One of coastal Oregon’s iconic drives, the 28-mile journey along U.S. 101 from Gold Beach to Brookings in the southwestern corner of the state climbs over breathtaking conifer-shaded headlands and alongside rugged, undeveloped beaches and rocky offshore islands and sea stacks.
The most famous stretch, the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, was named for the Oregon State Parks department’s first superintendent, who had proposed the idea of an extensive National Park along this stretch of coastline in the 1940s. And although you can get a sense of this 12-mile-long, 1,400-acre linear park’s grandeur through your car window, the best way to experience it is by taking it slow, sometimes driving just a mile or two before taking another hike to another glorious vista.
Just remember, if you go, always stay on designated trails, because unmarked trails — even if you see footprints or evidence that others have used them — are unsafe and damage sensitive cliffside ecosystems. Here are a few more tips for enjoying this pristine stretch of coastline:
- Don’t climb on natural bridges, sea stacks and other rock formations, as these are extremely dangerous.
- Be aware of changing tides while you’re on the beach, so you don’t get stranded.
- Never turn your back to the ocean. Sneaker waves are common on this part of the Coast. Avoid logs and small coves or caves that don’t provide quick escapes to higher ground.
- Park only in designated spaces in the several parking lots situated throughout the corridor.
- Pack out all garbage and pet waste
This itinerary covers three days on this less-crowded part of Oregon’s South Coast to fully explore its most memorable vistas, trails and beaches. You’ll start in Gold Beach to the north of Boardman, then double back from Brookings after spending the night there.
Day 1: Offshore Formations, Vistas and Sushi
Head just outside downtown Gold Beach to the rustic Indian Creek Cafe (located at the RV park) for homestyle fare like peach-and-pecan waffles and chicken-fried steak. Before driving south down the Coast, pick up picnic supplies at one of the terrific food trucks in town, scoring some pad Thai at Khob Kun Thai or a pastrami sandwich at Hunger Paynes.
Take your time driving south on U.S. 101 from Gold Beach, enjoying stunning ocean views — some of Oregon’s very best — along the way. About 13 miles south of town, you’ll enter the northern section of Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor.
A great place to begin your explorations is the turnoff for Arch Rock, which has ample parking and plenty of picnic benches. Stroll the accessible 0.3-mile loop trail down to the overlook to soak up expansive views of the massive offshore rock formation for which this viewpoint is named. Keep an eye out for migratory whales as well as sea lions and harbor seals.
Hop back onto U.S. 101 and continue about 7 miles southward to Cape Ferrelo Viewpoint, where you can hike the Cape Ferrelo Trail, a level 1-mile loop over a curving, largely treeless bluff with spectacular vistas of Lone Ranch Beach and beach access below.
Head 4 miles in the same direction — ideally timing your visit with sunset — to Harris Beach State Park in Brookings, which offers direct and easy access to yet more miles of breathtaking sandy beach. Just offshore, you’ll spy Goat Island, now a wildlife sanctuary inhabited by tufted puffins, and the largest island off the Oregon Coast.
Before heading off to your lodging, venture into laid-back Brookings, enjoying a pint of Imperial Coconut Porter at Chetco Brewing Company. For dinner, sample creative Japanese fare and sustainably sourced seafood — a pleasure to see in these remote areas where supply chains are challenging — at Pacific Sushi & Grill.
Day 2: Crepes, Big Rocks and Arches
Start the morning in Brookings with a plate of Swedish crepes slathered in lingonberry butter at Matties Pancake House. You’ll walk it off at your first stop on the Boardman Corridor as you head north: House Rock Viewpoint, which accesses the Oregon Coast Trail and also features a short walk down a stairway to an overlook with sweeping ocean panoramas. From here it’s 2 miles north to the parking area for Whaleshead Beach. The fairly level 2.5-mile out-and-back trek to this expanse of glassy-smooth sand overlooks towering sea stacks, the largest of which resembles, when struck by certain waves, a whale’s gushing blowhole.
Continue north, crossing the dramatic Thomas Creek Bridge — at 345 feet tall, the highest bridge in Oregon — to the legendary Natural Bridges area. Made up of massive rock arches and blowholes set around a jagged cove, it’s a magnificent photo op. Enjoy the view of the two most famous arches from the accessible wooden observation platform. It’s crucial to stay on the designated trails, as venturing down the steep, slippery sea cliffs for a closer look has resulted in injuries and even deaths.
Less than a half-mile north lies another stunning stretch of sand, Secret Beach. This 1.6-mile round-trip jaunt through an emerald forest of giant ferns and sturdy conifers heads to a beach ideal for tide pooling.
End your day in Gold Beach with dinner at Barnacle Bistro, which serves up delicious crab cakes and candied-jalapeno burgers.
Day 3: Kayak, Bike or a Long Beach Hike
For a different perspective on the Boardman Corridor, book a kayaking excursion with South Coast Tours. The Port Orford–based company offers several trips in the area, including 2.5-hour paddles to the north and south of Natural Bridges as well as shorter and more beginner-friendly paddles on the Chetco and Rogue rivers. If you want explore the beautiful backcountry on two wheels, mountain bikers can book a van shuttle service to access the Pine Grove Trail in the Rogue Siskiyou National Forest. Combine both land and sea adventures on a pedal and paddle combo tour. All paddle tours run through mid-October.
Or if you’re up for one more hike, drive just a bit south from Gold Beach to the well-marked turnoff to Cape Sebastian State Scenic Area. Here, a moderately steep, nearly 3-mile out-and-back trek through wildflower meadows leads to a sheltered cove and beach.
Where to Stay
In Gold Beach, many rooms at the Pacific Reef Hotel have ocean views, and there’s an Outdoor Adventure Theater for family-friendly movies. With a blissfully serene waterfront setting 8 miles up the Rogue River, Tu Tu’ Tun Lodge offers elegantly appointed accommodations, spa services and a stellar restaurant. In Brookings book a contemporary room overlooking the town’s boat basin at the Beachfront Inn. There are also several excellent campgrounds in the area, including Whaleshead Beach RV Resort, which lies within the Boardman Corridor, as well as Harris Beach State Park and Indian Creek RV Park.