Exploring Tidepools at the Oregon Coast's Seven Marine Gardens
By Gary Hayes
Published: 07/23/2019  Updated: 08/06/2019
Photos by Gary Hayes

Oregon's seven Marine Gardens are state protected natural areas that offer tidepool exploring at some of the most accessible intertidal areas on the Oregon Coast.

Where Oregon's rocky shores meet the ocean, a fascinating eco-system of colorful and bizarre creatures can be observed as daily low tides reveal the intertidal area that exists at the water's edge. Colorful sea stars, spiked sea urchins, flower-like anemones and hermit crabs living in vacant snail shells are among the many creatures that can be found in these areas.

There are countless places along Oregon's 363-mile coastline to explore intertidal areas, but seven locations known for their accessibility have been designated as State of Oregon Marine Gardens. No collecting or disturbance of any creatures or materials is allowed in these state-protected natural areas, though respecting these fragile ecosystems, treading carefully and not removing any creature should be the rule of the day in any intertidal area.

Plan your visit to Oregon's intertidal areas using the local tide tables and plan on arriving an hour before the low tide. Always remember that tides and waves can vary dramatically from published times, so it's important to always keep an eye on the ocean to avoid getting wet, swamped or stranded. Walk only on sand or bare rock to avoid doing damage to the creatures that often cover the entire surface of rocks. Low tides vary in height and the lowest tides of the year, known as minus tides (lower than average low tides), offer the best intertidal area viewing.

Here's a guide to Oregon's seven Marine Gardens:

Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach

The 235-foot monolithic rock at Cannon Beach towers over an easily accessible intertidal area rich with sea anemones, sea stars and a wide variety of shelled creatures. At many low tides throughout the year, interpreters from the Haystack Rock Awareness Program offer displays, assist with identifying marine life and monitor the intertidal area to protect this popular site from being damaged by visitors who don't understand or respect this amazing natural resource. Haystack Rock is about a 10-minute beach walk from the Gower Street beach access or the Tolovana Beach State Recreation Site parking area.

Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City

A sandstone headland with hundred-foot-tall cliffs, Cape Kiwanda boasts a small but exceptional intertidal area on the south side of the cape. The Marine Garden is located a short walk north of the Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area parking lot at the base of the cape.

Otter Rock

Located to the north of Devil's Punchbowl in Otter Rock, The Marine Garden at Otter Rock can be accessed by a short trail from the Devil's Punchbowl State Natural Area parking lot at C Avenue and 3rd Street. This is a popular recreation area complete with intertidal habitat, seabird colonies and frequent sightings of Harbor Seals who haul-out on nearby rocks. At extremely low tides you can get a look into Devil's Punchbowl from the rocky intertidal area.

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport

A winding stairway near the Yaquina Head Lighthouse leads to a beautiful intertidal area at Cobble Beach. The rocky intertidal shelf is home to many creatures including a good population of purple sea urchins. Off shore rocks and inaccessible headland areas are home to a large population of nesting seabirds that also attract predators such as Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles. Seals are often seen on near shore rocks and rocky shelves and Gray Whales frequent the nearby waters. Located nearby is Quarry Cove offering access and viewing of intertidal areas for less mobile visitors. Yaquina Head is located just north of Newport and a per-vehicle entry fee is charged.

Yachats State Park

Located just two blocks west of downtown Yachats at the mouth of the Yachats River, the State Park and Marine Garden are part of a lovely stretch of coastline with rocky shelves and channels of volcanic basalt. The intertidal area is also good for seabird watching and has Harbor Seal haul-out areas. Follow 2nd Street in Yachats and look for the viewpoint and interpretive signage.

Cape Perpetua Scenic Area

The Cape Perpetua Marine Garden is only a short walk from highway-side parking at Cook's Chasm. The interesting stretch of coastline to the north features a rocky basalt shelf with carved channels that make for great wave watching. Unique attractions like Spouting Horn and Thor's Well can be seen from a paved trail and overlooks. You will find intertidal area access here and along other portions of the trail to the north. Arrive well ahead of low tide and use extreme caution in this intertidal area as large waves and rising tides can quickly envelope the area. You can also reach Cook's Chasm by walking the short Captain Cook Trail from the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center.

Harris Beach State Park

The Harris Beach Marine Garden is located in a crescent-shaped cove as the south end of Harris Beach State Park near Arch Rock. Trails lead from the park road and campground or you can reach the area by walking south on the beach from the day-use area parking lot. Just offshore from Harris Beach is Goat Island, also known as Bird Island, a nod to the massive seabird population it supports. The near shore rocks also provide habitat for seals and sea lions. Harris Beach State Park is located just north of Brookings.
Exploring Tidepools at the Oregon Coast's Seven Marine Gardens