Underused Gems of the Oregon Coast
Photo courtesy of Denis LeBlanc
In the hot summer months, a cool escape to the Oregon coast can be just the ticket. The trouble is, most Oregonians (and other tourists) feel the same way! If you’re looking to buck the crowds this year and find a few gems that are not so crowded or so well known, we have the list for you. We’ve gathered a collection of some Oregon beauties that don’t get the love they truly deserve. From small beachside campgrounds to lazy paddles on slow moving rivers, we’ve got you covered. Prepare your camping gear, you’ll be itching for a trip!
Formally known as Ona Beach and Beaver Creek State Natural Area, Brian Booth State Park was renamed in 2013 to honor the original chairperson of the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Commission. We highly recommend stopping at the beautiful welcome center, open daily, to orient yourself and learn more about the natural beauty on parade. Information on recent wildlife sightings as well as helpful volunteers can be found here.
For water lovers, consider putting your paddle or oar in at the Beaver Creek State Natural Area boat launch on the east side of Highway 101. Family-friendly waters make this a nice entry point into water sports for families with younger kids. The wind does pick up in the afternoons, so plan your trip accordingly. The return paddle can be challenging if the breeze is up. Guided kayak tours are also available July through September.
The name here says it all. The campsites are, indeed, beachside. Open since 1944, this campground features dozens of campsites, though many do not have electricity or water. A no-frills outpost, this makes a good base camp for the self-reliant adventurer. Located between Waldport and Yachats, there is an abundance of activities to choose from. Yachats State Park is excellent for tide pool exploration. To take advantage of what the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department calls “one of the most scenic viewpoints on the coast,” a stop at the Yachats Ocean Road State Natural Site is a must.
For beautifully empty beaches, the Governor Patterson Memorial State Recreation Site is a crowd-free choice. Try your hand at fishing the surf, watch for whales, or catch a stunning sunset. This site will not disappoint. If you fail to snag a fish in the surf, head over to Alsea Bay Marina + Robinson Park. Crabbing, clamming, and fishing are all an option right from the docks. No need to bring your own equipment; everything you need is available to rent here.
Note: Beachside State Recreation Site Campground is typically open from mid-March through the end of October. Check the Oregon State Parks website for seasonal date details.
Carl G. Washburne’s wife, Narcissa, gifted the land in her estate to the state in 1962. Her husband had been the Oregon Highway Commissioner from 1932 to 1935. This absolutely spectacular park includes lush coastal forest just a half mile from the beach. While most campsites are geared toward RVs, there is a surprising amount of privacy to be found here. The only tent sites available are walk-in, but don’t let that deter you. It’s worth the little bit of extra effort to sleep under the giant trees on a carpet of thick moss.
Once you’ve established camp, leave your vehicle parked and set foot on one of the trails that leads directly from the campground. With walls of Sitka spruce and rhododendron, this trail is a magical experience. Part of a larger network of trails that includes the Valley Trail and the China Creek Trail loop, the Hobbit Trail is the southernmost hike. Consider extending it by taking it down to the beach, walking north to one of the campground access trails, and returning via the Valley Trail south.
For a bit of history, jaunt on out to Heceta Head and the Devils Elbow. Built in 1894, the light here is still the strongest on the Oregon coast, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You can even stay in the keeper’s house because it now serves as a bed and breakfast.
One of the most stunning lighthouse glasses along the coast, the red and white of the Umpqua Lighthouse is gorgeous. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the former Coast Guard Station is now a historical museum and available for tours. Nearby Lake Marie would make an excellent picnic stop either before or after your tour. A small lake, there is a pleasant trail that circles the water and is family friendly. This is also an great swimming stop if the big waves are a bit too much on the coast.
The campground at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park also deserves a mention. The deluxe yurts available here are absolutely worth the planning and hassle necessary to secure a reservation. Complete with a hot shower, bathroom, fridge, microwave, and sink, these facilities will have you feeling like you are staying at a hotel with all the fun perks of camping. For more conventional camping, the tent and RV sites offer solid privacy and spacing as well. This campground is smaller than many other campgrounds along the coast, so you’ll want to make reservations here in order to secure your spot.
