Amazed by the greatness of gray whales? You’re not alone. Countless people come to watch whales at the Oregon Coast every year. Late December is prime time to look for migrating gray whales as they head south to the warm lagoons of Baja, Mexico.
While trained volunteers and staff will not be available during December 2021 and early 2022 at whale watching sites, most viewing sites managed by Oregon State Parks remain open to visitors.
The Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay is closed during winter 2021-22, but the viewing deck on the exterior of the building is open. “The peak of the winter whale watching season lasts from late December through mid-January, says park ranger Luke Parsons, of the Beverly Beach management unit. “Watch the weather forecast for calm weather and clear skies near your favorite coastal destination, then come on over!”
Parsons adds that the whales can be several miles from shore during the winter migration so bring binoculars to help scan for whale spouts. Mornings, when the sun is at your back, is also a better time than afternoons to look for whales. Here are a few more ways to experience these majestic beauties.
- Book a tour. Consider booking a whale-watching tour with one of the Coast’s charter companies including Eco Tours of Oregon, South Coast Tours, and other friendly and knowledgeable guides and outfitters.
- Take a hike. The Cape Lookout Whale Hike is a gorgeous coastal hike with panoramic ocean views; just beware, it can get quite muddy in winter. Yaquina Head Lighthouse offers breathtaking ocean-view paths for walking amidst the wildlife all around, from the sea birds to whales, otters and more. Shore Acres State Park is another famous spot worth visiting, to spy for spouts and witness the wintertime wave-crashing against the shoreline.
- Keep it indoors. If you prefer to stay indoors, visit the Hatfield Marine Science Center or Oregon Coast Aquarium, both in Newport, to learn about whales through interactive exhibits.
Guided First Day Hikes
Ready for more whale watching? Plan to kick off your new year with a guided First Day Hike, set for several Oregon state parks on Jan. 1, 2022. On this day, the normal $5 day-use parking fee is waived for the 25 parks that normally require a parking permit.
“Whatever your choice — a guided hike, exploring a park trail on your own, or enjoying everything a state park offers — starting out the year in the outdoors can begin a new tradition or keep a longstanding family tradition alive,” says Lisa Sumption, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department director. “January 1 also marks the beginning of the yearlong Oregon State Parks centennial commemoration.”
Find the list of guided hikes, including times and meeting locations, at the Oregon State Parks event calendar. First Day Hikes on the Coast are scheduled for Fort Stevens State Park in Astoria (also a great spot for storm watching) and Jesse M. Honeyman Memorial State Park in Florence, while others are scheduled for other region of Oregon.
(Check the calendar in the days leading up to Jan. 1 for additional guided hikes. If a park is not hosting a hike, they may display some recommended hikes.)
Tips for Visiting in Winter
Lucky for us, temperatures are relatively mild at the Oregon Coast in the winter. And when wet weather comes through, it can make for some epic storm watching.
- Always dress for the weather in layers and rain gear, just in case.
- Find a safe vantage point, not including small coves, which can become dangerous in an instant.
- Always keep your eyes peeled on the ocean and beware of sneaker waves, which can come up unexpectedly and be especially dangerous for pets and small children.
- It’s best to check tide tables for your location.
- Storm watching can be done from the comfort of an ocean-view restaurant or hotel room, so book early for the best cozy-season experience.