5 Reasons to Visit the Oregon Coast in Winter
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In 1967, Oregon Governor Tom McCall signed the Oregon Beach Bill declaring free and public access to all 363 miles of Oregon Coastline. The public tradition had been laid out long before, when Governor Oswald West designated the Oregon Coast a public highway in 1913.
The winter is a special season on the Oregon Coast. The are fewer crowds, giving way to more experiences with true locals. Wind and rain keep most away, but those who choose to brave the elements are rewarded with beautiful hikes, barren coastlines, and show stopping storms. You may even catch a famous Oregon Coast sunset.
The fickle winter weather in Oregon keeps most folks home, hunkered under a blanket, waiting the rain to finally let up. For me, this is the perfect time to hit the beach. The long coastlines are virtually empty, and my dog and I can walk for as long as we please without worry of running into another soul.
Favorite Beach Spots
Yachats – Located on the Central Oregon Coast, Yachats (pronounced YA-hots) is a tiny yet bustling town with some of the best coastal hiking.
Manzanita – An easy drive from Portland makes this a popular spot, though significantly less busy during the winter months. Not far from Manzanita is Oswald West State Park, where you can hang out in a lovely cove and watch surfers catch waves.
Pacific City – Climb the sand dune right off the beach for an expansive view of the beach and rocks below, then race your friends down to Pelican Brewing for a pint and a meal. Nearby, go for a hike at Cape Lookout to see the swirling Pacific below.
Winter Storm Watching
The Oregon Coast is famous for winter storms that send waves crashing against volcanic rocks, reaching heights up to 300 feet. Most storm waves reach heights of 20 feet, a regular occurrence during the winter on the Coast.
The waves are a result of weather patterns stemming from other locations. The energy generated elsewhere sends Pacific waves sky high.
Practice safe storm watching by keeping a safe distance. Don’t watch directly from the beach or standing on cliff edges.
Camping on the Oregon Coast during the summer requires advance booking. I’ve had to travel inland to find camping during a busy summer day because there were absolutely zero accommodations available. With one state park every 10 miles, that’s a lot of visitors.
During the winter months, availability isn’t a problem. It may (or may not) be too chilly to camp in a tent, and fortunately many of the state parks along the coast few yurts available to rent.
At least one at each park is dog-friendly and includes heating, mattresses, and a table. All you need to bring is your own bedding.
Quiet Sand Dunes
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area spans some 40 miles along the coast, accounting for the largest stretch of dunes in the country. They can reach up to 500 feet high and push inland up to 2.5 miles.
During the summer months, they are hotbeds for recreational activities, namely dune buggies. While fun, they are loud and make hiking along the dunes rather unnerving, especially if you have a dog.
In winter, you have the dunes completely to yourself. As a bonus, the sand is usually wet from rain, which makes walking much easier than in dry sand.
A good place to explore the dunes is Honeyman State Park, located just a short drive south of Florence.
Between mid-December and mid-January, some 20,000 Gray Whales migrate right past the Oregon Coast to the warmer waters of Baja, Mexico. Depoe Bay is well known as the Whale Watching Capital of the Oregon Coast.
The best part is that you don’t have to charter a boat to see the whales. All you need is patience and a good pair of binoculars. Stand position along the Sea Wall in town and keep an eye out for spouting water in the distance.
The town also is home to a resident pod of Gray Whales who stick around 10 months of the year.
Jen Sotolongo is a writer, photographer, and blogger. She travels the world in search of the most dog-friendly cities and outdoor adventures. Join her journey at Long Haul Trekkers.