Photo courtesy of Shane Kucera
The southern Oregon coast is a beach-lover’s paradise. Miles of scenic sand broken up by majestic headlands and rocky outcroppings make this a special spot. Sea stacks abound, forming special sunsets and attracting numerous wildlife species to their windswept outcroppings. A three-day trip to Brookings, Oregon, offers a retreat from the crowds and the opportunity to walk long stretches of beach. Be sure to bring your camera and pack a lunch. You’ll want to spend all day on these gorgeous strands.
Start your adventure at Otter Point State Recreation Site. With relatively few visitors, this is a wonderful introduction to the solitude possible along this stretch of coast. Be sure to check out the lovely sandstone formations, but beware of walking too close to the edge here as it can give way easily. Located just 3 miles north of the small town of Gold Beach, you can also fuel and stock up on supplies for your adventure as well. Check in at Pacific Reef Hotel as your base camp for the first night on the road. Ocean-view rooms, expansive condos, and economy rooms provide something for every budget level. The Adventure Theater is the highlight of your stay here. Transparent during the day to allow for unimpeded ocean views, at night the theater lights up with videos about the coast, nature photography, and more. You don’t want to miss it!
Don’t get too cozy in your room just yet, however. There’s more to explore! For a long look both north and south at the beaches awaiting you, stretch your legs on the Cape Sebastian Trail hike. From here, consider the incredibly soft sands of Meyers Creek Beach as your next stop. It can be windy here, but don’t let that deter you. The high winds often create temporary sand dunes, making this beach feel new again with every visit. The Pistol River Beaches (North, Middle, and South) can be turned into a 3.25-mile hike if you stage cars at both ends. Wide, with towering dunes and breathtaking sea stacks, the scenery here is stunning. Soft sands make for pleasant barefoot strolling as well. This stretch can easily be broken into smaller pieces if needed because of the access points at the Middle Beach and South Beach parking lots.
After breakfast in Gold Beach, start your day by exploring the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. This corridor includes 12 miles of rugged coastline and a network of trails, and there are many viewpoints that are perfect for some coastal photography. Trail signage can be limited or misleading at times, but consider that part of the appeal. This area has low traffic, so you’ll have plenty of solitude as your ramble your way through the 27 available miles of Oregon Coast Trail. Secret Beach is one beach you won’t want to miss in this scenic corridor. Aptly named, it can only be found by making use of a steep and rough trail secluded from Highway 101. Tides affect access here, so be sure to check your tide tables before setting out.
For a classic shot of stone arches in a beautiful ocean setting, set your sights on Natural Bridges Viewpoint. The best viewing can be found on overcast days or early morning as the reflection of the sun off the water can make photography difficult. If the shot isn’t quite there, consider a stop at North Island Viewpoint as a lovely alternative. Only a short walk through lush green grasses, this viewpoint is a stunner. A tiny loop trail on a rocky point overlooking the water gives views to the north and south for miles.
And if you are looking for a more intimate and unique feel, consider exploring Indian Sands. Large sandy patches and dunes sit high atop cliffs. Creating unusual relief between dark coastal forests and crashing ocean waves, the sandy landscape here feels practically lunar.
If high tide is limiting your access to other spots, Whaleshead Beach is a worthy destination. A great family location, there are vaulted toilets in the parking lot and numerous shaded picnic spots. Tide pools abound, as well as a large cave with a rocky window framing the ocean views. A quick stop on the way to other destinations, House Rock Viewpoint is worth a peek. Of note here is a plaque commemorating Samuel Boardman, for whom the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor is named. As the first Superintendent of the Oregon State Parks system, he was a critical influence in protecting numerous iconic locations.
The Cape Ferrelo hike provides a brief walk that is quite kid-friendly. At just a mile roundtrip, this trail flows over grassy coastal bluffs with views to both north and south. A hilltop bench makes a great spot to soak in these views and extend your time here. Just beyond the bench a trail branches to the south, leading to Lone Ranch Beach and beyond. Consider extending your walk down this trail to take advantage of the Lone Ranch Beach + Picnic Area. Accessible paved trails lead from the parking lot here to the picnic areas if the beach walk and trail are prohibitive. With picnic tables overlooking the crescent beach, you can easily spend a few hours here. Tide pools are also safely accessible at low tide. Please remember to exercise kindness toward the fragile animals living in these delicate habitats.
Harris Beach State Park Campground makes a solid alternative to a hotel room if camping is more your style. This area was originally settled by George Harris, a Scottish pioneer in the 1880s, and there is an abundance of sea stacks, tide pools, and long sandy beach to keep the entire crew busy. The intertidal area here is designated as a Marine Garden, which means that it is illegal to collect marine invertebrates apart from mussels for bait. These areas are set aside to educate visitors about the resources in the dynamic intertidal zone. Birding is also excellent, and there are views of Goat (Bird) Island, which is Oregon’s largest coastal island and protected as part of Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Hot water showers in the large bathrooms are an added bonus, especially in the colder months. With six yurts to choose from, you can outlast any winter storm. Additionally, there is one ADA RV site with electricity and water at Harris Beach.
When the season is right, surf-fishing can be found at McVay Rock Beach. Tide pools abound here as well. In the parking lot you can practice your disc golf skills with a couple of disc golf baskets overlooking the ocean, and your dog can romp worry-free in an off-leash dog exercise area close by. Before you reluctantly begin the trip home, take in the southernmost beach access in Oregon by exploring Crissey Field State Recreation Site beach. A large field of driftwood extends along tis beach, making exciting scrambling for kids (or kids at heart). In summer months, a land bridge connects to Winchuck Beach as well. To learn more about the latest in green technology, and Oregon state in general, stop in at the Oregon Welcome Center located here, too.
Note that all of the rocks and islands included in Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge are off limits for climbing or any other public contact to protect the seabirds that rely on this crucial habitat.