The Oregon Coast is Wet, Cold, and Smells Like Fish

And so we continued North. Just over the border from California was our first stop on the Oregon coast, the city of Brookings. Brookings was built around a harbor at the mouth of the Chetco River. Like other cities on the Oregon Coast, the big industries are lumber, fishing, and tourism. We ended up staying at Alfred A. Loeb State Park, just a few miles up the Chetco. The difference between Oregon State Parks and California State Parks is huge. Oregon State Parks are well kept, clean, and efficiently run. California, not so much. The campground sits right on the banks of the Chetco and the scenery was pretty great.

Brookings Oregon Harbor

Most people think that the Oregon Coast is cloudy, cold, and rainy. Those people would be correct. Whenever we decided to go on a day trip we had to bring our rain jackets and rain boots. The town of Brookings was pretty nice, although we didn’t see a lot of activity. There was a sign in the harbor about the extensive damage done by the 2011 Japanese Tsunami, which was interesting. We weren’t really aware that any damage occurred on our own West Coast. We also visited a beach just south of town that we had completely to ourselves. We found a huge tree stump which I claim is an ancient redwood. Who knows if that’s really the case, we couldn’t find anything definitive on the internet.

Big Stump on the beach near Brookings, it looks bigger in real life

The rest of our time in Brookings was either spent hunkering down attempting to stay dry in the camper, or day-tripping up the coast. While exploring the coast we did a lot of beachcombing and exploring tide pools. Everywhere we went, we picked up interesting rocks, driftwood, and in one case a Sea Lion bone. The coastal scenery surrounding Brookings was also very nice, with massive sea stacks being pounded mercilessly by unrelenting waves.

Tide pools north of Brookings
Arch Rock

After Brookings, we headed to the town of Gold Beach, just 30 miles to the North. Gold Beach is another town where a big river meets the ocean, in this case, the Rogue River. The Rogue River is arguably even more beautiful than the Chetco. It was one of the original eight rivers named in the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Rogue flows about 215 miles from its origin near Crater Lake. Once again we stayed a few miles upriver rather than in town. We stayed at the affordably priced ($15 per night) Huntly Park. The campground was nearly empty and we were able to stay right on the river, where we could watch the world famous Jerry’s Rogue Jet Boats guide tourists up and down the river.

Great Camping Spot at Huntley Park on the Banks of the Wild and Scenic Rogue River

It rained pretty much the whole time we were in Gold Beach, but hey what did we expect from the Oregon coast? We tried to make the most of it by braving the rain as much as possible. One day we went into the town of Gold Beach to take in the attractions. OK, so there are not many attractions in Gold Beach, but we did see some Seals and Sea Lions in the harbor. We also got to see Jerry’s Jet Boats up close since their headquarters was also at the Marina. There was a sunken ship in the Marina, the Mary D. Hume, a steamer that was used as a cargo ship, whaling ship, and tugboat at various points in her life. It sunk in the midst of preservation efforts and was subsequently abandoned.

Wreck of the Mary D. Hume in Gold Beach Harbor
Future Jerry’s Jet Boat Pilots

We browsed a seafood market near the Marina but didn’t buy anything. I had high expectations for cheap and abundant seafood on the Oregon coast which didn’t really pan out. At every town, I was on the lookout for a good seafood restaurant but also had to be discerning because only one seafood feast was in the budget. We also did some exploring north of town on the Oregon Coast Highway. More sea stacks, more big waves.

Sisters Rocks north of Gold Beach

After Gold Beach, we crept not too far up the coast to our next home at Cape Blanco State Park. Since Cape Blanco is a no-reservation State Park we were able to snatch up a site on the Wednesday before Memorial Day weekend and ride out the busy holiday weekend. Once again we got screwed on the extra vehicle, but it was a small price to pay for camping in the forest with (somewhat obstructed) ocean views. In fact, Cape Blanco may our favorite campground to date. It was just a short walk down through the forest to a grassy cliff with outstanding ocean views, and just a bit further down to a quiet stretch of beach.

View to the North of Cape Blanco Lighthouse
Cape Blanco Camp Site

While at Cape Blanco we visited our first Oregon Coast lighthouse, the appropriately named Cape Blanco Lighthouse. The Cape Blanco Lighthouse is unique in the fact that climbing to the lanternroom is allowed. Everyone except Tommy (the last set of stairs is more like a ladder), got to enjoy the views of the coast while admiring the priceless 19th-century lens. Lighthouse lenses needed to be powerful to amplify oil burning lantern light up to 20 miles out to sea. This particular lens once caught the sun’s rays and started a fire in the nearby forest.

