Explore Oregon’s Iconic Coast and Magical Forests, Ancient Tribal Homeland
The Pacific Ocean and its great rivers and tributaries etch the stunning, 363-mile Oregon coastal range. Giant rock monoliths protrude from its waters. Sea lions bask in its caves and caverns. Whales glide over waves during seasonal migrations. Trails wind through densely forested countryside. Camp grounds overlook wild sand beaches. Oregon’s coast is hauntingly beautiful.
Today many coastal Oregon landmarks are named after tribes, like Coos Bay, Umpqua River, and Siuslaw National Forest, after the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw. Their historic homelands extended from the richly forested slopes of the Coastal Range in the east to the rocky shoreline of the Pacific Ocean in the west, a vast region of some 1.6 million acres.
Oregon Coast Trail
The majesty of Oregon’s unique coastline unfolds over bends and coves, its bluffs and capes. Expansive beaches are strewn with craggy rocks, and hiking trails offer unique vantage points to see its wonder. Via Oregon Coast Trail, hikers cross beaches, meander through forest-canopied corridors and traverse headlands. Access Oregon Coast Trail maps here.
Starting at the southern edge of Oregon’s coast near Brookings, you’ll discover its towering Redwoods.
Admire fifty acres of ancient redwood trees, among the state’s pervasive myrtlewood, rhodies and huckleberries, on a mile-long loop on the Redwood Nature Trail. Some old-growth trees surpass 1,000 years in age. Prepare for steep climbs and descents with elevation changes.
Pistol River State Park
Pistol River State Park is set in the dunes of the southern Oregon coast (just 11 miles to the north, you’ll find Gold Beach). This scenic coastal park also offers beach access and opportunities for picnicking, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, windsurfing, swimming, viewing marine wildlife, bird watching, viewing interpretive sites, taking interpretive nature tours, and viewing scenery, according to the state’s tourism website.
Overlooking Coos Bay in North Bend, the Coquille Tribe’s lodge-like Mill Casino Hotel & RV Park is on top of some of the state’s best boating, fishing, crabbing, beachcombing and tidepooling, and just 15 miles from Shore Acres State Park. Stay in one of the elaborately decorated rooms, or hook up your RV in the well-maintained park next to the bay area, where seals often play in the waters. And if a storm kicks in and winds surge to 70 mph, the casino’s 700 Vegas-style slots and table games including blackjack and roulette are there for entertainment.
Another tribal resort nestled among the rolling sand dunes of the Oregon coast is Three Rivers Casino Resort, owned by the Coos, Lower Umpqua & Siuslaw Indians. The Pacific Ocean serves as its backdrop; the quaint coastal town of Florence, its doorstep.
Hobbit Trail weaves through deep, luscious coastal forest, lined with Sitka spruce and rhododendrons. Hike nearly two miles to a secluded beach, then onward to Heceta Lighthouse, which offers tours every 20 minutes. After taking in the pristine shoreline and admiring the broadleaf, evergreen myrtlewood trees that frame it, experience the coastal communities and Florence’s numerous shops that sell fudge, blown glass and salt water taffy. In Florence’s old town, enjoy coffee or lunch while marveling at the Siuslaw River Bridge, a bascule bridge that spans the Siuslaw River on U.S. Route 101.
Additionally, traverse part of the 40 miles of shifting, wind-sculpted sand dunes at Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.
Siuslaw National Forest
Reflect in quiet solitude among three wildernesses featuring coastal forests of old growth Sitka spruce, western hemlock and Douglas fir at Siuslaw National Forest. The Siuslaw National Forest runs from Coos Bay to Tillamook and east-west from the Pacific Ocean to the edge of the Willamette valley.
Four major rivers, the Nestucca, Alsea, Siuslaw, and Umpqua, cut through the forest, carrying Chinook, Coho, and Steelhead. The nearly 32,000-acre Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area runs along 40 miles of coastline from the Coos River to the Siuslaw River. Come here to camp, hike, fish, canoe and more.
Based on their ancestral ties to the forest, the Siuslaw National Forest maintains special relationships with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, and the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians.
Sea Lion Caves
What could warm your heart more than witnessing sea lion cuddles? In the depths of the surround-sound caves, listen to their wild, A Capella sounds.
Just north of Florence, sea lions bask on rocks in one of the largest sea grottos of the world. The connected system of sea caves and caverns open to the Pacific Ocean. While the caves are at sea level, visitors will descend via an elevator deep into the belly of the caves to observe the mammals in close distance, residing in their natural habitat.
Alternatively, watch them dive and twirl underwater in the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s deep water tanks on beautiful Yaquina Bay in Newport.
Just inland from Newport, in Benton County, hike Marys Peak, the highest point in Oregon’s Coast Range at 4,097 feet. Efforts are rewarded at the top with gorgeous 360-degree views of the Coast Range and Willamette Valley.
Sleep steps from the beach and stunning sunsets at the oceanfront Chinook Winds hotel, featuring 243 rooms including 160 overlooking the Pacific. The hotel houses a whirlpool spa and indoor heated swimming pool. Chinook’s Seafood Grill features a stunning low-bank view of the beach and a menu that highlights fresh seafood, with a Native-American twist. Or take in panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean from every table at Rogue River Steakhouse, located at the top of Chinook Winds Casino, open for lunch and dinner with a focus on Pacific Northwest cuisine and serving local wines. On weekend nights after dinner service, a live DJ and dancing turn the space into Rogue River Lounge.
At the Siletz Tribe’s nearby 79-acre golf course, Chinook Winds Golf Resort, 18 holes are carved into mountainsides. The resort additionally an indoor driving range, convenient for the state’s unpredictable weather.
Listen to sound of rushing water and breathe in the cool air of moss-covered forest that surrounds Munson Creek Falls, a 319-foot waterfall, the tallest in the Coastal Range. The waters beneath its serve as vital spawning ground for salmon.
From Tillamook, make your way to the breathtaking Cape Kiwanda. The beachfront swath is known for its waves and wind. Think kites and hang-gliding. But the view of white rock against emerald seas is worthy of a hike alone. The six-mile Tillamook Head trail runs from Seaside to Cannon Beach.
Gray Whales blow, dive, spyhop and breach in Depoe Bay on the migration route from Mexico for winter and birthing to Alaska in summer for eating. About 25,000 whales pass by, though roughly 200 “summer resident whales” call Depoe Bay home during the year’s hottest months. These resident whales regularly return to the bay, identified by their consistent markings and scars. They consume the area’s plentiful shrimp, and come cooler months, return south of the country’s border. Humpback and Blues whales are also occasionally spotted.
This flat, endless beach is widely photographed for its Haystack Rocks rising 235 feet from the edge of the shoreline. One of Oregon’s most recognizable landmarks, The Goonies movie was famously filmed here. Cannon Beach is also home to colorful tidepools and diverse bird life.
At Cannon Beach, you can walk for miles and miles. Fire pits are allowed, and dogs can roam the packed sand. Several state parks surround Cannon Beach: Ecola State Park , Oswald West State Park, Nehalem Bay State Park, Hug Point State Park.
Check out the first installment in our Oregon travel series, dedicated to the funky City of Portland: “Discover Oregon’s Indian Country, Part 1: Portland, a Cultural Hub.” In Part 1, ICMN highlights Bison Coffeehouse, TeePee’s food truck, and Cupcake Jones — all Native-owned and Portland-based (or nearby). Part 2 outlines An Indigenous, Gastronomic Experience, honing in on the abundant food of the state’s fertile valleys to coastal waters. On Thursday, Indian Country Media Network will run Part 4 about the state’s cultural destinations.
This story was originally published April 12, 2017.