Oregon’s Sentinels: Lighthouses on the Oregon Coast
Oregon’s surviving coastal lighthouses serve as visible, accessible links to the past – monuments to Oregon’s maritime heritage.
Newport’s Yaquina Head Lighthouse Although unoccupied by resident light keepers since the arrival of modern technology, some of the unique, classic lighthouse structures remain as much a part of Oregon’s rugged coastal landscape as any land form or offshore monolith. Built on prominent headlands or near major estuaries supporting maritime activity, most of these stations were established by the former U.S. Lighthouse Board between 1870 and 1896 with design and construction aid provided by the U.S. Corps of Engineers. Ultimately, the U.S. Coast Guard became the caretaker of the properties and keeper of the lights.
After installing automated beacons in the 1960s, the Coast Guard began transferring their lighthouse holdings to other government agencies. The transfers prompted vigorous restoration efforts preserving the predominantly brick towers and frame dwellings that once sheltered the light keepers. All nine lighthouses have been named to the National Register of Historic Places, and seven are now open for public inspection and regularly scheduled summer
Lighthouses You Can Tour
Aided by interpretive displays, historical accounts and a little imagination, you can now gain some insight about what life was like for the light keepers who lit the way for mariners off Oregon’s perilous coastline.
Climb to the lantern or tower watch rooms at some of the locations and experience the panoramic sights once enjoyed by the light keepers. Also hear the sounds of the seabirds and the wind that accompanied their isolation.
Regularly scheduled tours are offered at the Cape Blanco, Heceta Head, Umpqua River, Yaquina Bay and Yaquina Head lighthouses. The Cape Meares and Coquille River lighthouses have public exhibit areas; tours may be arranged upon request.
For updated information on when tours are offered, call the State Parks Information Center – 1-800-551-6949.
Most of Oregon’s lighthouse locations doubled as excellent wildlife viewpoints. A few lighthouses tower above sites listed among the state’s premier watchable wildlife areas in the Oregon Wildlife Viewing Guide.
Several lighthouse sites are outstanding whale lookouts and storm watching destinations during late fall, winter and early sprint.
North Coast – Astoria to Tillamook
Tillamook Rock Lighthouse Located 1.2 miles seaward off Tillamook Head south of Seaside Tillamook Rock Lighthouse stands 133 feet above sea level with 62-foot-high tower on basalt rock islet. Exposure to storm waves let to nickname “Terrible Tilly.” It was commissioned in 1881 to help guide ships entering the Columbia River and was replaced by whistle buoy in 1957. The only privately owned Oregon coast lighthouse on National Register of Historic Places; it is now used as a columbarium, a storage place for ashes of the deceased and offers no public access. Oregon coast trail on Tillamook Head between Ecola State Park and Seaside offers closes views; also visible from park’s Indian Beach parking lot. Day-use fee: $3.00 per vehicle or annual permit.
Cape Meares Lighthouse
Located 10 miles west of Tillamook and the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, Cape Meares Lighthouse can be viewed from the Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint. It stands 217 feet above ocean; and its 38-foot tower makes it the shortest on the Oregon coast. Illuminated in 1890 it was replaced by automatic beacon in 1963. Trails leads from the main parking are to the lighthouse and viewpoints overlooking offshore islets inhabited by Steller sea lions and nesting seabirds.
Central Coast Newport to Florence
Yaquina Head Lighthouse
Just off the Pacific Coast Scenic byway just north of downtown Newport this 93-foot-high tower is the tallest on the Oregon coast. It stands 162 feet above sea level and was illuminated in 1873. The automated light serves as an aid to navigation along the seacoast and at the entrance to Yaquina Bay. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, which offers close-up views of seabird nesting areas. The Natural area exhibits, trails to the tide pools are accessible year-round. Visitor fee $2 to $5 per person.
Yaquina Bay Lighthouse
Located in the Yaquina Bay State Recreation Site on the north end of the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport Yaquina Bay Lighthouse is the second oldest standing lighthouse structure on Oregon’s coast. It was only in service from 1871 to 1874 until Yaquina Head Lighthouse was commissioned. The 40-foot tower with decorative light rises from the Cape Cod style house. It is one of the few Pacific Coast lighthouses built with a light keeper’s living quarters in the same building as the tower and is presumably haunted by a legendary ghost. Open as a museum daily, May-September and on weekends all year-round. While there is no day-use fee donations are gladly accepted.
Heceta Head Lighthouse
Just 12 miles north of Florence Heceta Head Lighthouse is located on the west side of a 1,000-foot-high Heceta Head and stands 205 feet above the ocean. Its 56-foot tower was illuminated in 1894; and with its automated beacon can be seen 21 miles from land ranks it as the strongest light on the Oregon coast. Historic assistant light keeper’s house (Heceta House; built in 1893) offers bed and breakfast and facilities for group events, an experience you’ll not soon forget. Offshore rocks and headlands provide abundant seabird nesting sites. The trail to the lighthouse and assistant light keeper’s house leads from the Heceta Head Lighthouse State Viewpoint parking area. Day-use fee $3 per vehicle or annual permit.
Umpqua Lighthouse. National Park Service photo. Umpqua River Lighthouse
Located just 6 miles south of Reedsport the Umpqua River Lighthouse sits just above the entrance to Winchester Bay. An earlier structure, commissioned on the north spit of the river in 1857, was the first lighthouse sited on Oregon’s coast. It fell into the river in 1861 after sand eroded under its foundation. The current structure with its 65-foot tower overlooks sand dunes from a 165-foot elevation on the south side of the bay. Identical in design to Heceta Head Lighthouse its light was also illuminated in 1894. Lens emits distinctive red and white automated flashes. The Douglas County Parks and Recreation Department maintain the structure and museum.
Cape Arago Lighthouse
Cape Arago lighthouse is located 12 miles southwest of the cities of North Bend and Coos Bay just off the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway. Standing 100 feet above the ocean on a islet just off Gregory Point and 2.5 miles southwest of the entrance to Coos Bay. The light atop the 44-foot-high tower was illuminated in 1934. Although newest in terms of service, earlier structures were built on site in 1866 and 1908, which both succumbed to weather and erosion. Listen carefully for its unique fog horn. This lighthouse is not open to the public, but good views are available from the trail at Sunset Bay State Park south of the lighthouse. Like Yaquina Head Lighthouse, the Bureau of Land Management also manages this lighthouse.
Coquille River Lighthouse
In Bullards Beach State Park, located just two miles north of Bandon on the north bank of the Coquille River is located the Coquille River Lighthouse. It was commissioned in 1896 to guide mariners across a dangerous bar. It was decommissioned in 1939 following improvements to the river channel and other navigational aids but restored in 1979 as an interpretive center. Open year-round during daylight hours with tours to the tower watch room guided by park staff and volunteers upon request. Solar-powered system operated the light atop its 40-foot octagonal tower.
Cape Blanco Lighthouse
Towering above the western-most point in Oregon, Cape Blanco Lighthouse is nine miles north of Port Orford just off the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway. The oldest standing lighthouse on Oregon’s coast it was commissioned in 1870 to aid shipping generated by gold mining and the lumber industry. Its clifftop location is 245 feet above the ocean and its conical tower rises 59 feet. Automated equipment was installed by the U.S. Coast in 1980. This lighthouse stands above a highly rated wildlife viewing area. The Bureau of Land Management, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and local Native American tribes cooperatively manage the visitor program.