The Oregon Coast’s Timeless Dunes

June 12, 2015 (Updated June 24, 2015)

It is beginning to feel a little more like summer and that may have you thinking more about travel and even camping and for many that means adventures along the 363-mile Pacific Coast Scenic Byway.

It is a sight that takes the breath away and fills us with surprise! A timeless coastal treasure that many families consider “a giant sandbox” with plenty of  room to stretch out and play.

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area covers forty-two miles from Florence to Coos Bay and is an Oregon landmark for outdoor recreation. People come from all over to experience 32,000 acres of sand, forest, rivers and lakes.

Local guide Marty Giles says, “Don’t forget your hiking boots when you visit the dunes!”

I recently joined Giles, who owns and operates Wavecrest Discoveries, to explore the dunes via the John Dellenback Dunes Trail at the Eel Creek Campground.

She told me that many folks are surprised to learn that the vast sand and dunes didn’t come from the ocean, but from the mountains. “The sand is really tiny bits of rock or crystals that are broken apart, brought from the mountains down to the ocean. The sand grains that we’re standing on came down the streams and rivers down the ocean when the sea level was lower and then were pushed back up as the sea level rose up.”

Hiking across the dunes really puts you in touch with a unique story of Oregon’s geography. Giles noted that some of the dunes reach 500 feet tall and are among the highest dunes in the world.

It is a place that is fascinating, complex and ever changing. “Everybody likes the open sand,” said Giles. “Everybody likes the openness and dynamics of things changing. When the wind blows, it feels wild and everybody likes that.”

It isn’t hard to like the southern edge of the dunes according to Tim Roderick, a friend of Giles and a member of Coos Bay Audubon. He and Giles love to get folks off the highway and onto Coos Bay’s North Spit – where the wildlife live.

“My list for this site alone is close to 250 bird species which is better than any spot I know of on Oregon’s south coast,” said Roderick.

Nearly a thousand acres of mixed wildlife habitat make the North Spit of Coos Bay a prime site for watching wildlife; plus, easy hiking trails allow access to miles of quiet shoreline.

“There’s nothing like it on the south coast,” said Roderick. “You are on a spit of land with the bay on one side and a beach on the other and freshwater wetlands and ponds in between. So as the birds fly by they see this unique habitat and they come down they use it.”

Further to the south at Cape Arago State Park, thousands of seals and sea lions use Simpson Reef and Shell Island. “We have rocky shorelines and sandy beaches, we have dunes, we have nearby wilderness areas, we have forests; it’s a huge variety of publicly accessible recreational opportunities in a very small area.”

The Pacific Coast Scenic Byway is a roadway that once taken, you’ll never want to leave.

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.