Sand and water are the lifeblood of every coastal beach town, but Reedsport, on Oregon’s South Coast, is truly defined by its near-island-like geography.
Situated at the heart of the iconic Oregon dunes, Reedsport sits at the confluence of three rivers: the mighty Umpqua, Smith and Scholfield. There are also 17 nearby lakes, offering plenty of prime fishing — especially small-mouth bass — as well as various water sports.
Visitors often see Reedsport as a base camp to adventuring around the South Coast. But all year round, this laid-back beach town is ripe for exploring as an idyllic destination of its own. Here’s how to spend a long weekend here.
Catch thrills on the dunes
Spend all day playing at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, with a quick first quick stop to the Visitor Center along Highway 101 for exhibits, maps and staff ready to help you plot your activities on the 40 miles of extraordinary terrain. Off-road vehicle rides are popular, but have you tried sand boarding? The newish sport has become an international phenomenon, and each summer Reedsport and neighboring Winchester Bay play host to a four-day celebration of sandy fun called DuneFest. Rent a sandboard — or a sled, surfboard, bike or dune buggy — at Sand Master Park is in Florence, a quick drive 25 minutes north. A sandboarding pioneer opened the park in 2000, as the first sandboarding park in the world.
Stretch your legs with a hike
Gain a different perspective on the pristine dunes with a lovely trek; there are about two dozen in the area of varying skill level, terrain and natural features to take in. The half-mile Oregon Dunes Day Use Area is an easy, paved trail with three viewing decks to the rich landscape of wind-swept sand, tree islands, coastal forest and wetlands. Just a half mile north of town, the more challenging hike to Kentucky Falls (Upper and Lower, as well as North Fork Smith Falls) is a breathtaking triple threat. The 5-mile trek is full of switchbacks on a semi-maintained trail, located in a remote area, so come prepared.
Become a wood carving expert
Reedsport is the West Coast capital of chainsaw carving — a beautiful, centuries-old art form inspired by the natural world, everything from bears, eagles and wolves to dragons, community leaders and Bigfoot. Every Father’s Day weekend in June, Reedsport hosts dozens of top carvers and thousands of spectators from around the world at the Oregon Divisional Chainsaw Carving Championship. Here wood sculptors use chainsaws and smaller hand tools to turn raw logs of Sitka spruce or Western Red Cedar into impressive works of art, some in a matter of 90 minutes. Take home a memorable souvenir: Most of the carvings are for sale by the artists, or auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Take in the art
Visitors can admire the two dozen funky, rustic wood carvings that are installed around town, each with their own story. Among them you’ll find the town’s namesake, former Oregon legislator Alfred Reed and his nephew Warren P. Reed, who founded the city in 1912 on land he inherited from his uncle. Pick up a map of the Old Town Outdoor Carving Gallery and take a self-guided walk. Wander into Mindpower Gallery for an alluring showcase of local paintings, sculptures, blown glass, jewelry and more.
Explore the natural history and culture
Steep yourself in the rich history and culture of the Lower Umpqua Area at the Umpqua Discovery Center, marked by the 30-foot cedar totem pole crafted by the famous Indian artist Chief Lelooska in 1962 and moved to the Center in 2000. Located on the town’s scenic riverfront, this interactive museum will have you checking out historic artifacts, bear caves and deep forest simulations while soaking up the fascinating history of the area’s pioneers, including the Kuuich Indians and early explorers like Jedediah Smith. Catch one of their 30-plus films, peer into the 35-foot periscope looking onto the panoramic boardwalk.
Climb the spiral staircase to the top of the Umpqua Lighthouse, just five miles south of town in Winchester Bay. Built in 1857 as the first lighthouse on the Oregon Coast (later rebuilt due to erosion collapse). The tower has been illuminating the dunes and seas with its powerful red and white flash since then. See its innerworkings and learn about the region’s maritime history during a captivating volunteer-led tour. Camp at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park nearby Lake Marie at a variety of tent campsites, rustic or deluxe yurts or even a throwback one-room log cabin.
Story by Jen Anderson
Photo courtesy of Sand Master Park