Photo courtesy of Denis LeBlanc
On the Central Oregon coast, away from the crowds of Seaside, Astoria, and the northern beaches, the small beach town of Florence sits at the mouth of the Siuslaw River. Well known for its proximity to the Sea Lion Caves, this quaint community offers an abundance of adventure for those willing to make the drive. Join us on a three-day itinerary that showcases the beauty and possibility of this small community.
Start your adventure by snagging a gorgeous campsite at Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park Campground. No matter your style of camping, this spot has it all. Coastal forest lush with moss and greenery surrounds most sites at Carl G. Washburne, offering surprising privacy in a massive campground. Once camp has been established, stretch your legs on the Hobbit Trail to work out the kinks from the long drive. The easy-to-miss parking pullout for this trail is right off the highway. Don’t let this deter you though; as soon as you start down the trail, traffic disappears behind a wall of rhododendron and Sitka spruce. With sprawling views and the opportunity to extend the walk by climbing to Heceta Head Lighthouse, this is a trail worth exploring. The Heceta Head Lighthouse is a worthy destination all by itself. The lighthouse was reopened in June 2013 after two years of renovation work. Tours of the tower are given daily between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., showcasing informative displays about the history of the area and the lighthouse. From here, no visit to the Florence area would be complete without a stop at the Sea Lion Caves. A massive network of caverns, these caves are home to 200 to 300 Stellar sea lions. Access is privately controlled, and a day-use fee is required. From the various viewpoints here, it’s also possible to see gray whales.
On your second day, take your pick between a campsite at Sutton Campground or Honeyman State Park Campground. At Sutton, the Sutton Loop trails can be easily accessed right from your tent. A quiet start to the day might include a stop at the Darlingtonia State Natural Site. Here, visitors get a close-up view of a large patch of the carnivorous Darlingtonia californica, also known as cobra orchid or pitcher plant, in its native boggy habitat. From here, take a side trip inland to visit the aptly named Sweet Creek Trail. At a brief 2.2 miles in length, it offers a nice respite from hot summer weather and winds of the coast. Here there are waterfalls, wildflowers, and wild berries to snack on. The beauty of this spot is well-known, so it can feel crowded at times. If Sweet Creek is a tad tame, unload your mountain bike and take on the Siltcoos Lake Trail for fun and technical singletrack. The only downside to the trail is that it feels too short! Riding the loop clockwise is recommended for maximum fun.
If mountain biking isn’t really your thing and you’re craving more hiking, head down to the Oregon Dunes Loop hike for 4.60 miles of a calf-busting sand workout. Two loops here offer a hard and easy version depending on your love of sand hiking. A shorter 2-mile track takes you straight to the beach and back, a popular choice for families with younger kids. The longer loop involves 2 miles of deep sand walking at the end, so come prepared! The views are worth the effort.
On your last day, consider checking the tides and dropping crab pots off the pier in Winchester Bay before heading out on other adventures. If you’re lucky, you’ll be heading back home with an easy-to-cook fresh crab dinner! But first, while you’re waiting for your meal to arrive, the Umpqua River Lighthouse is a gorgeous stop. This beautiful structure is listed in the National Register of Historic Places for good reason. The former Coast Guard Station is now a museum showcasing not only the history of the lighthouse but also of the Coast Guard in the area, and staff from the museum conduct lighthouse tours. From here, consider taking your lunch at either the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area or along the Hall + Shuttpelz Lake Trail. The O. H. Hinsdale interpretive center offers plenty of information on the elk for inquisitive visitors as well as lovely viewing areas. The Hall and Shuttpelz Lake Trail is a little-known hike with dunes that are relatively quiet given their distance from any motorized staging areas. This is a quiet and pleasant option for travelers seeking a tranquil spot to eat.
Before swinging back to pick up your crab pots, take a turn on the John Dellenback Trail for a challenging 2.5-mile trek to the beach. Deceptively simple on the map, wayfinding skills are recommended here, especially in foggy or inclement weather. The massive scale of the Umpqua dunes makes this a worthy adventure. It truly is an otherworldly experience not to be missed. You will have definitely earned some butter-soaked crab after the hard work you put in on this sandy three-day trip!