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There are few things that say “summertime” more than the beach and few places that do it more dramatically than Oregon’s wild and wonderful coast. Not only is it the only state that boasts a 100% public coastline, but sprinkled along its curvaceous cliffs are some of the prettiest lighthouses in the West. Some are perched precariously above 200-foot cliffs, some sit daintily by the mouth of rivers and others even cling to rocks far out at sea. There are 9 of these historic figures still standing, all built between 1870 and 1896 and each one has a story to tell.
I’ve been a lighthouse lover ever since I saw my very first Oregon Lighthouse. It was Haceta Head Lighthouse, one of the best preserved specimens on the coast (apparently also the most haunted) and she took my breath away. I got my first sight at a lookout from 101 where she was perched on a rocky outcropping in the distance. Her shiny white tower reflected the sun while her gorgeous Fresnel lens swept a lonely beam into the distance. A few days later we hiked the trail to see her up close and get a tour of the tower. I found myself transported back to the late 1800’s imagining the toil and lives of the keepers who lived in this remote spot. Here was history intermixed with nature and I was besotted. Right then I vowed to see every lighthouse on the coast.
A short year later we started our lighthouse odyssey in Astoria, at the very northern tip of the Oregon Coast. Staying at Fort Steven State Park, we took the short ½ hour drive on a gorgeous day down to Ecola State Park to view “Terrible Tilly” out in the ocean. This crazy lighthouse was built on a rock 1.2 miles out to sea and remains one of the most amazing engineering feats of lighthouse history. Our next stop was lovely Nehalem Bay State Park, probably one of my favorite parks on the coast, which sits ~40 mins north of Cape Meares, the shortest lighthouse on the coast at only 38-ft tall. From there we spent time in historic Newport visiting the majestic Yaquina Head and quirky Yaquina Bay, followed by another stop in Florence to re-visit the lovely Haceta Head (she’s just been renovated and oh is she gorgeous!). Our final stays were by the water in Winchester Bay next to Umqua River Lighthouse, followed by a trip to view the elusive Cape Arago, the very cute Coquille River Lighthouse, and finally to the oldest operating beam of them all at Cape Blanco. The entire drive on 101 was easy and big-rig friendly and the views splendid the whole way. Plus you can’t beat the cool Oregon coastal weather in the summer.
Of the 9 lighthouses on the Oregon Coast only 7 can be visited, but each one sits rather conveniently next to one of Oregon’s superb State or County Parks many offering water/electric or full hookups. This makes them the perfect RV destination, combining the opportunity to stay at a lovely spot and learn some history at the same time. The lighthouses are all open in summer (most close in winter) and staffed by volunteers. Some are completely dormant, but 4 still beam their Fresnel lights out to the ocean. We love lighthouses so much we’ve become lighthouse hosts (at Coquille River & Cape Blanco) during the summer months, preserving and re-telling the stories of these wonderful icons. If you make it our way, come on by and see us. Maybe you’ll fall in love too and go in search of the coastal lights as we did.
A Quick Guide To The Lighthouses & Where To Stay (from North to South)
“Tillamook Lighthouse” - “Terribly Tilly” sits 1.2 miles out to sea on a lone rock. No visitors, but she can be viewed from Ecola State Park on a clear day. Stay north at Fort Stevens State Park or south at Nehalem Bay State Park.
Cape Meares Lighthouse – The shortest lighthouse on the coast. Stay north at Nehalem Bay State Park or just south at Cape Lookout State Park.
Yaquina Bay & Yaquina Head Lighthouse – Both lighthouses are close to historic Newport. Yaquina Head is the tallest on the coast at 93-feet high and is managed by the BLM in Yaquina Head Outstanding Scenic Area. Yaquina Bay is the shortest-serving lighthouse on the coast and has been re-staged with period furniture. Stay right by town at Sunset Beach State Park or north at Beverly Beach.
Haceta Head Lighthouse – The prettiest lighthouse on the coast. It even has the original assistant keepers house (now a bed and breakfast). Nearby Carl G. Washburne State Park is first-come-first-serve and a lovely spot to stay.
Umqua River Lighthouse – Be sure to take the tour to stand inside the incredible red/white lens. Next door Winchester Bay RV Resort (county-owned) is an excellent campground with full water views.
Cape Arago Lighthouse – Not open for visitation, but can be viewed ~1/4 mile south of the campground at Sunset Bay State Park.
Coquille River Lighthouse – The cutest lighthouse on the coast and right next to the lovely coastal town of Bandon. Stay on-site at Bullards Beach State Park.
Cape Blanco Lighthouse – The oldest operating lighthouse and the western-most point in Oregon. It is wild and windy here, but Cape Blanco State Park has lovely, large sheltered RV sites (first-come-first-serve) and is well worth the stay.
Note: There are 2 additional privately-built lighthouses on the coast (Cleft Of The Rock and Pelican Bay) which have been recognized as aids to navigation by the Coast Guard, but are not open to the public.
Extra Tips: Summertime is high season on the coast and it’s recommended to book ahead for reservable parks. Oregon State Parks cost $20-$26/night and have 14-day stay limit. For those with paws in the family doggie is allowed everywhere, except within the lighthouses themselves.