Just Dune It at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
Of all my wife’s great ideas, this one is possibly her best: a camping expedition to the vast Sahara-like landscapes on the Oregon Coast known as “the Dunes.”
Our campsite—especially uncrowded in the off-season past Labor Day—was at Honeyman State Park, one of Oregon’s largest. Host to two lakes, Douglas-fir and red-cedar forests, a 1930′s store built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and wave after wave of sand dunes climbing as high as 250 feet, Honeyman makes an excellent jump-off point to some of the best windswept formations visitors can find.
Beginning just south of Florence and the Siuslaw River, the Oregon Dunes stretch as far as Coos Bay, but the best hiking areas lie mostly between Florence and Reedsport. Honeyman has trails into the northernmost dunes starting right at our campsite: after an exerting slog up a cascade of sand, the breathtaking views begin. What better way to start a morning than climbing a big dune, then running back down?
More dunes are easily accessible off Highway 101. With a packed lunch and plenty of water, we bounded down into the “deflation plain” beneath the Oregon Dunes Overlook. This plain is a hollow left between the smaller, grassy foredune along the shore and the towering sand castles, a great place to see wildlife like deer and birds.
Further south, we had ourselves an exerting hike through the Tahkenitch Dunes to the ocean, a 3 ¼-mile thigh-burner through thick sand to the estuary of Tahkenitch Creek, where brown pelicans bathed in the meeting place of freshwater and sea. Nearby, another easy trail leads to the Carter Dunes, and a much closer shore.
The best, by far, are the awe-inspiring Umpqua Dunes, also known as the John Dellenback Dunes, named for the U.S. Congressman who helped establish the Dunes Recreation Area. These monolithic dunes extend two-miles over the ridges of bare sand known as oblique dunes, carved and shaped by the wind. We sat down to watch the moon rise over the biggest one, the sand swept by a never-ending wind. We stopped, too, at the Umpqua Lighthouse State Park to see the lighthouse, a gray whale jawbone, and the museum.
After two days of tiring but rewarding exploration over sand and through forests of Pacific madrone, we could find no better way to relax than a trip into Old Town Florence, and a couple of lattes from Siuslaw River Coffee Roasters, overlooking the beautiful bridge over the bay. We also headed north to the Kalmiopsis Wayside, a short trail to a marsh of the Darlingtonia, the California pitcher plants, a bog of bug-devouring green cobra lilies.
For more information on local beaches and dunes, please visit our Oregon Coast section.
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