Just east of Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (ODNRA), William M. Tugman State Park is a lovely stop for both day use and overnight campers. With the only public boat ramp on Eel Lake, this park sees plenty of boat traffic in and out. Eel Lake offers a nice change of pace from the windy sand and surf. A maximum speed limit of 10 miles per hour also helps keep the tempo chill here. Winds from the ocean can whip up, however, so it’s wise to pay attention to the weather forecast when staying here.
With the dunes so close, it’s worth exploring the myriad trails available in ODNRA – just be sure to plan your adventures to avoid snowy plover beaches during their sensitive nesting season. A great deal of work is being done to improve and restore this magical habitat back to its natural state. Take in the views at the Oregon Dunes Day-Use Area to appreciate the efforts being made and to learn more.
For campers, there is easy access to the lake right from the campground. With 16 yurts, the majority of which are ADA-compliant, the campground is surprisingly accessible. Given the size of the grounds, a bike would make a nice addition to meandering around near your campsite.
Located on the westernmost point of the state of Oregon and holding the southernmost lighthouse in the state, Cape Blanco State Park is worth a stop. There is far less traffic here than other more popular spots because this is one of the most remote parks in the state system; the park can even be easily missed on the highway due to discreet signage. There are 50 campsites to choose from at the campground, and there are also horse camps and four rustic cabins available.
Southern Oregon in general does not see as many crowds as the northern bit of coastline, but it’s worth the drive. The light at Cape Blanco has been in mostly continuous service from 1869 to the present, making it the oldest standing lighthouse in Oregon. Be sure to take advantage of the docent-led tours that are available several days a week. The volunteers manning the station offer a wealth of local knowledge, and the station is open to visitors April through October.
After the lighthouse, a stop at the Historic Hughes House is in order. Maintained by the Cape Blanco Heritage Society and beautifully restored, the home is a window into the world of an old dairy farm from the late 1800s.
Tucked away from the Pacific Ocean along a stretch of Highway 1, this little campground provides a nice break from the wild windy weather that can batter the coast. The campsites here are nestled alongside Brush Creek and Dry Run Creek, yet the beach is easily accessible from the sites via a short trail. The one downside to this location is that it also lies alongside the highway, so road noise is inevitable.
The location is ideal, however, for exploring between Gold Beach and Port Orford. Reservations are recommended because the location makes it a solid base camp for exploration of the southern coast.
Originally acquired by the Save the Myrtle Woods organization in 1948, the Oregon myrtle trees (Umbellularia Californica), also known as the California bay laurel, are the reason for this site’s existence. It is a special spot because some of the trees are more than 200 years old. The scent of the trees perfumes the air on warm summer days and gives the campground a dreamy quality.
This smaller campground consists of a single loop of sites. The nearby Chetco River meanders by as well, and a few sites and all three rustic cabins overlook the water. For boaters, a gravel boat ramp provides access to the river.
For hikers, the Riverview Trail and the Redwood Nature Trail are excellent strolls, though they are short. To lengthen your walk, combine the two for a pleasant 2.7-mile hike. Both trails are relatively flat and very family friendly. Be on the lookout for mushrooms in the cool wet climate here.
Critical western snowy plover habitat
Some of the areas on this list, including beaches near the Umpqua Lighthouse and within the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, provide critical habitat for the western snowy plover, a species that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed as threatened in 1993. The breeding season for the western snowy plover is from March 15 and September 15, and during this time it is imperative to avoid potential nesting locations in dry sand beach areas. Dogs, kites, vehicles, and drones are all prohibited during this time, and walking is only allowed near the waterline. Please do your part to help this threatened species survive by complying with posted restrictions and completely avoiding closed areas. To learn more be sure to check out these snowy plover resources: