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Something is intriguing about a smoky gray, rolling fog. It has a mysterious quality. As much as I am fascinated with the weather phenomenon, I do not enjoy driving in it.
I cannot imagine the terrifying challenge of navigating a ship through a thick fog. We will pay homage to the historic lighthouses along the Oregon Coast, for they are heroes that safely guide mariners along the treacherous rocky shores.
There are many wonders along Highway 101, but visit some of the lighthouses on your journey. We will outline the fabulous Oregon lighthouses from north to south to guide you safely through the fog.
Oregon Lighthouses: A Brief History
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built most of Oregon’s lighthouses in the late 1800s. The U.S. Lighthouse Board initially managed the lighthouses.
In 1939, the U.S. Coast Guard took over these duties. The Coast Guard installed automatic beacons in the 1960s and began to delegate lighthouse management to local government agencies.
Oregon has nine surviving lighthouses, all of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. The state has two other privately owned lighthouses. Let’s explore the historic towers.
Tillamook Rock Lighthouse
- Year lit: 1881
- Height: 62 feet
Many people find the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse fascinating. It sits about a mile offshore from Tillamook Head, 133 feet above sea level, on a rock battered by the Pacific Ocean waves. Because of the location and conditions, the lighthouse earned the nickname “Terrible Tilly.”
Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1957 and is now privately owned. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
You cannot access the Northern Oregon Coast lighthouse but can see it in the distance. The tower sits between and is visible from the towns of Cannon Beach and Seaside.
Ecola State Park offers the best views of the lighthouse. For an even closer view, bring your binoculars.
Cape Meares Lighthouse
- Year lit: 1890
- Height: 38 feet
The shortest lighthouse in Oregon is named for Captain John Meares, the first person to sail into Tillamook Bay. It houses a Fresnel lens that was made in Paris. Although decommissioned in 1963, the lens is still there.
The light is a five-wick oil lamp with a reflector turned by a 200-pound lead weight. It is similar to the system used in a grandfather clock.
Cape Meares Lighthouse is about 10 miles west of Tillamook in the state park, Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint. While visiting the park, you can also see the Octopus Tree, a large, contorted Sitka spruce.
The park sits along the gorgeous Three Capes Scenic Route. From Highway 101 in Tillamook, head northwest onto Highway 131.
You will pass through Netarts and toward Oceanside. Watch for signs before Oceanside, directing you onto the Cape Meares Loop to the right. You will see a sign in about two miles leading you to the park.
The park is open daily from 7:00 am to dusk, but the lighthouse is only available from May through September.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse
- Year lit: 1873
- Height: 93 feet
Continue south on Highway 101 to the Central Oregon Coast. Nestled in Newport at MilePost 137.6, Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area hosts the tallest lighthouse in Oregon.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse contains more than 370,000 bricks, dominating the horizon. It was originally solid white and did not rotate. Lard oil initially fueled the beacon’s 4-wick lamp.
Tours are available as weather, conditions, and staffing permit. The grounds and interpretive center are open year-round.
Usually, 45 minutes long, the tour requires a strenuous 114-step climb to the top. Accordingly, children must be at least 42” tall. Visit the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area for current information about tours.
Yaquina Bay Lighthouse
- Year lit: 1871
- Height: 39.6 feet
Just a few miles south on the Oregon Coast Highway at MilePost 141.9, you will find Yaquina Bay Lighthouse. It holds two honorary distinctions:
- Only existing Oregon lighthouse with the light and living quarters in the same building
- Only historic wooden Oregon lighthouse still intact
The lighthouse was re-lit in 1996 with a modern optic shining a steady white light from sunset to sunrise.
Self-guided tours are free. In summer, the lighthouse is open daily from noon to 4:00 pm. Winter hours are noon to 4:00 pm, Wednesday through Sunday.
Cleft of the Rock Lighthouse
The private lighthouse sits on a bluff near Cape Perpetua and can only be seen from the Oregon Coast Highway about two miles south of Yachats. It was first lit in 1976, and its light is visible for 16 miles.
Heceta Head Lighthouse
- Year lit: 1894
- Height: 56 feet
Continuing on Highway 101 to the Southern Oregon Coast, you will encounter Heceta Head Lighthouse at MilePost 178.3 in north Florence. A day-use parking permit is required, but Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint has a lot to offer:
- Cape Creek Bridge
- Sandy beach with tide pools and caves
- Hiking trails
- Wildlife viewing
- Heceta Head Lighthouse
You can hike the 0.5-mile trail with an elevation gain of 150 feet to the lighthouse. Heceta Head Lighthouse is open year round, weather and staff permitting. Regular hours for self-guided tours of the outside and the ground floor are 11:00 am to 3:00 pm in summer and 11:00 am to 2:00 pm in winter.
