The Oregon Coast: Pines, Cliffs, Dunes, Waterfalls, Lighthouses

The Oregon Coast begins in California. It starts somewhere around Klamath, not long after where the Pacific Coast Highway ends, giving way to Highway 101. The coastline here grows bolder, more rugged, even more untamed.

There’s a small diversion off 101 in Redwood National Park that takes you to Coastal Drive. The road starts out as a normal, one-lane-of-traffic-in-each-direction drive until a sign warns you of rougher roads ahead and you cross a hill and find a gravel path maybe a little over 10 feet wide. It climbs and drops, potholes and sharp falloffs lining the way. To the left is the Pacific, occasionally unobscured by tall pines. To the right is a dense coastal redwood forest.

I found a turnoff to the left that dove, a sign pointing towards a scenic overlook. I couldn’t resist, and at the end of a curvy, bumpy, winding road I found an empty parking lot and a trail. At the end of the trail was this:

This is what the coastline looks like for the next several miles. In Oregon, 101 doesn’t hug the coastline like PCH does in most of California. Here, every mile or two, there are pull-offs where you can drive and park and get out of your car and admire the cliffs and waves crashing below. The experience becomes less immersive, stretches of road interrupted by dramatic glimpses of ocean and coast rather than a non-stop ride along it.

The glimpses offered are stunning. The coast here is much more forested, pines short and tall stacked along a cliff that drops towards a mess of sea stacks and arches, tide pools and waterfalls, endless stretches of black sand, much of it volcanic in origin. Whales sail by just offshore.

As I drove into Port Orford, the sun dipped below the cloudy sky and hung just above the horizon, lighting up the shoreline in a warm orange glow. I pulled into a parking lot along the water somewhere in town and jumped out of the car as another eager spectator did the same.

I woke up the morning after in Bandon by the docks on a beautiful morning, sunshine and blue skies overhead. As I drove north, the coast seemed to mellow as well, with flowing sand dunes and serene beaches rather than rocky cliffs. A lighthouse stood at the mouth of the Coquille River, the only interruption of the coastline.

The dunes were a sight. They stretch for over forty miles along the coastline, starting just north of Bandon. People cruise them in ATVs, ski along them, tumble down. Apparently sled dog racers use the area for training. I simply took a hike through them, sliding down a steep slope and trekking across the sand, stuffing my sandals into my pockets. After crossing a wide expanse of sand, shrubs and bushes and trees lined the trail before it cleared onto grasses and a wide-open beach.

There was no one else in any direction as far as I could see.

View pictures from the Oregon Coast.

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