Unable to gain control of the ship, the Peter Iredale crashed into the nearby breakers, eventually running aground at Clatsop Sands (now Clatsop Spit) and later abandoned. It was reported to have hit ground so hard that three of her wooden masts snapped on impact.
Today, what remains of the ship is little. More than a century of taking uppercuts and jabs from the Pacific, the Peter Iredale has been relegated to a rusted bow and minor remnants of her masts. However, it's one of the most accessible shipwrecks on the West Coast and a great stop when visiting the area.
Contained within Fort Stevens State Park, which itself is part of Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, the ship's remains are very easy to reach. All that's required is a short beach walk. Google Maps has it as a waypoint so just use that for directions. After parking, head to the beach and the Peter Iredale will be clearly visible to the right. Low tide is a great time to visit, but not so much during high tide. My old man and I visited the wreck during one of our road trips and found it to be pretty cool. There aren't any sharp edges, so climbing around on the wreck seems pretty safe.
If you're a history dork like we are you may want to consider checking out more in Fort Stevens State Park. Battery Russell, Battery 245, Battery Mishler, Battery Clark, and Battery Pratt are all worth checking out, but if you have time for just one we recommend Battery Russell. The two level reinforced concrete battery was used to defend the Oregon Coast during WWII and features munitions rooms, offices, guard rooms, storage rooms, a gun pit that once housed two massive ten inch retractable guns, and more.
Battery Russell and Fort Stevens have the unfortunate distinction of being the first mainland America site to be shelled by an enemy force since the War of 1812. In June 1942, a Japanese Navy submarine fired seventeen shells from ten miles off the coast, nine of which landed near Fort Stevens. A few months later, the Japanese launched a small foldable water plane piloted by Nobuo Fujita from a submarine and dropped two incendiary bombs on the coast. This event marked the first and only time in American history that mainland America was bombed.
A mile down the Trestle Bay Trail from the visitor center you'll find Observation Pillbox, another historic military structure built in 1942 during WWII as part of the coastal defense system. The pillbox was used as an observation post to monitor the ocean and to track any suspicious activities, such as enemy ships or submarines.
Other interesting spots worth checking out at Fort Stevens are the Jetty Observation Tower and Military Museum. Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805-06 during their famous expedition, is fifteen minutes away. Cannon Beach, one of the most iconic beaches in America, and Crescent Beach are also about twenty minutes south of Fort Stevens, and the house from the movie The Goonies is twenty minutes east at 368 38th St in Astoria.
If you're interested in more great spots to visit in Oregon be sure to check out our Eight Days in Oregon: Waterfalls & Redwoods and 12 Most Beautiful Waterfalls in Oregon. Have a blast, be safe, and make a bunch of memories out there!