Exploring Four Oregon State Parks

Coquille River Lighthouse

As we drove up Highway 101 on the Oregon Coast, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the number of state parks. It seemed every five miles or so there was another park offering such amenities as scenic views, picnicking, camping, beach access, hiking and water sports. Oregon has 255 state parks with 57 of them along the coast. While staying in Bandon, we traveled to several of them and I thought I would share what we found while exploring.

Coquille River Lighthouse

Bullards Beach State Park is located across the Coquille River from the town of Bandon. My main reason for visiting here was to see the Coquille River Lighthouse, built in 1895 which sits close to where the river empties into the ocean. In 1939, an automated beacon was placed at the end of a nearby jetty and it was decided the lighthouse was no longer needed. This adorable lighthouse is one of my all time favorite lighthouses. It was closed for tours after September, so I wasn’t able to take a look inside.

Cape Blanco Light

South of Bandon, Cape Blanco State Park is located at the State’s westernmost tip and features a lighthouse built in 1870. This is the oldest standing lighthouse on the Oregon Coast and the light still shines. In the early days, light was provided by burning hog fat (lard), but today a 1,000 watt bulb keeps the light shining. One of the docents told me that the bulb is changed every few months. Technology can sure be great – no more hauling pig fat around!

Container where hog fat was once stored

Perched dramatically on a headland over the Pacific Ocean, it is a rather long, winding drive to get to the light. Early Spanish explorers named it Cape Blanco or White Cape because of the 200 foot tall, chalky white cliffs. I had read that it tends to be windy here and it certainly was the day I visited. Near the lighthouse are expansive coastal views both north and south. Even with the wind howling, it is a gorgeous location to visit.

View of Cape Blanco Lighthouse and headland
Looking north from Cape Blanco
Looking south from Cape Blanco

So here is a little guy I wasn’t expecting to see. He didn’t pay me any attention as he was busy digging up something.

Porcupine at Cape Blanco

Another day we headed north on 101 from Bandon to Shore Acres State Park, the former estate of Louis Simpson, a shipbuilder and lumberman. On a high bluff above the ocean, Mr. Simpson built a mansion and formal gardens as a summer residence. After the house and grounds fell into disrepair, the property was purchased in 1942 by the State for use as a public park. The mansion was destroyed, but the gardens were restored and are still open for visitors with seasonal plantings. When we visited in mid October there wasn’t much blooming, but the gardens were still lovely to see.

I was happy to see that some hydrangeas were still in bloom
The Japanese Garden was my favorite

From the gardens a trail goes down to Simpson beach, set in a cove.

Shore Acres is well known for huge waves, especially during storms. The waves are best seen from the bluff area where the mansion used to be. The site now has an enclosed observation building where visitors can stay out of bad weather and watch the surf crash over the wall. We weren’t there during a storm and didn’t stay inside the building, but the waves were still fairly rigorous at times. We would love to see them during a really good winter storm, wild and high.

Wave action at Shore Acres State Park

When I visited this park with my sister, daughter and niece in 2001, we took a picture at the dead tree sculpture below. During our recent visit, I was very pleased to run into it again and remember it from the previous trip. I think it makes a great photo op.

Cape Arago State Park is just down the road from Shore Acres. Our first stop at this park was at an overlook for Simpson Reef and Shell Islands which are described on a signboard as a “Five-Star Hotel” for Elephant and Harbor Seals, Stellar and California Sea Lions. The Island is located quite a distance from the shore, so binoculars and a long camera lens were helpful in seeing the wildlife. It became apparent that the sign was right. There were hundreds of them lounging on the Island’s sand and rocks as well as other rocky areas on the reef. In my travels, I don’t think I have ever seen so many seals and sea lions in one place. They seemed to be having a ball – riding the waves, swimming, diving and cavorting.

Seals and Sea Lions gathering at Shell Island

Close to our turnoff for Shore Acres State Park is an overlook for the Cape Arago Lighthouse. This is supposed to be about the best view of the light, although it was still quite a distance away. The light is located on Chiefs Island and is not open to the public. It was built in 1866 and used until 2006. The lighthouse had special significance to several Native American tribes and in 2013, the Coast Guard turned it back over to these Confederated Tribes. It was a grey, foggy morning when we stopped for a look.

Cape Arago Lighthouse

Thanks for checking in and stay tuned for more Oregon Coast travels!

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