The signal flashes white every 10 seconds. Heceta Head’s lens is unique and believed to be the only one on the west coast made in England. Most Fresnel lenses were made in France.
Harsh conditions caused considerable deterioration of the beacon. Restoration efforts began in 2011 and wrapped up in 2013. The lighthouse closely resembles its original form.
Are you looking for unique accommodations? You can stay in the assistant lightkeeper’s house, now a bed and breakfast. Visit the Heceta Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast site for more information.
Umpqua River Lighthouse
- Year lit: 1894
- Height: 65 feet
You may notice that the Umpqua River Lighthouse looks like Heceta Head Lighthouse. Architecturally, it is nearly identical. However, the lens is quite different. It is the only lighthouse on the Oregon Coast that emits red and white light.
You will find the signal at MilePost 215.6 on the Oregon Coast Highway at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park in Winchester Bay.
The lighthouse is open daily except for major holidays. Admission to the museum and a tour is $8 for adults and $4 for children ages 5 to 17. Children under 5 are free.
The old Coast Guard quarters serve as a museum. Tours start at the museum, then go into the lighthouse workroom. During the tour, you can learn how lensmakers turned the glass red.
Cape Arago Lighthouse
- Year lit: 1934
- Height: 44 feet
The lighthouse is not open to the public but can be seen from the shore. In 1993, the Coast Guard removed the lens, which is no longer in operation.
Cape Arago is the third lighthouse built on the island. The first was constructed in 1866, and the second in 1909. Harsh weather conditions caused deterioration, necessitating replacement.
The Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians took over the property and the beacon in 2013.
You can view Cape Arago Lighthouse from a pullout and the trail between Sunset Bay State Park and Shore Acres State Park and from Bastendorff Beach County Park at MilePost 10.4 on Cape Arago Highway.
Coquille River Lighthouse
- Year lit: 1896
- Height: 40 feet
Short and stout, the signal stands sturdily along the shore next to the Coquille River and the ocean. You will find Coquille River Lighthouse in Bullards Beach State Park near Bandon at MilePost 259.2 on Highway 101.
Although no longer operable, it served as a command center and a refuge for people during the Bandon fire of 1936. The inside is not open, but you can enjoy the outside view anytime.
Cape Blanco Lighthouse
- Year lit: 1870
- Height: 59 feet
Drive further south on Highway 101 to MilePost 296.6 near Port Orford, and you will discover the Cape Blanco Lighthouse in Cape Blanco State Park. It is the oldest standing lighthouse on the Oregon Coast.
The tower is not open and requires repair. You can, however, tour the signal workroom. A separate building, formerly a garage, now houses the ticket office and a gift shop.
Daily guided tours of the workroom are available from April through October from 10:00 am to 3:30 pm. Note that tours are not offered on Tuesdays. Tours are $2 per person. Children under age 16 are free.
Pelican Bay Lighthouse
Privately owned, Pelican Bay Lighthouse was lit in 1999. It is the newest lighthouse on the Oregon Coast. The tower houses an acrylic Fresnel lens with light that can be seen from 11 to 12 miles offshore from dusk to dawn.
Although not open to the public, you can view Pelican Bay Lighthouse from Brookings Harbor.
Are you enamored with lighthouses? Or do you have time to view additional lighthouses on your road trip? We will give you a few bonus lighthouses to see on your journey.
A short drive north from Astoria will reveal more treasure. In Southern Washington, near Ilwaco, you will find two beacons.
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
- Year lit: 1856
- Height: 53 feet
North Head Lighthouse
- Year lit: 1898
- Height: 66 feet
A short drive south from Brookings will yield fantastic gems. In northern California, Crescent City houses two signals.
George Reef Lighthouse
- Year lit: 1892
- Height: 89 feet
Battery Point Lighthouse
- Year lit: 1856
- Height: 45 feet
Battery Point Lighthouse is a somewhat unknown attraction in Redwood National and State Parks. At high tide, it is an island. You can only reach the lighthouse at low tide.
A trip to Redwood National and State Parks is well worth your time. You can also see the world’s tallest trees and the largest elk in North America.
Wrap-Up: Oregon Lighthouses
The Oregon Coast offers alluring beauty on an unforgettable drive. Check out our Oregon Coast guide to find other adventures and points of interest.
Lighthouses, one of the coast’s main attractions, are unsung heroes that have safely directed mariners ashore for years. You can honor the glorious towers as part of your road trip. The historic lighthouses will lead you through life’s fog.
Featured image credit: Miles with McConkey
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About the author
We are Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey. After nearly 30 years, we took a leap of faith out of the corporate world to enjoy a life of travel and adventure. We hope to inspire you to find ways to travel more and enjoy life now.