Stunning sea stacks, wildlife refuges, and rocky beaches make the Oregon coast breathtaking for today's visitors. For the ships that first began exploring the Pacific Northwest, however, these gorgeous formations were more formidable than beautiful. As the coast became populated with settlers and shipping increased, the need for safe travel by boat made lighthouses a necessity. Dating back to the 1870s, faithful lighthouse keepers tended lights up and down the coast, warning ships of danger. We've put together a comprehensive list of Oregon lighthouses so that you can explore them for yourself.
On the westernmost point of Oregon sits the state's oldest standing lighthouse. Visitors are welcome April through October for docent-led tours. In addition to the lighthouse, Cape Blanco State Park has an excellent campground, and nearby Port Orford offers whale-watching opportunities as well. With 8 miles of trails, this is a gem of a park and its iconic lighthouse are the high points to any visit.
Located in Bullard's Beach State Park day use area just north of Bandon, the Coquille River Lighthouse was active from 1895 to 1939. Standing 40 feet tall, ships used its bright white light to navigate around a dangerous bar in the Coquille River. Tours inside the lighthouse are available from mid-May to mid-October.
The Cape Arago Lighthouse is located on a small rocky island northwest of Sunset Bay State Park and is not publicly accessible. Built in 1934, later than most of the other lights on the coast, the light was deactivated in 2006. Views can best be found on Bastendorff Beach, a broad expanse between Yoakam Point and the southern jetty of Coos Bay. Bastendorff is also a popular surf spot, with both left and right breaks.
The first Umpqua River Lighthouse was built in 1857. Due to floods and unstable choice of ground it was abandoned in 1864. The lighthouse that stands today was first lit in 1894. Each lighthouse on the coast had it's own signature or flashing pattern, and ships were able to identify where they were based once the crew identified the signal. Designed with a first-order Fresnel lens that flashes two white beams followed by one red beam, the Umpqua River lighthouse has a 24-mile range. The lighthouse itself is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, while the former Coast Guard Station is now a museum.
Located in Devil's Elbow State Park, Heceta Head lighthouse is quite possibly the most iconic of all Oregon lighthouses...not to mention the strongest light on the coast. Following extensive renovations, the structure was reopened for tours that run between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily. Both the keeper's house and the lighthouse are on the National Register of Historic Places.
The lighthouse in Yaquina Bay is notable for being the oldest structure in Newport. The only Oregon lighthouse to have its keeper's quarters attached to the light, it also holds the distinction of being the shortest-run light. Another lighthouse was planned for Cape Foulweather in 1873, but logistical difficulties led to its construction at Yaquina Head. Because the Yaquina Head Lighthouse was taller and brighter, the government elected to extinguish the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse in 1874, only three years after it was built. Privately managed, the lighthouse is now only open Wednesday through Sunday, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Active from 1890 to 1963, the Cape Meares Lighthouse was up for demolition until public outcry convinced the Coast Guard to preserve it. Looking to the south, you can see Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge from here. Since 1980 the lighthouse has been open to the public, and tours are available April through October. The always-popular Octopus Tree, a uniquely shaped Sitka spruce, is located just a short walk from the parking area.
While "Terrible Tilly" (as the lighthouse became known) is not publicly accessible, the story of the light is impressive and worth contemplating from Indian Beach in Ecola State Park. Surveying for construction began in 1879, and the death of the lead surveyor John Trewavas offered a somber start. His first day on the rock, Trewavas slipped, fell into the water, and his body was never recovered. After 575 days of work done in the most perilous of conditions, the light was lit in 1881. It was not uncommon for the frequent and wild storms to smash boulders through the roof of the keeper's quarters, followed quickly by heavy flooding as seawater rushed in through the holes. Keepers were rotated frequently due to the heavy mental toll the duty took on men. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1957 after a red whistle buoy was installed at sea a mile further seaward of the rock. Perhaps the tenacity of this lighthouse and its keepers is best appreciated on a stormy winter's day when the full fury of the ocean is on display.
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