We awoke on Saturday before 6 am to try to get as close to the redwoods as possible before dark. During this time of year, it starts getting dark before 5 pm. We knew we needed to get on the road to have enough time during the daylight to see all the sights we wanted to see along the way. We usually try to pack the night before something like this, but this was a spur of the moment road trip, so we didn’t get on the road as early as we had hoped. We loaded up the car, stopped for gas and fueled up at Dutch Bros with the best coffee in the Northwest. With our thirst quenched and cameras ready, we drove on. The first stop along the way was Depoe Bay, a small charter town. Their claim to fame is having the smallest harbor in the world. It is also known as the whale watching capital of the world, with good reason. If you would like to know more about whale watching on the Oregon Coast, see my post Top 7 Things to do on the Siletz Bay in Lincoln City.
The sun was shining, what a great start to an (almost) winter day on the coast. As we got to Seal Rock near Waldport, it started to drizzle, but it was still so beautiful. Sometimes, the overcast days on the Oregon Coast are the most picturesque. We crossed over the Alsea River into Waldport and kept driving South on U.S. Route 101 toward Yachats. On our way to Florence, we stopped at the Heceta Head Lighthouse, which is located at Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint halfway up a 205-foot-tall headland. We didn’t get to stay long, it was raining sideways and we were ready to get to the redwoods.
Further down the coast, we came to Reedsport, located along the majestic Umpqua River. It was in this stretch where we started seeing waterfalls along the highway, it’s such a beautiful drive. One of my favorite drives in Oregon is along the Umpqua River Highway from Reedsport to Roseburg. In the spring there are many waterfalls along the way and in the fall it’s equally as pretty with all the colors of the leaves changing. Near Reedsport the landscape reveals the dunes of the Oregon Coast which stretch across 40 miles of coastline. Thrill seekers flock by the thousands every year to ride all types of off road vehicles on these unique mini mountains of sand. The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is the largest area of sand dunes on the coast, some as high as 500 feet tall. The Umpqua River Lighthouse stands guard at the entrance to Winchester Bay and Salmon Harbor. Winchester Bay was always a favorite place of ours to go camping and crabbing off the pier before we ever moved to the coast.
A little down Highway 101 is Coos Bay, the largest city on the Oregon Coast. Along with its close neighbor North Bend, the two are often referred to as the “Bay Area”. Don’t expect expansive beach views here, the city is found a little inland and has a long and colorful history with many firsts in Oregon. For people who like history, the Historic Marshfield District has several buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Among these is a 92 year old theater with approximately 400 seats and home of the “Little Ole Opry on the Bay”. Just West of Coos Bay is Charleston, have your camera ready because Cape Arago is where you will find those expansive ocean views. The Cape Arago Lighthouse cannot be seen up close as it resides on an island and can only be seen from a distance (or a boat :)).
As we we reached Bandon it was getting dark. Our timing couldn’t have been better. As we drove past the downtown area we noticed it was closed off, apparently for a Christmas parade. What a perfect way to end the day. We walked down the street lined with Christmas lights. Everywhere we looked, little shops were offering cookies and hot cider. The town was so festive with the sounds of caroling heard over the speakers and a beautifully decorated Christmas tree in the square. The locals gathered around talking, there was laughing all around, and an overall good feeling in the air. We popped into an inviting little candy shop named Bandon Sweets and Treats. They had all varieties of candies and chocolates. We tried the chocolate covered gummy bears, which were surprisingly really good. People started crowding the streets with excitement to see the parade. By the turnout in this sleepy little beach town, we expected a great show. We heard the siren as the parade started. The kids all took their front row positions waiting for candy to be tossed to them. A decorated hotrod, a few trucks with lights, and a reindeer semi truck drove by tossing out candy canes along the way. In a flash it was over. Although it was short, very short, not one person left disappointed and several exclaimed that it was bigger than last year. It was a wonderful experience, and a memory I will take well into my future. Many hung around and visited like they didn’t want the festivities to end so soon. As we walked the long way back to car, we passed by several shops of all kinds with lights and holiday decorations in the windows. We saw a small harbor with a few decorated boats where we had to stop and take some photos. They looked so pretty with the twinkling lights sparkling on the water.
