You know about huge waves and dramatic storms on the Oregon Coast in the winter. But did you know that even in the rain or frequent sun breaks, the winter is an ideal time to take a walk amidst wild mushrooms and giant spruce trees, or ride a horse along rocky bluffs and windswept dunes?
The quieter, cooler months (November through February) are also when the wildlife is more active and accessible for viewing, and beaches, trails, restaurants and attractions are less crowded, so you can soak up all of that tranquility for yourself. Did we mention that winter also brings special rates and discounts at most lodging properties? Here’s our guide to seven magical winter adventures on the great Oregon Coast.
Take the lush, pleasant stroll (5 miles round-trip) at Cape Falcon in iconic Oswald West State Park. At trail’s end are viewpoints often affording glimpses of migrating birds and gray whales. Bring your binoculars on your trek and you just might spot a few blowholes. Or travel to one of two dozen designated viewing points along the Coast, where friendly volunteers will help you spot these graceful mammals during Whale Watching Week (Dec. 27-31, 2019).
On the Central Oregon Coast, the cliff-top Cape Perpetua Visitor Center is ideal for exploring any time of year. Park your car and get started hiking among five delightful trails, beachcombing or gazing up at 500-year-old Sitka spruce tree.
Winding through a forested knuckle of green between two long stretches of sandy beach, the 1.5-mile Cape Sebastian Trail on the Southern Oregon Coast offers amazing vistas, a good workout, and potential for beachcombing (low tides only) and bird- and whale-watching. Whenever you’re on the beach, make sure you know when the tide is coming in so you don’t get stranded.
Hit the beach
At Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, there are a myriad of opportunities for finding all sorts of salty critters best visited during low tides, revealing all sorts of exciting gastropods, cephalopods and bivalves. Haystack is a protected Marine Garden, though, so look — don’t touch. To beat the crowds, visit Cannon Beach mid-week (for better lodging deals, too). And consider making your trip car-free, so you can sit back and enjoy the ride.
Both sides of the picturesque promontory at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport are home to a wealth of sealife; it’s not uncommon to see whales while you are exploring the rich tidal habitats. Even if you’re farther up the shore, don’t turn your back on the ocean. Watch out for sneaker waves, which appear suddenly and are impossible to predict. They often come rushing high up on shore with deadly force.
Mosey among the interesting rock formations here on Bandon’s waterfront hub of nature at Coquille Point, easily accessed by a wooden staircase. The intertidal zone is chockablock with starfish, crabs and anemones. Especially during winter weather, sandy trails such as the overlook trail above the beach can be unstable, so be sure to stay behind guard fences and railings.
Catch a crab
Tillamook Bay, a catcher’s mitt for five rivers, hosts world-class winter crabbing opportunities, whether you harvest from the marina docks, your own pots via boat or on guided tours courtesy of Garibaldi Marina.
Yaquina Bay in Newport is Oregon’s coastal fishing capital, a favorite spot for catching Dungeness and red rock crab from a boat or the dock. Pick up an inexpensive crab ring in the fishing section of Walmart, Fred Meyer, Englund Marine or Sawyer’s Landing RV & Marina; or hire a charter, which will provide everything you need. Try Newport Marina Store and Charters in South Beach or The Embarcadero Resort Hotel & Marina on Yaquina Bay.
Coos Bay, Oregon’s biggest bay, and its estuarine footprint are home to some of the Northwest’s best crabbing, made easy by numerous crabbing docks, launch facilities and charter businesses there to help you harvest your limit of succulent crustaceans.
Note: Shellfish licenses are required in Oregon. You can buy one at many local grocery stores and gas stations, as well as online through ODFW.
Ride a horse
In Manzanita, let the fine folks at Oregon Beach Rides help you voice your inner giddy-up with their options of one-hour or two-hour beach or dune trail rides at Nehalem Bay, a wildlife-viewing hot spot.
While horses might not typically be your first thought concerning the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, C&M Stables, just north of Florence, would like to introduce you to their suite of ride options, from corral to the water’s edge.
On a piece of coast appearing custom-made for epic horse rides, the crew at Bandon Beach Riding Stables, on the Southern Oregon Coast, offer several ride options and horses in this region’s treasure trove of ranchlands, dune fields and scenic beaches.
Dive right in
Water sports aren’t just for summertime. Try your first surf lesson at Cape Kiwanda beach, Oregon’s most popular spot for surfing. Visit Moment Surf Company for the lowdown and lessons. Always watch out for rip currents, the strong currents that can pull you out to sea. If you get caught, swim parallel to the beach until you get out of the current.
On the Central Oregon Coast, it’s easy to kayak in Newport’s waterways, including Yaquina Bay and Beaver Creek. Year-round, visitors come here looking for solitude, wildlife viewing, scenery and outdoor winter recreation. Ossies Surf Shop offers expert-led guided tours.
On the rugged stretch of coastline that is the Southern Oregon Coast, it’s possible to kayak in the winter, but call the pros at South Coast Tours, and they’ll let you know what the weather and conditions are looking like that day. In the meantime, South Coast Tours offers popular van tours that help visitors explore local breweries, hiking, dining spots and other activities.
Get festive at a festival
Winter festivals on the Coast are truly unique, highlighting the quirkiness of each region. In the quaint and gorgeous town of Yachats, the geology of the region is on display at its seventh-annual Yachats Agate Festival (Jan. 18-19, 2020), featuring engaging displays and incredible agate specimens, plus all sorts of local minerals, gems, crystals and fossils. There will also be special talks and demonstrations.
On the Southern Oregon Coast, check out Bandon’s Gorse Blossom Festival (February 2020), showcasing films from the Oregon Coast Film Festival on Friday, with a winemakers’ dinner on Saturday, plus wine, beer and seafood from 50 vendors. Sunday is the fun run, a crab feed and more. And each year since 1998, Astoria has hosted its unique and famous FisherPoets Gathering (Feb. 28-March 1, 2020), combining the sea with prose, poetry and music, attracting widespread accolades and large artists and audiences.
Eat and drink
Newport swells with excitement each year for the Newport Seafood & Wine Festival (Feb. 20-23, 2020) as nearly 25,000 visitors gather inside a 50,000-square-foot tent venue, hosting scores of good people, drinks and food.
Beer lovers rejoice for the Pouring at the Coast craft beer fest (March 20-22, 2020) at the Seaside Convention Center, featuring more than 30 Oregon breweries, plus wine and local food vendors — starting with a brewers’ dinner and ending with a homebrewers’ contest.
If You Go:
Getting there: If you’d rather leave the car at home, you can opt to travel to the Coast by shuttle, train, ride share, public transit or another mode. Find car-free trip ideas to the North Coast, Central Coast and Southern Oregon Coast. If you are driving, load up a full tank of gas, grab some printed maps (available at Oregon’s Welcome Centers), and be sure to have extra water, snacks and supplies in case of a weather-related emergency. It’s rare for the Coast to see much snow, but routes to the Coast may be snowy, so be sure to check weather and road conditions before you go.
Be prepared: When visiting restaurants or attractions, it’s a good idea to call ahead to confirm seasonal hours. Know that even if a trail or road is technically open, it may not be maintained, so check with the U.S. Forest Service ranger district or look for alerts on the Oregon State Parks website if you’re not sure. When it comes to winter clothing on the Oregon Coast, it’s just like a good cake: lots of layers. Fleece, wool and Gore-Tex are your friends, and don’t forget your hats, gloves and weather-proof shoes. And know your limits when you head outdoors. Book a guided trip or tour for a fabulous all-inclusive experience without the fuss.