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Port Orford Heads State Park

Southern Oregon Coast + Rogue River, Oregon

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Port Orford Heads State Park

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  • A restored lifeboat at Port Orford Heads State Park. These 1930s vessels were designed to right themselves in 45 seconds after a capsize.- Port Orford Heads State Park
  • Lifeboat detail.- Port Orford Heads State Park
  • The trails leading around Port Orford Heads.- Port Orford Heads State Park
  • The trails leading around Port Orford Heads.- Port Orford Heads State Park
  • The site of a former lookout tower on Port Orford Heads.- Port Orford Heads State Park
  • Though distant, Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve is visible below Humbug Mountain.- Port Orford Heads State Park
  • The original lifeboat station boathouse was tucked away in Nellie's Cove for the most efficient rescue times.- Port Orford Heads State Park
  • The former Port Orford Lifeboat Station barracks, now the Port Orford Heads museum.- Port Orford Heads State Park
  • The museum at Port Orford Heads State Park.- Port Orford Heads State Park
  • A model illustrating a rescue technique at Port Orford Heads State Park.- Port Orford Heads State Park
  • A scale model of the lifeboats used at the Port Orford Lifeboat Station.- Port Orford Heads State Park
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Views. Trail system. Museum. Wildlife.
Cons: 
Museum hours are limited.
Region:
Southern Oregon Coast + Rogue River, OR
Congestion: 
Moderate
Pets allowed: 
Yes
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
Current Local Weather:
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Adventure Description

Adventure Description

Team

Equal parts park, wildlife refuge, museum, and monument, Port Orford Heads State Park is a fascinating place. You’ll need a little time and some good visibility to truly appreciate this park, for the humble entrance quickly leads to a rich history and a vibrant present. Though small, the park has a lot to offer.

Time and weather permitting, begin your visit with a hike on the Port Orford Heads State Park Trails to get a sense of the area’s geography and climate. Then finish up at the former lifeboat station and current museum, where you’ll have the opportunity to contemplate the careers of those who worked in the waters you just surveyed. Port Orford Heads was first established as a lifeboat station in 1934, and it remained active as one until 1970. That’s 36 years of service from first responders willing to charge out into bone-chilling waves that were so forceful and enormous they had already torn another ship to pieces. If you’ve seen the Oregon Coast during a Pacific storm, you’ll understand the monstrous conditions these crews faced. In fact, they counted on them; their lifeboats were designed to right themselves after a capsize in approximately 45 seconds, and their water-tight hulls had room to accept an entire crew of survivors. The motto of these responders said it all: “You have to go out, you don’t have to come back.”

Port Orford Heads was unique in that the station maintained a crew in the boathouse in Nellie’s Cove with rescue boats always ready to go. You’ll see Nellie’s Cove and the pilings from the former boathouse as you hike the trails. While the site is still accessible for the very determined, the original staircase leading down to the cove has been decommissioned, so access isn’t recommended, especially in wet weather conditions.

An excellent museum sits in the building that formerly functioned as the crew quarters, and you can see a model of the original boathouse and station (including a tennis court, which is a little surprising on a Pacific headland), along with heaps of local Coast Guard history. Finally, as you return to your car, take a look at the life-sized reconstruction of the lifeboats that crews steered directly into Pacific storms, and consider how modest such a vessel must have felt in waves that were several times taller than its length.

Note: Museum hours are Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

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(6 within a 30 mile radius)

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(29 within a 30 mile radius)

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Published in collaboration with The People's Coast

A profound concept originally envisioned by governor Oswald West, in 1967 the Oregon legislature ultimately realized his vision of making the entire Oregon Coast forever open to the public in a piece of landmark legislation titled the Oregon Beach Bill, officially making all 363 miles public land. "The People's Coast" is truly a one-of-a-kind coastline, a unique blend of mountains and rocky stacks, towering old growth forests, marine sanctuaries, tide pools and kelp forests, charming towns, historic fishing communities, world-class golfing, breweries, and simply jaw-dropping scenic beaches. We encourage you to plan your next trip at visittheoregoncoast.com or by calling (541) 574-2679.

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