We found a great little beachfront cottage to stay in, at Windermere on the Beach. It was absolutely perfect, it had a full kitchen so we could prepare our own food, which we usually prefer to do. Windermere on the Beach is also pet friendly, for those with furry travel companions. We stopped at the local grocery store, which was surprisingly busy for such a small town and that time in the evening. I talked to a sweet elderly lady who talked us into an “old fashion” apple juice (we weren’t even looking for juice, but she was so convincing we had to try it), and I have to say, I’m so glad we did because it was delicious! We checked into our cottage, settled in and began a game of Chinese Checkers. It was so much fun. The ocean was really loud, as it always is, from the winter weather and created a nice roaring sound in the background for a little bedtime ambience. My little boy and I peered out the 2nd story window facing the ocean where we could see the moonlight on the water highlighting each incoming wave. It was a special moment as we watched the ocean in awe and wonder. In the night, we could hear the strong winds throwing rain against the beach facing windows as the stormy weather blew in. We turned the heater up as it turned into a very cold night.
We started our day before dawn, this was the day we had all been waiting for. We were finally going to get to see the redwoods (our favorite place on earth, so far). We were ready to get on the road, but before we did, we watched the pastel colors of the sunrise wash over the ocean from behind the large wall of windows. After some hot coffee and a nice home cooked breakfast, we packed up and headed down the road. Face Rock Wayside was just around the corner from where we stayed. We stopped to admire the view and caught a rainbow over the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge as we started our day.
Just outside of Bandon, on our way to see the Cape Blanco Lighthouse, we passed by some cranberry bogs. There was a sign for the Historic Hughes House, we were curious, so we drove up the road to see what it was. It turns out, it’s a 3,000 square foot Queen Anne-style home that was built in 1898 on Cape Blanco for a pioneer dairy farmer. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They do tours to show what life was like at the turn of the last century. The Victorian home boasts views of the Pacific Ocean, the Sixes River, and distant rolling hills. When we got to the lighthouse we were taking pictures when a Coast Guard helicopter flew over (making for a perfect photo opportunity) and stayed in the area hovering in the wind and scanning the beaches. Living on the coast, we see this from time to time, so we weren’t too alarmed. They were most likely training. The strong winds around the cape likely provided ideal conditions for training exercises. Further down our route we pulled into Port Orford, another tiny town having typical coastal charm. South of Port Orford is Prehistoric Gardens, a great place to stop if you like ancient history and dinosoars. There, you are guided through a coastal rainforest, past 23 life-size dinosoar replicas. They are also pet friendly, like many places on the Oregon Coast. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to stop this time since we were ready to get to the redwoods. We will definitely put it on our list for the next time we pass through. Next down the coast, we came to Gold Beach. Between Gold Beach and Brookings we crossed the highest bridge in Oregon, which stands 345 feet above Thomas Creek and is 956 feet from end to end. This area is beautiful with emerald green hills and the mounds of coastal rocks jutting out of the water standing firm against the crashing waves. If you’re the adventurous type, you might enjoy a ride on a jet boat speeding down the Rogue River, it’s a blast and an experience you’ll never forget. This is is also one of the only few Mail Boats left in the nation. They still deliver the mail to Agness, 32 miles upriver, on a daily basis. You can ride on the 64 mile round trip, traveling at times in just inches of water. You will see lots of wildlife on this adventure. If you love fishing, you are in the right place. The Rogue River offers world class salmon and steelhead fishing with many fishing guides to choose from. Rafting and kayaking is also very poplular on the Rogue. Arch Rock was our last stop before moving away from the coastline toward the bumpy dirt road leading to the Oregon Redwoods Trail.
You might notice that the weather is milder here than the rest of the coast. The area around Brookings is considered the “Banana Belt” of Oregon. Oregon has a Banana Belt? Many people don’t know that Oregon has a varied climate from high desert to rain forests. Due to the oceanic influences, the redwoods have very consistent temperatures year round, averaging in the mid 40’s to low 60’s (Fahrenheit). Winters are cool with quite a bit of precipitation. From October through April, a high pressure area sitting above the North Pacific drives a series of storms onshore, dumping the majority 60-80 inches of annual rainfall over the region. Fog provides as much as one quarter of the precipitation needed for these giants to survive. The coastal redwood species only grows in this region of the world, thanks to the mild climate. Coast Redwoods persist on a narrow strip of land called the “Fog Belt” approximately 470 miles in length and 5–47 miles in width along the Pacific Coast of North America. The most southern grove is in Monterey County, California, and the most northern groves are in extreme Southwestern Oregon, near Brookings on the Oregon Redwoods Trail. It’s a pretty rough ride in a car, which I wouldn’t recommend. There were a few bad places in the road but I figured if we could make it through Moab Easter Jeep Safari, we can make it through this. We didn’t come all this way for nothing. There was a small, but steady flowing stream flowing in one of the tire ruts all the way down the road. Next time, I think we’ll take the Jeep.
