Shipwreck sightseeing keeps adventure afloat

Illustration by Nicole Nagamatsu

With the upcoming four day break arriving soon, many Lewis & Clark students will be looking for fun things to do. If you are interested in some excitement amid recharging from midterms, consider checking out one of the iconic shipwrecks along the Oregon coast. And if you are already planning on traveling to the coast this weekend, consider adding this eerie sightseeing to your to-do list.

Since the 1800s, the Oregon coast has been a deadly adversary for the maritime industry. There have been thousands of shipwrecks, many of them occurring at the mouth of the Columbia River, a place known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.” Visitors can see small pieces of a ship’s remains poking up through the sand, unless the tides are high. Many of the shipwrecks serve as artificial reefs, often rotting away or completely buried under the sand.

However, there are a few wreckage sites where the hull of the ship is above water for most of the year. These sites are protected by the Abandoned Shipwrecks Act of 1988, meaning no part of the ship can be taken or damaged by the public.

One such site is at Fort Stevens State Park. Located two hours from campus in Hammond, Oregon, Fort Stevens houses the Peter Iredale, a former 275-foot sailing ship that was wrecked in 1906. Near the mouth of the Columbia, a strong southeast wind pushed the ship into shallow water with so much force that three of its masts snapped upon impact with the ground. Even so, most of its hull was undamaged so it was intended to be towed back out to sea. However, it was weeks before the weather improved and the sand quickly embedded much of the ship.

The iconic steel hull can be seen at any time of day, rising about 20 feet above the sand. With a $5 parking pass, you can get the chance to see, touch and climb the rusted red remains, but be sure to call ahead and verify the site’s availability beforehand. 

Only a 15-minute car ride from the Peter Iredale wreckage site are the remains of the T.J. Potter, a steamboat once known for its impressive speed. After running for 40 years, it was considered unfit for passenger use and abandoned in Youngs Bay in 1920. Shortly after, the ship was burned and salvaged for its metal. All that remains now, peeking out of the sand, are parts of its midsection and backbone.

Other than the two mentioned above, most shipwrecks are only visible after extreme winter storms erode sand away from the beach. Sometimes a previously visible shipwreck is buried under sand and decades may pass before it is seen again. Particularly iconic shipwrecks that are currently not visible but may be in the future include the Bella in the Siuslaw River, the Emily G. Reed on Rockaway Beach and George L. Olson on Horsfall Beach.

If you are interested in learning more about these shipwrecks, check out the Columbia River Maritime Museum located in Astoria, OR or visit their website at

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