The Oregon Coast is lined with hiking trails, lighthouses and some of the best stretches of coastline on the pacific. But of all the wonderful things about Oregon’s coast, the best is that all 362 miles are free and open for all of us.
“When we walk along the beach and feel the sand beneath our toes and then the surf sends small waves to gently caress our feet; then we smell the saltiness upon the wind; that is when we know that we have come home from whence we came.” ― Anthony T. Hincks
2017 marks the 50th anniversary of a landmark legislation passed in 1967, known as the Beach Bill. This bill guaranteed coastal access that can only be matched by Hawaii – 362 miles of public waterfront property. It established public ownership of land along the Oregon Coast from the water up to sixteen vertical feet above the low tide mark.
Oswald West set the stage when he became governor in 1913. He declared Oregon’s beaches to be a state highway, the legislature backed him up, and the first major protection of public access was on the books. Tom McCall, the 30th governor of Oregon, signed the current Beach Bill into law on July 6, 1967 describing it as “one of the most far-reaching measures of its kind enacted by any legislative body in the nation.” McCall was one of Oregon’s most influential governors, serving two terms from 1967 to 1975. He was known for his courage and conviction that led to progressive legislation like this bill.
There are few stretches of the Pacific coastline as stunning, as diverse and as iconic as the Oregon coast. With the Beach Bill in place, Oregon’s coastline perfectly combines the natural beauty of the Pacific with accessibility that makes touring it easy. Oregon’s 362-mile coastline is a recreational playground, with hiking, camping, fishing and biking, surfing and beachcombing opportunities galore. It is one big viewing platform, with enchanting beaches, seductive headlands and glorious vistas at every single turn. So it was truly a no-brainer when the weather in the central part of California and Oregon was in the low 100’s to plan a slight reroute over to the coast for a week before I had to be in Sacramento.
“How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly ocean.” – Arthur C. Clark
To see as much as possible on the northern half of Oregon’s beautiful coastline without moving camp every night I made reservations at Cape Lookout State Park and the Elks campground in Florence.
Cape Lookout is a great park part of Oregon’s awesome State Park System. A campground with electric and water hookups and just a very short walk from the campsite to miles of open beaches. Cory and I hiked up the beach along Netarts Spit, a long narrow tongue that closes off Netarts Bay between the headlands of Cape Lookout and Maxwell Point.
Spits are long, narrow landforms developed by the movement and accumulation of beach material due to waves traveling at an angle to the coast. They occur where the coastline changes direction, forming a shallow protected area of water. In this case, Netarts Bay and its narrow mud flats are what formed Netarts Spit. This is the longest and arguably the most secluded spit hike along the north Oregon Coast. After the first half-mile up the beach we had the place to ourselves almost the entire 8 mile hike up and back on the spit. There was some smoke in the air due to the fires inland and the sun coming up over the hills created a glowing red ball on the horizon.
“In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.” ― Rachel Carson
Cape Lookout State Park also gave easy access to the 3 Capes Scenic Drive, one of the most popular and spectacular stretches of scenery on the Oregon Coast. My friend Mark joined me for a day exploring the 3 Capes and the first stop was Tunnel Beach.
Starting at Oceanside Beach State Recreation Site a short walk along the beach leads to a tunnel that goes through Maxwell Point and leads to the aptly named Tunnel Beach. Constructed by the Rosenberg family in 1926, the tunnel is still passable when the tide is low enough and we started out early to visit during the low tide of the day. Tunnel Beach is also a great place to find agates and I picked up a couple of rocks to add to my collections. Fortunately they were small and will not add much weight or take up much space!
Cape Meares State Park is situated on a 700-foot rocky headland named for British sea adventurer John Meares. Meares came this way in 1788 and a lighthouse built in the 1890s marks the spot. The lighthouse stands 217 feet above the ocean and at 38-foot it is the shortest on the Oregon coast. A short hike led to a great view of the lighthouse and the beautiful coastline.
Tillamook is home to the largest free-standing, clear-span wooden structure in the world. Covering more than seven acres, the building is 1,072 feet long, 296 feet wide, and stands more than 15 stories high. Hangar B of Naval Air Station (NAS) Tillamook was commissioned and constructed by the U.S. Navy in 1943 to house blimps for anti-submarine patrol and convoy escort. Hangar A, built in the same year in just twenty-seven days, was destroyed by fire in 1992. Together, the two hangars could house eight K-class blimps—each 252 feet long.
Currently Hanger B houses the Tillamook Air Museum – featuring a collection of more than 25 aircraft and an exhibit hall with a large collection of rare historical wartime and aviation themed artifacts including pieces of the great German airship the Hindenburg, a World War II Luftwaffe flight jacket and a WW II Japanese Army Winter flight suit. It was a small but interesting museum and a great place to check out along the way.
Next stop on the loop was Munson Creek Falls State Park and included a hike through ancient western red cedar and Sitka spruce to Munson Creek Falls. The falls are 319 feet of three-tiered, awe-inspiring, waterfall goodness. They are the tallest in the Coast Range and possibly the tallest in the state west of the Willamette River.
We wrapped up the day at Cape Kiwanda, a sculpted headland eroded by time and tides and weather. The sandy shoreline is a popular place for sun worshippers, surfers and home to a small but dedicated group of fishermen, for this cape is one of the few places in the country where you can watch these fishermen launch their dory boats off the beach into the foamy surfline. We didn’t get to see any of the boats launching or racing up onto the beach but this beach is also home to my favorite Oregon Brewery – the Pelican Pub and Brewery – a great place for an early dinner and brew.
“Beer, it’s the best damn drink in the world.” – Jack Nicholson
After a few days at Cape Lookout it was time to head south. Florence is a beautiful town on the Oregon coast. This quaint fishing village is situated on the banks of the Siuslaw River and has been beautifully restored in colorful themes reminiscent of the Victorian era. The weekend I was there was also the annual hot rod show in old town and it was fun to walk among the shiny cars and photograph reflections as well as enjoy the work and craftsmanship that went into the restoration.
Massive sand dunes characterize the area around Florence. Located on the northern edge of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (ODNRA). The ODNRA contains some of the largest oceanfront dunes in the world, ranging up to 500 feet high and forming banks up to three miles deep. The Oregon dunes are the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in the U.S., and stretch for 50 miles between Florence and Coos Bay and are frequented by all manner of off-highway vehicle enthusiasts. Cory and I drove through the north end of the Recreation Area and found a good beach to take a quick hike.
Just north of Florence is the Heceta Head Lighthouse. The volunteers there provide great interpretive tours and boast that this is the most photographed lighthouse on the West Coast. The lighthouse sits 205 feet above sea level. It is 256 feet tall and thanks in part to it’s beautiful Fresnel lens has the strongest light on the Oregon Coast, which can be seen 21 miles from land. Named after Don Bruno de Heceta, a Spanish explorer, the light was first lit in 1894.
It was finally a day with few clouds and little fog and a great opportunity to try out some sunset and night photography. The lighthouse at night was tailor made for stunning photos and the starry sky with the big dipper just above the horizon was an awesome sight.
Yes, there is something about the ocean that draws us to it and a week along the Oregon Coast was a great way to wrap up my Alaskan journey.
“I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it’s because in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes, and ships change, it’s because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.” ― John F. Kennedy