Harris Beach State Park
Harris Beach State Park
Bandon boardwalk
Bandon boardwalk
Bandon harbor
Bandon harbor
Sitka Spruce “octopus” tree
Sitka Spruce “octopus” tree
sea stacks at Harris Beach
Sea stacks at Harris Beach
low tide with an abundance of purple snails
Low tide with an abundance of purple snails
sunset at Harris Beach
Sunset at Harris Beach

When the weather forecast began calling for nearly constant rain with temperatures in the low 50s, we felt it would be a great time to head southern part of the state for our three-day camping trip. So off we went to Brookings, home to sunshine and the warmest temperatures on the coast.

From Portland, we headed south on I-5 to Highway 38 west through the Coast Range mountains. This scenic route parallels the Umpqua River for most of the way and unlike other highways leading through the Coast Range, the road is fairly level without the ups and downs required to get through the mountainous terrain.

Located alongside the Umpqua River with rolling hills and vineyards, Elkton has managed to stay in touch with its history while offering a fresh, engaging feel. We spent some time at a city park with river access for a closer look at the Umpqua, then stopped for ice cream before continuing our trip.

As you get closer to the coast, the Coast Range mountains hug the sides of the Umpqua, and the cool green waters of the river get significantly wider before reaching the ocean at Reedsport. In Reedsport, take Highway 101 south for 134 miles to Brookings. On the way, don’t miss Bandon’s charming Old Town, known as Bandon by the Sea. Stop for a bite to eat, or as in our case, a visit to a nostalgia-inducing candy store, Bandon Sweets & Treats.

From Port Orford to Brookings, the highway hugs some of the most dramatic and rugged coastline in Oregon. The Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor stretches for 12 miles with several waysides and viewpoints worth exploring.

About a mile north of Brookings, Harris Beach State Park has a day use area and a large campground popular with RVers. It also has plenty of room for those of us who prefer sleeping in a tent beneath the limbs of towering native conifers. The campground is well maintained, with an amphitheater for evening programs, a playground for kids, and showers (free, with hot water!) in the several restroom buildings dispersed among the camp sites. Follow one of several trails from the campground down to the beach. The trail through the surrounding coastal rainforest includes several “octopus-like” trees, with curving branches reaching up from the ground like tentacles.

The coastline in Brookings is lined with an interesting mix of sea stacks and rocks, and the shore twists and turns, forming several lagoons – with the surf lapping at the shore and sounding off with an occasional slap against the beach. Some of the larger sea stacks and islands look as if they belong in the South Pacific, with their interesting shapes, vertical faces and tops covered with green plant growth.

Low tides expose large rocky areas and make for excellent tide pooling. Since most of this area is within the Harris Beach Marine Garden, it is a protected area, so leave everything as-is. While we were there, a super low minus tide occurred (-2.6). A minus tide is an unusually low tide, with a height below the normal base level of zero. Besides the usual orange and purple hued starfish and green anemones, there were other types of stars, hermit crabs and what seemed like millions of small purple-shelled snails. We watched as a 15-arm red starfish in a tide pool attempted unsuccessfully to chase down a hermit crab.

Wildlife and bird watching are other popular activities here.  Bird Island, Oregon’s largest island and a breeding site for rare birds such as the tufted puffin, is located just offshore and is a part of Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Sea lions and seals are a common sight as they climb out of the water and onto the rocks offshore for a nap.

Viewing the sunset is a popular activity at this state park, with the marked “Sunset Trail” leading to a bench that appears to be facing north, but is actually looking west.

about author Lisa Holmes

Lisa D. Holmes is a graphic designer by trade and a hiking fanatic by accident. Her life changed when she moved to Oregon in 2007 and became obsessed with the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. She has since spent much of her time hiking the trails of Oregon and Washington and taking photographs of everything she encounters. Combining her photos, map and book design skills and desire to share her journey with others has led to her first hiking book: I Heart Oregon (& Washington): 25 of the Portland Area's Best Hikes and I Heart Oregon’s Seven Wonders: Hikes at the Oregon Coast, Mount Hood, Columbia River Gorge, Smith Rock, Painted Hills, Crater Lake and the Wallowas. Follow her adventures at iheartpacificnorthwest.com.

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These maps and directions are for planning purposes only. You may find that construction projects, traffic, or other events may cause road conditions to differ from the map results. For travel options, weather and road conditions, visit tripcheck.com, call 511 (in Oregon only), 800.977.6368 or 503.588.2941.

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