Where I broke my lighthouse cherry

Cape Blanco is just north of the town of Port Orford. The Harbor at Port Orford isn’t deep enough for safe mooring. Instead of mooring, the boats are dropped into and pulled out of the water each day on a dolly dock. The boats are then stored on dry land. We were lucky enough to see a few boats get hoisted out after their day out on the water. While in Port Orford we also visited the Life Boat Station Museum. The station was one of many lifeboat stations built to rescue shipwrecked sailors in the 19th and early 20th century.

At the Life Boat Station Museum
Port Orford Dock Dolly

Just North of the Cape Blanco lighthouse was another nice beach. One morning we hit it at low tide to catch the tide pools where we saw Anemones, Mussels, Starfish, and Urchins. The beach was covered in small jellyfish called By-The-Wind sailors, or Velella Velallas. In the afternoon we hiked just a bit further north of the lighthouse where the Sixes river meets the ocean. Right at the mouth of the river, we spotted a River Otter walking along the shore, before slipping into the water to hunt for food. Otter watching was quite fun since I’d never seen one in nature before.

Stranded Velella Velellas

Another day we traveled north to the town of Bandon. Bandon seemed like much more of a tourist town than the towns further south. This would be a trend, the closer you get to Portland, the busier everything gets. The town of Bandon was pretty neat. Just north of town, we visited the Coquille River Lighthouse.

Coquille River Lighthouse

Back in town, there was the Rock Face Creamery, a cheese factory. We partook in free samples and brought home a couple chunks as well. It was busy. In fact, the whole town was busy due to the holiday weekend. We had planned to hold our seafood feast at the Bandon Fish Market but were turned away by the fact that there was no available indoor seating and it was raining cats and dogs.

Bandon is also home to Washed Ashore, a gallery featuring nautical art constructed from ocean garbage. There was lots of cool art, including a shark, starfish, sea turtle, several fish, and a mock whale skeleton. The boys got a kick out of it, and us grownups absorbed the message that sea trash is indeed bad.

Whale Skeleton Made with Sea Garbage at Washed Ashore
Trash Sea Star at Washed Ashore

Cape Blanco is also where stuff started breaking. A couple days before we were scheduled to leave, our toilet broke. The failure caused water to run non-stop to the toilet as long as the water pump was turned on. This would have flooded the camper in short order if we hadn’t noticed. Since there’s no separate toilet shut off valve, we were without running water until the issue was resolved. I looked around locally for a part but to no avail. For the next few days, we’d have to use public bathrooms. The horror!

Upon leaving Cape Blanco we drove a bit further up the coast to Coos Bay where we could pick up a new valve for the toilet. We stayed one night at Horsfall Campground just north of town. The campground was a big parking lot style campground catering to ATVers who ride the surrounding Oregon Dunes. Not much for amenities, but it was a perfect place to perform toilet surgery. I felt pretty damn good about myself when I was actually able to fix the problem on the first try.

Fashion Forward Tim Fixes the Toilet at Horsfall Campground

The next night we moved north once again and stayed at Lagoon Campground south of Florence. On the way, we stopped at yet another lighthouse, the Umpqua River Lighthouse. Only John and Jackie actually went in for the tour since Tim had had a Canadian style buttfull of lighthouses. The Umpqua River Lighthouse allows visitors to climb up and stick their heads into the lens which John and Jackie both did.

The Lagoon Campground was a very nice Forest Service campground about 1/3 mile from the beach. The sites were very private and when we visited in late May there were only a few other campers. The entire campground was encircled by… yes you guessed it, a lagoon. This lagoon was formerly part of the Siltcoos river that got cut off by a road project. Now it’s basically a big semi-circle pond. Non-native and invasive Nutria have taken up residence in the lagoon, and we were serenaded every evening by their loud grunts.

Dunes and Beach near the Lagoon Campground

Starting from the Lagoon Campground we made an excursion north to explore the area between Florence and Yachats. The day wouldn’t be complete without a lighthouse visit so we started with that. This time it was the Heceta Head Lighthouse. We parked at scenic Cape Cove and then took a short hike up to the lighthouse. The lighthouse was under construction so no climbing to the top, and no tours. Jackie was disappointed but Tim was not heartbroken. The view from the lighthouse grounds was pretty spectacular so the stop was well worth it. After peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by the beach, we drove further north to Cape Perpetua.

Heceta Head Lighthouse

Cape Perpetua is yet another scenic stretch of coastline. We stopped by the visitor center which had some nice exhibits featuring the local aquatic life including large whale bones. There were tide pools which we did our best to explore, but we didn’t see much because we were afraid of taking the kids too close to the surf. Interestingly, we did see tadpoles in some of the tidepools where freshwater streams met the ocean.

