KATU Summer Guide: Let Oregon's lighthouses guide you to enlightenment
Eleven lighthouses dot the entire length of Oregon’s coast, and each has its own history, character and lore.
Before the modern epoch – with its GPS technology that allows mariners to pinpoint their locations – there were lighthouses. These beacons of light helped captains steer clear of dangerous spots along the coast and allowed them to figure out where they were.
Today, Oregon’s lighthouses serve as a reminder of those bygone days, but several of them are still used to aid in navigation.
A trip down scenic Highway 101 will not only bring you into close proximity with each of these historic lighthouses, you will also be able to take in the breathless views of Oregon’s coast and the seemingly endless Pacific Ocean.
With help from Travel Oregon -- from north to south -- here’s a short description of each lighthouse.
Tillamook Rock Lighthouse
It’s nicknamed “Terrible Tilly,” because it was hard to build and operate. It probably didn’t help matters that it was decided to locate it about a mile offshore. It sits on a pillar of basalt that rises out of the Pacific at Ecola State Park south of Seaside.
Its original purpose was to help guide ships to the Columbia River. It was used from 1881 to 1957. It was also used to store the cremated remains of people who died.
It’s privately owned and not open to the public. View from the Oregon Coast Trail on Tillamook Head.
Cape Meares Lighthouse
It’s short. In fact, it’s the shortest lighthouse on the Oregon coast. It just 38 feet tall. But the views are gorgeous. Travel Oregon recommends visiting the Octopus Tree.
The lighthouse was in operation from 1890 to 1963 and still houses its original Fresnel lens.
Find it 10 miles west of Tillamook in Cape Lookout State Park.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse
From the shortest to the tallest, we now stop at Yaquina Head. It stands 93 feet on a windblown-grass covered bluff that juts out into the ocean.
You can tour the lighthouse and even climb its steps to see its Fresnel lens up close.
Below are tide pools, a rocky beach and the roaring Pacific.
The Bureau of Land Management runs the lighthouse, which is just north of Newport’s city limits.
Yaquina Bay Lighthouse
If you’re in Newport to see one lighthouse, why not stop in and visit another?
The Yaquina Bay Lighthouse was only in operation for three years. The Yaquina Head Lighthouse took its place.
Oregon Parks and Recreation owns the lighthouse, and it’s open to the public. Find it on a bluff at the mouth of the Yaquina River.
Cleft of the Rock Lighthouse
This lighthouse was built in 1976. It’s privately owned, but view it from a pullout at milepost 166 on the highway, south of Yachats.
Heceta Head Lighthouse
It’s got the views, a bright light, a beach, and a bed and breakfast. What more could a lighthouse enthusiast possibly want?
With the brightest light on the Oregon coast, this beacon can be seen for 21 miles from land.
But beware, the bed and breakfast is said to be haunted.
The lighthouse and the ghosts can be found 12 miles north of Florence.
Umpqua River Lighthouse
Red and white flashes emit from this lighthouse, best seen after dark.
Tour the lighthouse and the museum. Both sit amid the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.
There have been two lighthouses at this location. But the first fell into the Umpqua River in 1861 because of erosion. The new one was built in 1894.
Located two miles south of Winchester Bay off Highway 101.
Cape Arago Lighthouse
Two lighthouses built at this location were battered by the weather and yielded to erosion. Today, the one that sits on an islet off Gregory Point 12 miles southwest of North Bend was built in 1934.
It’s been out of commission since 2006, and in 2008 Congress transferred the site to the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw tribes.
It’s not open to the public but can been seen from viewpoints south of the Sunset Bay campground or Bastendorff Beach.
Coquille River Lighthouse
Built in 1896 to help ship captains navigate safely to the Coquille River, this lighthouse was decommissioned in 1939.
Find it in Bullards Beach State Park two miles north of Bandon.
Cape Blanco Lighthouse
Another majestic Oregon lighthouse with equal views, Cape Blanco Lighthouse stands 256 feet above sea level.
Built in 1870, it’s the oldest standing lighthouse in Oregon. It also lives on the state’s farthest westward point of land.
You can climb the stairway and view its Fresnel lens.
Find it nine miles north of Port Orford.
Pelican Bay Lighthouse
The U.S. Coast Guard put this lighthouse to work in 1999 as a private aid to navigation.
Find it in Brookings at the mouth of the Chetco River.
It’s part of a home owned by the Cady family.
The public can see it from the beach near the jetty.
Washington Has Lighthouses Too!
The state of Washington has 27 lighthouses. Most of them congregate around Puget Sound near Seattle. But there are two not far from Vancouver.
North Head Lighthouse
This lighthouse saw first light May 16, 1898, and was built to aid mariners in finding the mouth of the Columbia River.
The lantern room is 65 feet above the ground and 194 feet above sea level.
The U.S. Coast Guard restored the lighthouse in 1984.
More Information: www.lighthousefriends.com
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
Nearby, and also on Cape Disappointment, is this lighthouse, which began operation Oct. 15, 1856. Its mission was also to aid navigators in and around the entrance to the Columbia River.
The tower is 53 feet tall.
More Information: www.lighthousefriends.com