Dave Lacey finds satisfaction in taking groups out onto the Pacific Ocean to search for gray whales aboard his new 27-foot rigid-hull inflatable boat, the Black Pearl. “We’ve all been clustered for so long,” says Lacey, owner of South Coast Tours, based in Port Orford. “It’s easier to get away from crowds on the South Coast than up in Cannon Beach.” 

More Portland-area visitors are discovering that Oregon’s South Coast is worth the extra drive time, Lacey says, so there’s an uptick in people experiencing the wild and rugged landscape of the region for the first time. As the only tour operator in the region offering ocean trips, South Coast Tours gives visitors the chance for a close-up wildlife experience unlike any other. 

“We’re really into interpretation. We talk a lot about the Native American and pioneer history in the area and biological characteristics of the animals we’re seeing,” Lacey says. “You can learn all kinds of cool stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily get if you’re by yourself.”

In addition to guides providing a wealth of knowledge to enrich your experience, tour operators also provide a safe way to try something new or, if you’re a pro, allow you to leave your gear at home. Hiring a guide also helps ensure that you’re visiting responsibly. “Outfitters and guides tend to take very good care of their natural resources that they’re operating in,” Lacey says. 

To keep everyone safe, tour operators are implementing COVID-19 safety precautions including limiting group sizes and requiring face coverings in situations where safe distances can’t be maintained. Many local operators are certified as GORP Guides, which stands for Guide & Outfitter Recognized Professional. They set the industry standard for helping to deepen visitors’ experiences with local knowledge and outstanding service.  Clients report that the value of their experience was improved by 85-100% because they hired a guide!

2021MayJune web guides biking

Here are several top Oregon Coast guided tours to consider. 

Take a jet-boat excursion: Jerry’s Rogue Jets steps up the adrenaline with whitewater jet-boat trips on the Rogue River. As the only company allowed to operate a remote 12-mile section of the river near Gold Beach, the tour company wows visitors with a chance to ride swift currents, photograph wildlife and learn about local history — with a healthy dose of tall tales sprinkled in, too. 

Take a fat-bike tour: In addition to helping visitors ride the waves, the Central Coast’s Safari Town Surf Shop offers fat-bike tours on the wide-open stretches of shoreline — a fun way to have a new experience on the sand. While based in Lincoln City, guides also take cyclists on scenic rides in Neskowin and Pacific City.

Go clamming or crabbing with a pro: If you’ve ever wanted to go crabbing or clamming but don’t know where to start, learn from a local with Captain Clameron’s Excursions in Waldport. Owned and operated by a former Oregon State Park ranger with more than a decade of experience as a naturalist, the personal guide also offers fossil field trips, bridge tours, agate and mushroom hunts, and tide-pooling excursions.

Enjoy a foodie tour: Foodies will love the unique excursions offered by Farm 2 Fork Tours, which are aimed at giving North Coast visitors an up-close and personal look at how products like dairy, seafood, wine and olive oils are grown on the Coast. There’s also a customizable option that includes cooking classes. 

Sit back on a sightseeing tour: Leave the driving to the pros with Oregon Coast Tours & Transportation, which offers private tours around the North Coast. While you can hire by the hour and create your own tour, they also offer itineraries including a Three Capes Scenic Loop, Pacific City Historical Tour and a Willamette Valley vineyard extravaganza. 

– By Emily Gillespie
– Top photo by Erik Urdahl; cycling photo by Dylan Van Weelden