South Slough Estuary

October 30, 2009 (Updated July 30, 2014)

Once you travel the Cape Arago Highway that skirts a lonesome and lovely section of the Southern Oregon coast, it may become a road once taken that you’ll never want to leave! It leads you past so many intriguing sights that you may well wonder, “Why have I never come this way before.”

Fourteen miles southwest of Coos Bay, drop in at Sunset Bay State Park and meet Oregon State Park’s Manager, Preson Phillips, who told me: “It’s one of those trails that just keeps beckoning you on – it’s just a matter of how much you want to hike or do at the time.” Make time to wander Sunset Bay State Park, a jewel of a campground that offers 139 sites for tent, trailer or R.V. – plus eight yurts. People who come to camp enjoy a spectacular beachfront that seems framed for the movies – it has been a special destination park since 1942.

If you own a spirit of adventure, you’ll no doubt relish the hiking trail that leads little more than a mile to nearby Cape Arago State Park. Many visitors are surprised to find a front row seat of sorts – a wooden balcony that overlooks Shell Island. Marty Giles, who owns an eco-tourism business called, Wavecrest Discoveries is often on hand to explain the behavior of hundreds of seals and seal lions that just plain loaf across the rocky island and Simpson Reef.

You will want to make time to travel five miles further up the Seven Devils Road to visit a piece of Oregon coastal paradise that’s been preserved since 1974. The South Slough Estuarine Research Preserve offers a visitor center that introduces you to the area with varied multi-media and hands on exhibits. There’s more than 5,000 acres in South Slough Preserve – approximately 1,000 of that is the slough itself, then the rest is protected upland forest or marshland. There is plenty of elbowroom to explore at South Slough Preserve and there are lots of trails that take you out and about.

One of my favorites is called the Hidden Creek Trail – a little over a mile in length that offers a wonderful wooden boardwalk that takes you out over a wetland area where the freshwater creek meets the sea. In addition, there are many stunning views along the trail, including those from atop a two level deck that looks across a marsh area to the Winchester Arm of the slough.

The preserve is open throughout the calendar year, but South Slough Preserve Education Director, Tom Gaskill, says some seasons offer unique surprises for the hearty traveler.

“I’m a birder, so for me this time of year in fall is the beginning of the most exciting part of the season. We have flocks of waterfowl that pass through here and a lot of the over wintering forest birds too – there are many species that we never see here during the summer, so it’s exciting in the winter months to see some of these migratory species that spend summers in Alaska and Canada but they’re here for the winter.”

About The

Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.

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