Historic Lighthouses – The Oregon Coast

As you know by now, we love to visit the historic lighthouses around the country. Whether on the shores of the Atlantic or numerous ones on the Great Lakes, these lifesaving structures and the dedicated people who operated them have captured the imaginations of thousands.

The Oregon Coast, also called the “Peoples Coast” because of the long stretches of land accessible to the public, is home to nine historic lighthouses. It has taken several trips to the coast but we have been able to visit eight of the nine existing ones. Most of the Oregon lighthouses were built between 1870 and 1896 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and all the remaining ones have been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

This year we were able to visit the southern Oregon Coast and that allowed us to visit the ones that we had previously missed. The coast is popular during the summer since the daily temperatures can be 10-20 degrees cooler than the populous central valley of the state. Don’t think for a minute think that these beaches are like Florida beaches. It can be cold even in the middle of the summer with the locals building fires on the beach to stay warm.

The rugged coast that is often shrouded with fog and clouds has its own special beauty. Add in the jagged cliffs and large sand dunes and you have a special place to visit.

The most southern lighthouse is the Camp Blanco Lighthouse near the small town of Port Orford. It is the oldest standing lighthouse on the Oregon Coast commissioned in 1870.

On our second try we were able to visit the Coquille River Lighthouse in good enough weather to photograph. It was commissioned in 1896 and is near the town of Bandon, Oregon.

Farther north near the largest town on the southern Oregon coast, Coos Bay, is the Cape Arago Lighthouse. It is set apart from the coastline and is not open to the public. The best views of the lighthouse are along a coastal trail near Sunset Bay State Park.

Near the town of Reedsport is the Umpqua River Lighthouse. It is located high on a coastal ridge overlooking the Winchester Bay. This lighthouse is easy to access and it even has its own museum.

One of the most striking locations for a lighthouse is found at Heceta Head. The beautiful treed setting is a popular site for weddings and it offers the opportunity to spend the night in the lightkeeper’s house. This region of the Oregon Coast north of Florence is beautiful and rugged. This may be the most popular Oregon lighthouse.

Near the town of Newport is the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse which is the second-oldest standing lighthouse on the Oregon Coast. We drove nearby and did not realize that there are two with Yaquina in their names and we missed it.

The Yaquina Head Lighthouse was first illuminated in 1873 and is 162 feet above sea level. This structure stands on federal land and is part of the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. This spot can be very windy and we were advised to point our car toward the wind to avoid having the doors blown off!

Just a few miles inland from the coast the weather can be warm and beautiful but at this lighthouse’s location it can be entirely different. We were never able to have sunny weather at the Cape Meares Lighthouse. This one is the shortest (38 feet) Oregon Lighthouse and is definitely worth the visit.

The northern-most lighthouse is nicknamed “Terrible Tilly.” The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse is situated over a mile away from the mainland on a tall basalt rock island and is exposed to fierce Pacific Ocean forces. At the time this lighthouse was erected, it was the most expensive ever built on the West Coast. Over the years the terrible storms have damaged the lighthouse, the island, and even shattered the lens. It was decommissioned in 1957 and now is privately owned. In its recent history it has even served as a columbarium since the 1980s.

These lighthouses are visited by over 2.5 million visitors a year and they are a highlight of any Oregon Coast trip. The “Peoples Coast” is well worth putting on your bucket list!

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