We’re off! My husband Barry and I are embarking on a five-day trip in our VW camper van. Every year in August, we leave our home in Eureka, on California’s North Coast, and make our way to Bandon, the town in southern Oregon famous for its sand labyrinth festival, fish market, and golf courses. Here, we’ll meet up with my cousin and her husband, who live in northern Oregon. Our “meeting in the middle” has become a beloved annual tradition.
The drive to Bandon is less than 200 miles, but Barry and I like to take our time, poking around and savoring all the natural beauty. Each year we revisit our favorite sites and discover new ones. This stretch is one of my nine favorite happy places on earth.
Pro Tip: Live a long way away? To minimize the driving, consider flying into Medford. Medford is a medium-sized city in southern Oregon located two hours from the coast, a town served by several airline carriers. You’ll miss number one on my list, but you’ll save hugely on time and mileage compared to flying into Portland or San Francisco.
From south to north, here are six of our favorite places.
1. The Yurok Loop
Redwood National And State Parks, California
The Yurok Loop, a 1.25-mile trail in the Redwood National and State Parks, is a gentle, secluded hike that was once a trade route for native Yuroks. It’s located behind the Lagoon Creek Picnic Area, 70 miles north of Eureka, a place where many visitors stop to bird-watch and use the restrooms. The Yurok Loop is half-hidden, so many people don’t know about it.
I never tire of the Yurok Loop. Whether sunlight dapples the forest path or the leaves glisten with mist, it makes no difference. Just seeing the little wooden bridge at the start of the trail makes my heart leap. The trail climbs gently under a canopy of alder and willow trees. In about 15 minutes, it reaches the junction with the California Coastal Trail, where you can turn right and complete the loop. Alternatively, heading south, the trail skirts the ocean, leading to driftwood-strewn Hidden Beach, where Barry and I clamber over logs and gaze at the offshore rock outcroppings. One year I walked south 3 miles on the Coastal Trail, listening to sea lions partying in the ocean. Barry picked me up at the Klamath Overlook where the river meets the ocean, and near the 100-year-old Requa Inn on the Klamath River.
A friend who stayed there recently said, “I love the inn’s character. It has a beautiful view of the river where we watched frenzied seals ripping apart salmon. You could see the bright red flesh in their mouths. Apparently, I just missed seeing a black bear swim a stretch. Farmer neighbors do a prix fixe ($60) dinner on weekends and daily breakfast (not included in the price of the stay).”
2. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Del Norte County, California
Nine miles east of Crescent City, California’s northernmost coastal town, “Jed Smith,” as this enchanting park is called, contains 7 percent of all the old-growth redwoods left in the entire world.
As we drive slowly along Howland Hill Road, the narrow, dirt and gravel byway that traverses the park, I feel like I’m in a pre-electronic era, back in the time of fables and fairy tales. The road threads its way through huge redwoods — so close, we’re practically hugging them, surrounded by dense swaths of fern and sorrel.
This year, we explored the popular Grove of Titans boardwalk, where we stared up at clusters of the world’s largest redwoods. Since the boardwalk is wheelchair accessible, it attracts a lot of visitors. However, on other park trails, such as the Hiouchi-Smith River and Mill Creek trails, we often see just one or two people.
While we’re in the area, we make sure to have breakfast at one of our favorite eateries, the down-home, historic Hiouchi Cafe, a few miles from the park on U.S. Route 199.
Pro Tip: Avoid holiday weekends. In California, it’s not unusual to be slowed by road work and highway repairs due to winter slides along the section of Highway 101 known as Last Chance Grade. In Oregon, no bypasses divide the town centers from through traffic, so passenger cars have to share the road with logging trucks, commercial vehicles, and RVs.
3. Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor
Curry County, Oregon
Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor starts just north of Brookings, the first town in Oregon after the border. Stretching 12 miles along the coast, this beautiful route is rich with Sitka spruce, red cedars, rugged coastlines, sea stacks, rock outcroppings, and beaches. I could spend a week in this area alone and not have seen it all.
The numerous viewpoints are connected by trails that make up the southern section of the Oregon Coast Trail. Among our favorites are Whaleshead Beach, Cape Ferrelo, and House Rock. Since many of these viewpoints aren’t far from each other, Barry and I sometimes relay, taking turns driving and walking to the next trail or viewpoint. The terrain dips and climbs, but we’ve never encountered any seriously strenuous sections.
Pro Tip: Fill up in Brookings. Gas costs less there than in Humboldt County, where it’s notoriously expensive.
4. Gold Beach, Oregon
We love returning every year to this funky, eccentric little town. We park at the Port of Gold Beach, from where Jerry’s Rogue Jets take off, next to the Rogue River. The graceful arched Isaac Lee Patterson Bridge, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, is not just utilitarian, but a thing of beauty. I always follow the short 0.25-mile concrete path starting at the eastern edge of the parking lot and leading to a bench that offers an unusual, close-up view of the buttresses holding up the bridge.
Back at the van, we pump up Barry’s kayak and my stand-up paddleboard. We put them in at the public dock and paddle through the harbor entrance to the Rogue. Recently, I watched a swarm of seals perched on mudflats, every so often plopping into the water. Then, I crossed the river to check out a huge dredge surrounded by fishing boats. Sometimes we paddle under the bridge, passing the Mary D. Hume, a 100-year-old shipwreck that served as a tugboat, whaler, and coastal freighter until 1978. It’s slowly sinking, covered in grass, and home to several species of fish.
Pro Tip: If you want to try kayaking, book a trip with South Coast Tours, which offers paddling tours on the ocean and rivers throughout southern Oregon.
5. Humbug Mountain State Park
Curry County, Oregon
When we feel like a good workout, we climb 1,765-foot Humbug Mountain, starting at the state park with the same name, about 6 miles south of Port Orford. The 5.5-mile hike through the temperate rainforest offers few views, but at the top, you can sit on a bench and enjoy the ocean and mountain vistas.
6. Port Orford, Oregon
Port Orford is the oldest town on the Oregon Coast and the most westerly in the contiguous United States. It’s the last town on the coast before you head inland to reach Bandon, 40 miles north. For a village with a population of less than 1,000, it has a surprising number of features.
We first stop at Battle Rock Park, which offers miles of sandy beach and a good-sized chunk of rock climbable at low tide (no technical equipment needed). The park has a sad, but common history for this part of the world — European settlers fought and ultimately displaced the local Qua-to-mah Native Americans. The first of several battles took place on the rock itself, hence the name.
The nearby Port of Port Orford is small but lively. Its 30 fishing boats aren’t moored, but rather rest on dollies or trailers until they’re ready to launch. Then, they’re wheeled over to a crane and lowered into the water. You have to be there early in the morning to catch the drama.
Port Orford Heads State Park is the home of the Port Orford Lifeboat Station. The station was built in 1934 by the Coast Guard. During World War II, lookouts watched for enemy aircraft, ships, and submarines. This small park on a headland has short trails leading to stunningly beautiful views.
The six stops I’ve described offer barely a glimpse of all that’s offered in this area. Every time we visit, we discover more things to do, like the Wild Rivers Coast Scenic Bikeway, a dedicated bike path of 61 miles starting in Port Orford.
It’s no secret that Barry and I love to explore places on foot, but you don’t have to be physically active to appreciate the coast. Many spectacular vistas are accessible from the viewpoints that dot the highway. The coastline in this part of the country is a place of beauty for everyone.
For more information on road trips, check out these articles: