There is nothing quite like the Oregon coast. With 363 miles of free and open to the public coastlines, there’s countless ways to experience such beauty and landscape. And, for those who’ve made the trek to Oregon’s border to the west, we’re sure you’ll agree that there is nothing quite like that of the state’s unique and historic lighthouses.
A Brief History of Lighthouses
Dating back literally thousands of years, one of the earliest known lighthouses was the Lighthouse of Alexandria, which was built-in 280 BC. But it wouldn’t be until the 17th century before lighthouses would become more renown. In Oregon, it would be 1857, two years before officially become a state, that the first federal lighthouse would cast its first light. Located at the mouth of the Umpqua River, unfortunately, it would be four years later when the lighthouse was collapse as it crashed into the river below.
For lighthouses along the Oregon Coast, in those early days, before much technology would later transform the seas as we know it, a lighthouse would mean the difference between safe passage and not. Historically, Oregon’s northwest coastline has not played nice with many of passing ships. The Pacific Ocean in these parts can be downright brutal. Many ships have found their final resting place at the mouth of the Columbia River over the course of centuries. In fact, so many, that part of the coastline is known as the graveyard of the Pacific.
How Many Lighthouses Are In Oregon?
From nearly border to border, at 320 miles apart, a tour of Oregon’s lighthouses is within a day’s reach. Stretching from Tillamook Rock to Pelican Bay in Brookings, fill up that gas tank, grab your camera, and head out on a beautiful drive along the famed Oregon coastline. There are a total of eleven lighthouses waiting for your arrival, so make your next trip a tour of all of the lighthouses of Oregon.
Take A Tour Of Oregon’s 11 Lighthouses
Often times when visiting gift shops across the country, one will find posters with inspirational sayings that feature the lighthouse at Tillamook Rock. Abandoned in 1957, this lighthouse first lit up the sea in 1881. But over the time, the relentless pounding of the sea was just too much. Not open to the public, Tillamook Rock Lighthouse can be seen, albeit with binoculars in hand, from Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach.
Open to the public, the lighthouse at Cape Meares began servicing Oregon’s coastline in 1890. The Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint is located 10 miles west of Tillamook and also features the famed “Octopus Tree” for visitors to enjoy. The site is now managed by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and is open from April through October.
At 93 feet tall, the Yaquina Head Lighthouse is Oregon’s tallest. First lighting up the sea in 1873, this lighthouse stands at a full 162 feet above sea level. The Yaquina Head lighthouse is located north of Newport at the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area.
Built in 1871, it would be 1874 when the historic Yaquina Bay lighthouse was actually decommissioned. Fortunately, for lighthouse lovers and history buffs alike, the lighthouse was officially restored as a privately maintained aid to navigation in December of 1996. It is said to be the oldest structure in Newport, Oregon.
Cleft of the Rock
As one of Oregon’s more recently built lighthouses, Cleft of the Rock has a unique tie to one of the state’s more famous structures. Closed to the public, this privately owned lighthouse was built-in 1976 by Jim Gibbs. Who is Jim Gibbs you ask? Jim was the former keeper of the Tillamook Rock lighthouse. You can see Cleft of the Rock off Highway 101 just south of Yachats, Oregon.
The lighthouse at Heceta Head is one of the Nation’s most photographed lighthouses. Located just north of Florence, Heceta Head was cared for and operated by several families, who also lived on site from 1894 to 1932. The lighthouse is open year round and offers ranger-led tours.
After Oregon’s first lighthouse collapsed into the Umpqua River just four years after opening in 1857, there was no doubt, due to the river being a critical shipping channel, a new lighthouse would need to be erected. The present Umpqua River Lighthouse was built-in 1894 to signal the entrance to the Umpqua River. The park is located near Salmon Harbor on Winchester Bay.
If you want to “gamify” your Oregon Lighthouse experience, finding Cape Arago would be the perfect place to start. Located on the southern coast, limited viewpoints of the lighthouse can be seen at Sunset Bay and Yoakam Point State Parks. Stemming from the collapse of the original Umpqua River lighthouse, just 25 miles to the north, by the time of Oregon’s first lighthouse’s demise, Coos Bay had surpassed the Umpqua River region in commercial importance. With this, Congress appropriated funds for the lighthouse at Cape Arago to be built-in 1864. In 1866, the lighthouse first came to light.
Moving south from Coos Bay to Bandon, Oregon, located atop the north jetty of the Coquille River, sits the Coquille River lighthouse. First lit in 1896, the lighthouse has a storied past with tales of surviving everything from shipwrecks to forest fires. Abandoned in 1939, the Coquille River lighthouse was reopened to the public in 1979 as part of Bullards Beach State Park.
Sitting a full 200 feet above the sea, the Cape Blanco lighthouse is a sight to behold. And with its light being visible 22 miles at sea, the lighthouse is also, a site to be seen. Interesting to note, that due to the amount of shipwrecks at this point, a powerful radio beacon for navigators was actually placed at Cape Blanco. Located just north of Port Orford, Cape Blanco sits at the westernmost tip of Oregon as it extends into the Pacific ocean.
Built in 1999, Pelican Bay is Oregon’s newest lighthouse. It is only the second privately owned lighthouse in Oregon that has been commissioned by the United States Coast Guard. Pelican Bay lighthouse is located on a cliff above Brookings, Oregon, and is the state’s southernmost lighthouse.
What Are You Waiting For?
Of course, a tour of Oregon’s lighthouses is more than just seeing each of the eleven towers. With the sheer beauty of a drive south on Highway 101, you’ll not only do yourself a favor with such a trip, your soul will thank you as well. What’s your favorite Oregon lighthouse? Tell us. We’d love to know.