Cape Perpetua Visitors Center

Cape Perpetua is home to Thor’s Well and Spouting Horn, two rock features that redirect and spray crashing waves up into the air. I don’t doubt their beauty, but at low tide, they didn’t look like much. To close out our Cape Perpetua stop, we hiked to the scenic overlook on the Whispering Spruce Trail. At the overlook, we found an old stone parapet constructed by the CCC in the 1930s, then artfully graffitied by losers and gangbangers in the ensuing years. The views up and down the coast were stunning though. Then the fog rolled in, and the rain began. A day on the Oregon Coast doesn’t feel complete without at least a little rain. After leaving Cape Perpetua we drove north to Yachats, for a quick drive-by. Yachats seemed like a nice little town with some architecturally interesting houses close to the water. I could live there if it weren’t for that damn Oregon coast weather.

Cape Perpetua from the Lookout Parapet

The Lagoon Campground had a nice nature trail that followed the Lagoon around the campground. We hiked the trail every night keeping our eyes peeled for the grunting Nutria. We never did see one. One night, upon returning from our lagoon hike, we found a puddle of water under the RV. Not good. After ripping apart several panels in the basement we found the leak to be at the output side of the water pump. I fixed that leak by adding Teflon tape to the threads and tightening the connection. Stupidly, I tried to clean the screen filter on the inlet side of the pump. This caused the filter housing to start leaking which I couldn’t stop. I ended up removing the filter completely, and the pump which had been sounding bad for a few weeks started to sound worse than ever. It would have to be replaced but we decided to wait until we got to a town with an Amazon locker so we didn’t get hosed by RV dealer prices.

Our final, and maybe favorite stop on our tour of the Oregon coast was the town of Newport. Newport is home to Rogue Brewing (of Dead Guy Ale fame) and their headquarters are located at the Newport Marina. We dry camped at the Newport Marina. Coincidence? Maybe, Maybe not, but within a few hours of arriving, we were sipping craft beer while looking out on the marina which was perfectly framed by the Yaquina Bay Bridge.

Oh yeah

Newport is a real-life fishing port. On the main drag, Bay Boulevard, you’ll find seafood processing plants on the bay side, and high-end restaurants, tap houses, Ripley’s Believe it or not, and tourist shops on the other. Dock workers outnumber tourists, and forklifts outnumber Teslas, at least for now. You can tell by the smell that these docks aren’t for show. This mixture of grit and fluff provides a delightfully authentic experience. There’s a sea lion viewing platform right off Bay Boulevard, and the boys loved the show, i.e. biting, fighting, barking, and pooping. We finished off our lighthouse tour in Newport, visiting the Yaquina Bay and Yaquina Head Lighthouses respectively.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse

Newport has not one, but two aquariums. One is the free (donation suggested) Hatfield Marine Science Center, and the other is the Oregon Coast Aquarium. The Hatfield center is geared towards kids and features some nice hands-on exhibits, even a touch tide pool with anemones, urchins, and starfish. There were sea lion and seal skeletons which allowed us to verify the bone we picked up earlier was indeed a sea lion arm bone. There were many local aquatic specimens on display, our favorite was probably the Octopus.

Touch Tank at the Hatfield Marine Science Center

Of course, we visited both aquariums. The Oregon Coast Aquarium is the largest in Oregon and has some unique species. The boys had been getting into the Netflix series Puffin Rock, so they were more than delighted to see a sea bird aviary that included a whole mess of Puffins. The layout of the exhibit was great with natural rock habitat above ground, and pools lined with glass that allowed us to see the Puffins’ underwater antics. Besides Puffins, we saw Seals, Sea Lions, Sea Otters, Fish, Sharks, Tide Pool Creatures, Jellyfish, and another Octopus.

The Puffins were a hit!
This Seal Loved to Show Off

Being the last stop on the Oregon coast, Newport was the place for our seafood feast. We decided on the South Beach Fish Market based on several recommendations. It didn’t look like much from the outside, it’s essentially a seafood restaurant inside a gas station. We feasted on Fish and Chips, Fried Razor Clams, a Dungeness Crab Sandwich and Oyster Shooters. After all that we weren’t quite full so we opted for a whole Dungeness Crab and some Salmon Candy. The food was awesome, although it did feel a bit weird to be eating this delicious seafood while watching locals stand in line to buy gas and cigarettes.

Oregon Rule #1: Always Eat Gas Station Seafood

Whew… that was a lot. Anyways there you have it, the Oregon Coast ScottFreeRV style. After leaving Newport we turned inland. Stay tuned for a recap of our Central Oregon adventures.

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