Last summer I did a tour of the Pacific coast from California to Tillamook, Oregon. We stopped at two lighthouses but if you are traveling by auto it would be fun to see all nine of the surviving lighthouse stations since they have been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Seven of the lighthouses are available to visit during the summer months, many manned by volunteers. Over two and one half million people stop each year at these extraordinary links to the past.
All of the structures have been unoccupied since modern technology took over in the 1960’s which allowed for installing automated beacons. The lighthouses are built on prominent headlands near major rivers where commercial fishing and shipping is prominent.
I will tell you a little about each one so if you cannot see them all, you can at least pick and choose which ones sound the most interesting.
Staring from just north of the California border the first one is Cape Blanco. This lighthouse stands 256 feet above the ocean and is located nine miles north of Port Orford off of Highway 101. It is the oldest standing lighthouse on the Oregon Coast. It was commissioned in 1870 because of the gold discoveries and lumbering going on in the area.
Two miles north of Bandon in Bullards Beach State Park is the Coquilee River Lighthouse. It was commissioned in 1896 to guide mariners across a dangerous bar. It was decommissioned in 1939 but restored as an interpretive center in 1979.
Cape Arago Lighthouse is twelve miles south of Coos Bay and North Bend. It stands 100 feet above the ocean on an inlet. It is the newest of the lighthouses, illuminated in 1934 but is not opened to the public. However if you visit, there is a very unique foghorn you might hear.
Next up is the Umpqua River Lighthouse located three miles south of Reedsport above the entrance to Winchester Bay. This is the second lighthouse on this spot. The first one fell into the river four years after it was built in 1861. This one sits sixty five feet above the ocean overlooking sand dunes. It took 240,000 bricks to construct the lighthouse tower and if you mention this you will get a discount on the tour cost.
Heceta Head Lighthouse located twelve miles north of Florence has a sixty five foot tower that sits 205 feet above the ocean. It was first illuminated in 1894 but today the beacon can be seen for twenty one miles, making it the brightest light on the Oregon Coast. The lightkeeper’s house built in 1893 now operates as a bed and breakfast.
This lighthouse has been undergoing renovation since 2012 and is closed to the public but just below it is a wonderful beach with parking. This is where I stop on the motor coach so everyone gets a chance to wade in the Pacific Ocean if so desired. Also it is very near the Sea Lion caves. There is a charge to see the caves but it is a pretty awesome sight and worth the visit.
You can find two more lighthouses near the Newport area. One is the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse and the other is the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. The one on the bay is the second oldest lighthouse in the state. It has a ninety three foot tower and stands 162 feet above sea level. There are a lot of seabird nesting sites around this lighthouse and I also like to stop here when I can.
As you continue driving, the Cape Meares Lighthouse is ten miles west of Tillamook and US Highway 101. It stands 217 feet above sea level. This structure was first illuminated in 1890 and automated in 1963. There is a trail that leads from the parking lot to the lighthouse and there are viewpoints people like to stand on to see sea lions or also for whale watching.
Finally the last one is the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse just south of Seaside. It stands 133 feet above sea level on a rocky islet. Because it is exposed to fierce storm waves it was given the name “Terrible Tilly.” There is no public access and was placed here just south of the Columbia River. However it is visible in a nearby state park.
Even if you don’t get to one of the lighthouses, which would be a shame, just driving the Oregon Coast is an awesome experience. At any turn in the road you can see waves pounding the shore or the giant monolith rocks that stand like sentinels in the water close to the shore. There are also several cute little seaside towns you will drive through on this journey.
This adventure truly has some amazing sights to behold. To me this should be another great area to add to your bucket list.