We arrived at the end of the road and it was obvious where the trailhead was. We hurried out and excitedly walked up the trail into the deep forest where the tall trees surrounded us everywhere we looked. Oh how I missed being among these amazing creatures of the forest. The oxalis (looks like large clover) and ferns blanketed the forest floor in a lush preshistoric setting. As we moved further down the trail, the fog settled into the big trees creating a mysterious atmosphere. This always makes me feel right at home. It’s so welcoming to anyone who will find it and stop for a moment to take in the serenity of this ancient place. If you want to be inspired, this is the place to be. Half way through the loop you’ll find an 800 year old, 296 ft tall, and 34 feet in circumference old growth redwood. These giants average 8 to 20 feet, yes, 20 feet in diameter! Some reaching as high as 379 feet tall. That’s taller than the Statue of Liberty. Can you imagine seeing a tree taller than the Statue of Liberty? Now that’s impressive! Near the middle of the trail loop you can walk into the hollow of one of these giants and look up through the inside. You don’t really get the scope of the size of the redwood trees until you are standing among them looking up in awe as they tower around you. As always, we were not let down and decided that we had to see more. We saw some massive trees on this trail but I have to say, if you want to see the really big ones, venture south just into California (only about 30 minutes away). Our favorite drive of all is near Jedediah Smith State Park on Howland Hill Road. It’s only about 30 minutes away from the Oregon Redwoods Trail and takes you on a one lane winding dirt path, past the famous Stout Grove. It winds through pristine old growth redwood forest that seems to be untouched and timeless, aside from the bumpy dirt road leading you through. When you see a redwood tree for the first time, you feel as if you are in their world, not the other way around. The bark on the trees have soaring, deep, vertical grooves that seem to reach for the canopies high above. If you have a love for adventure, you can hike the 27 miles of the Oregon Coast Trail that winds through these massive forests. On this hike you will also experience unbelievable vistas, multiple forested sea stacks, seaside prairies, small secluded beaches, and rugged cliffs.
The second place in Oregon you can see redwoods is the Alfred Loeb State Park, which sits on the Chetco River in a 200 year old myrtlewood forest. You may also enjoy camping or staying in a cabin rental and doing some fishing. Be sure to pick up a free brochure at the trailhead to help guide you to better understand the varied plant species you will see on the Redwood Nature Trail. Interpretive signs exhibit forest ecology, the redwood life cycle, fire history, wildlife, and botany. From the park, the Riverview Trail follows the Chetco 0.7 miles before crossing the road and entering the 1.2 mile Redwood Nature Loop. This is the furthest North that the redwood trees are located.
Redwoods can live a thousand years or more and are resistant to insects and disease. They never stop growing. Their name, Sequoia sempervirens, means “forever living” or “forever green”. A typical redwood forest contains more biomass per square foot than any other area on earth, including the amazonian rain forests. At one time, they were found almost worldwide. Ferns crowd the ground beneath these magical trees. The Western sword fern is the most abundant and typical understory of the forest and can reach almost 4 feet tall, you definitely feel like you are in a fantasy world walking among ferns that are almost as tall as you are. They can be so thick in the forest that you can barely walk through them, there is a very tropical feel. Throughout the forest you will see myrtle woods, tan oaks, huckleberries, and rhododendrons. You will also see strange knots growing on the sides of the redwood trees. These are burls, and can grow to be huge and very sought after by wood workers. Collecting these is against the law though. If you just can’t get enough of the redwoods, venture about a half an hour south into Klamath, California where at the Trees of Mystery, and you can buy a burl to grow your own redwood tree!
For a little nostalgia, near Klamath is where you’ll find the famous drive through tree. While you’re down that way, stop in to the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park to see some of the largest Redwoods in existence. This is where you will find the absolute biggest of the coastal redwoods. There is an elk viewing area as well, where you can get some amazing photos. Every time I visit the redwoods, I take memories with me that will be cherished forever. There’s a feeling there that cannot be explained and must be experienced once in your lifetime. If you have never had the chance to see the redwoods in person, I hope that one day you will make this unforgettable trip.