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OREGON’S SOUTH COAST: THE CALIFORNIA BORDER TO CAPE ARAGO

Posted on January 18, 2011

California’s densest redwood forests greet the state of Oregon here, where the rugged Siskiyou Mountains give way to a series of rocky headlands and the mighty Rogue River cuts a path to the Pacific. Coastal rainforests on the south coast are considered among the most diverse in the country.

Take 101 North from the California border to Brookings. This particular segment of coastline enjoys the warmest coastal weather in the entire Pacific Northwest.  Flowers thrive here, especially Easter lilies and other varieties known to prefer winter months. You might take a stroll through Azalea Park (watch for signs off 101 just west of the Chetco River Bridge) to enjoy a display of some the area’s most prized blooms. In April and May the azaleas are at their most glorious, but you can count on a beautiful display no matter what the time of year.

We took a short, easy walk through nearby Loeb State Park (farther inland via the same road that took us to Azalea Park). With a printed handout we collected at the Redwood Grove Nature Trail trailhead, we learned how to tell the difference between a coastal redwood and a Douglas fir, the difference between four varieties of ferns, and what to call that gold-bellied creature that kept skittering across our path: a newt! It is a tranquil thing indeed to walk through a forest like this.

Boardman State Park is only 4 miles north of downtown Brookings. This is an absolutely gorgeous stretch of coastline, providing multiple opportunities to pull over and draw inspiration from the beauty of your surroundings. Two stops in particular are simply required now that you’re here: the trail to the Thomas Creek Bridge and the brief walk to Natural Bridge Cove. Both are located very near the north end of the park. Watch for signs.

Boardman Beach

Gold Beach

It’s at Gold Beach that the powerful Rogue River empties into the Pacific Ocean. We love to stay here at Tu Tu’ Tun Lodge. Whatever else you decide to do in this area, don’t miss the chance to sign up for a jet-boat excursion up the mighty Rogue. Some 40 miles of riverside from Gold Beach to Grants Pass are protected within the Siskiyou National Forest, where the only access is by foot or boat, so this is a perfect opportunity for an intimate glimpse into this beautiful wild place. We recommend Jerry’s Rogue River Jet Boats for an entertaining, educational, and invigorating adventure. Boats depart from a well marked dock located in Gold Beach on the south side of the bridge that crosses the Rogue as you travel north on 101. These trips are perfect for all ages, so if you’re traveling with children, consider this a terrific way to spend the day. Jerry’s vessels are modern riverboats custom designed for the river and certified by the Coast Guard, so you don’t have to worry about safety. Tours of different lengths are available, but we encourage you to take the 104-mile excursion to venture deep into the forest and climb some 350 feet up a series of rapids. Allow eight hours for a round trip, which includes lunch or dinner, depending on your departure time. The first leg of the journey takes place in a lovely estuary where temperatures are often chilly, so grab one of the on-board blankets—you won’t need it long as you make your way east into the hotter, drier inland areas. Your guide will describe the gorgeous surroundings and you’ll have fun looking for river otters, birds, deer, and even bears. At the rustic and forested town of Agness, you’ll switch to a smaller boat, one better designed to navigate the narrow gorges, hairpin turns, and shallow rapids ahead. This is truly a voyage now! At Paradise Lodge farther inland, you’ll stop for sustenance before making your reluctant way back to the ocean. Talk to Jerry about the option to spend the night at Paradise Lodge, if you prefer. Guestrooms are small and plainly furnished, but appropriate to this spot so far from civilization!

Bandon

From Gold Beach, continue on 101 North to Bandon. Exit at either Chicago, 2nd, or Delaware Streets and follow the signs to Old Town. Visitors enjoy rambling through Old Town to enjoy the shops and fine galleries or to watch the fishing boats sail in and out of the harbor. But nature is what really calls to you in this corner of the world. At the west end of 11th Street, for example, right off Beach Loop Drive, you’ll find Coquille Point. Take a walk on the paved trail there and enjoy views of beautiful Bandon Beach with its strange sea stacks and profusion of birds. Two miles north of Bandon on 101, a gentle 3-mile road through Bc guides you through coastal forest, along the north bank of the Coquille Estuary, and out to the Coquille River Lighthouse, one of nine stately lighthouses to stand guard along the Oregon coastline.

The old lumber towns of Coos Bay, North Bend, and Charleston are sometimes referred to as Oregon’s “Bay Area,” once an extremely busy commercial hub where the timber industry thrived. Today, visitors are drawn here by three landmarks immediately southwest of Coos Bay via the Cape Arago midway:  Shores Acre State Park, Cape Arago State Park and South Slough National Estuarine Preserve.  (Look for signs to the midway between Bandon and Coos Bay on 101.) Once the grounds of a 20th-century private estate, Shore Acres is now an impressive 743-acre garden, the winner of numerous landscape design awards, and most notable for its many unusual botanicals. At nearby Cape Arago State Park, an easy trail leads north along a ridge to an excellent vantage point for viewing the marine animals that make these offshore rocks their home. On clear days, you can see south to Bandon, but in a winter storm, watch out! Winds can reach epic proportions on this ridge. You might also enjoy a visit to South Slough National Estuarine Preserve, one of seven tidal inlets that collectively form the Coos Estuary. An Interpretive Center is open to the public. It houses exhibits, a video viewing area, and a bookstore, and there is an outdoor amphitheater for special presentations (or just for resting). Several easy trails, varying in length from ¼ mile to 3 miles, give you immediate access to this preserve, which is peaceful yet teeming with life. Try the wonderful Estuary Study Trail, a 3-mile series of scenic loops.

Coquille Lighthouse

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