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Touring the Oregon Coast's Lighthouses
Published: 09/08/2013  Updated: 12/18/2014
Coquille River Lighthouse near Bandon, Oregon.
Coquille River Lighthouse near Bandon, Oregon.
Photo By Gary Hayes

Nine historic lighthouses along the Oregon Coast can still be viewed today and several are open to the public.

Oregon's coastal lighthouses are visible links to the past, existing somewhere between land, sea and sky, these towering sentinels showcase the Northwest's nautical legacy from an entirely novel perspective.

These watchtowers remain as much a part of Oregon's rugged coastal landscapes as any landform or off shore monolith. They are among the most scenic and most photographed monuments on Oregon's coast, and seven of the lighthouses remain open to visitors, welcoming more than two-and-a-half million tourists each year.

Most of Oregon's lighthouses are in close proximity to state parks and provide year-round recreational activities. Situated on rocky outposts, lighthouses double as excellent wildlife viewing areas and outstanding lookouts for storm watching and migrating whales.

Here's our tour of Oregon Coast lighthouses from north to south:

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse: The Iron Lady
Location: 1.2 miles off Tillamook Head, just south of Seaside
Tower first lit: 1881
Current status: Deactivated in 1957
This iron, brick and basalt beauty was erected atop a rocky islet to guide ships piloting toward the treacherous entrance to the Columbia River. Buffeting waves can hurtle stones as high as the 133-foot-high lighthouse lantern, and at least one surveyor died while attempting to land at the lighthouse. No surprise, then, that she's known in these parts as "Terrible Tilly." Today, Tilly is privately owned, but visitors can catch prime views along the Oregon Coast Trail or at Ecola State Park's main viewpoint. She's also visible from Cannon Beach and Seaside proper.
Click here to go to Google Maps

Cape Meares Lighthouse: The Humble Beacon
Location: 10 miles west of Tillamook, at the southern entrance to Tillamook Bay
Tower first lit: 1890
Current status: Deactivated in 1963
The humblest among Oregon's lighthouses, this brick and iron octagon rises just 38 feet from its perch 217 feet above the ocean. The original lighthouse lens, which guided many a mariner to safe harbor in days of old, remains in place. This lighthouse is accessible along a scenic trail with panoramic views of marine life. You might catch a glimpse of whales, seabirds, Steller sea lions, or something even more fantastical: rumor has it a ghost is also hanging about the grounds. Open daily April through October, 11-4pm.
Click here to go to Google Maps

Yaquina Head Lighthouse: The Commanding Column
Location: Three miles north of the entrance to Yaquina Bay
Tower First Lit: 1873
Current status: Automated since 1966
This conical brick bastion, looming 162 feet above the ocean on a narrow spit of land jutting due west, boasts a 93-foot tower accessible by 114 steps straight up. It's the tallest lighthouse on the Oregon coast, and known for its unique flashing beacon pattern. Located within the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, this lighthouse is surrounded by a seascape so scenic and classically coastal, you'll wonder if you've stepped into an Edward Hopper painting. Open 11-4pm closed Wednesdays in high season; hours reduced October through May.
Click here to go to Google Maps

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse: The Time Tested Tower
Location: Yaquina Bay State Recreation Site
Tower First Lit: 1871
Current status: Deactivated in 1874; Restored in 1996 as a privately maintained navigational aid
It guided seafarers for a mere three years before it was upstaged by nearby Yaquina Head Lighthouse, but this 42-foot-high wooden structure has certainly withstood the test of time as well as the notorious ravages of the coastal elements. Today it's the second-oldest standing lighthouse on the Oregon coast,and purported to be the oldest standing structure in Newport. Its 161-foot high beacon still beckons seagoing ships, thanks to the patronage of ta band of local lighthouse lovers. Open daily except for holidays; hours reduced October through May.
Click here to go to Google Maps

Heceta Head Lighthouse: The Watchtower Restored
Location: 12 miles north of Florence
Tower first lit: 1894
Current status: Automated since 1963
This stuccoed brick bastion towers high above a stunningly scenic viewpoint. Poised at the edge of the 1,000-foot high Heceta Head, a popular spot for nesting seabirds, its 56-foot tower looms 205 feet above the ocean. Historic restorations were completed this year, and the lighthouse's 1000-watt quartz bulb – said to be the brightest on the coast – is once again visible up to 21 miles offshore. Heceta Head also offers bed and breakfast accommodations in the assistant light keepers house. Open daily during high season; tours available by appointment year-round.
Click here to go to Google Maps

Umpqua River Lighthouse: The Second-Chance Beacon
Location: Above the Umpqua River, at the entrance to Winchester Bay
Tower first lit: 1894
Current status: Automated since 1966
This stucco and brick column is actually the predecessor of the Oregon coast's very first lighthouse, which tumbled inauspiciously into the Umpqua River in 1861 following a particularly fierce storm. The 65-foot tower looms 100 feet above a serene stretch of sand dunes. And, no, you aren't seeing double: this lighthouse bears a striking resemblance to its sister structure at Heceta Head. After dark, watch for the unique red-and-white flashes emanating from this steadfast lighthouse.
Open daily May through October, 10-4pm.
Click here to go to Google Maps

Cape Arago Lighthouse: The Latest Lookout
Location: Gregory Point, 12 miles southwest of Coos Bay
Tower first lit: 1934
Current status: Automated since 1966
This 44-foot-tall lighthouse towers 100 feet over the ocean at the edge of a small, fist-shaped island near Coos Bay. The structure stands on the site of two previous lighthouses, both of which fell prey to the whims of erosion and inclement coastal weather. Today, it is owned by the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Suislaw Indians. This lighthouse is not accessible to the public, but head to the overlook just south of Sunset Bay Campground to catch a good gander. And keep an ear pealed: Cape Arago's signature foghorn is sure to surprise you.
Click here to go to Google Maps

Coquille River Lighthouse: The Inland Guidepost
Location: Entrance to the Coquille River
Tower first lit: 1896
Current status: Deactivated in 1939; lit ceremonially each December
Head to Bullards Beach State Park to gaze upon this conical brick and stucco beauty, which boasts a 40-foot tower and a foundation hewn from locally sourced stone. This lighthouse shepherded many a nervous mariner over a dangerous sandbar until the construction of a jetty eased the way inland. The lighthouse sat in disrepair for decades, but recent restoration efforts have revived the crumbling structure, and a solar-powered light now sits in place of the original lens.
Click here to go to Google Maps

Cape Blanco Lighthouse: The Sturdy Sentinel
Location: Nine miles north of Port Orford
Tower first lit: 1870
Current status: Automated since 1980
Nestled 256-feet up on a chalky-white cliff jutting a mile-and-a-half out into the Pacific Ocean, this brick structure bears the title of oldest standing lighthouse on the Oregon coast, and she's located smack dab on the westernmost point in all of the state. Blanco was originally commissioned to guide ships associated with the gold and lumber industries, and was built in part out of bricks commissioned from a local tradesman. Today, she's perched in prime sight of plenty of fantastic coastal wildlife habitat. Open April through October 10-3:30pm, closed Tuesdays.
Click here to go to Google Maps - By Erin J. Bernard

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