For almost a hundred years, steadfast lighthouse keepers climbed the dizzying 114 spiral stairs of the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. The burning oil they controlled protected ships from coming to a tragic end among the dangerous rocks below. Today, keepers’ no longer man the lighthouse, yet it’s still well worth a visit. The historic lighthouse is a great, family-friendly way to spend an afternoon.
Comprising of over 370,000 bricks, Oregon’s tallest lighthouse was constructed in a year. She flew her maiden voyage on the evening of August 20, 1873. Originally lit by burning oil from sunset to sunrise, today the Yaquina’s fully automated light is run off commercial power 24 hours a day. The original 1868 French-made Fixed Fresnel lens still flashes its unique pattern of 2 seconds on, 2 seconds off, 2 seconds on, 14 seconds off, but the oil wicks have been replaced by a 1000 watt globe.
Going back in time
The Yaquina Head Lighthouse saw many changes throughout her almost hundred year reign.
During her glory days, the lighthouse was manned by three keepers: a Head Keeper, and First and Second Assistant. The Head and First Assistant usually had families and lived in the two-story building with them. In contrast, the Second Assistant was often a bachelor. In 1939, after 66 years of lighthouse keepers, the U.S. Coast Guard took over management. Later, during WWII, 17 soldiers were stationed at the lighthouse and tasked with watching for enemy ships.
A two-story keepers’ dwelling and adjoining oil house were constructed at the same time as the tower in 1872. A one-story keepers’ house was built to the east in 1923 and 15 years later the original two-story keepers’ dwelling was replaced by a one-story building. In 1984 all outbuildings, including the second keepers’ house, a shed, and a garage were torn down and replaced by a large, grassy area.
Visiting Yaquina Head Lighthouse
When I first laid eyes on the stunning lighthouse I was blown away (almost literally!) by the wind whistling across the open expanse. The interpretive center features many great exhibits on the seabirds and marine life of the area, which is great to check out before you head down to the tide pools. You can also check out a historic ship wheelhouse, as well as a full-scale replica of the lighthouse lantern.
Tours of the lighthouse are available, but times change based on season and maintenance needed. For the most up-to-date times, visit the Friends of Yaquina Lighthouse website. I highly recommend the tour as you’ll learn all about the lighthouse and its history. It’s first-come, first-served, though, so don’t dawdle!
Also, make sure to check out the spectacular tide pools because they are abundant in marine wildlife during low tide.
A Hollywood Star: Yaquina Head Lighthouse
The lighthouse has been featured in a few movies throughout the years, acting as Moesko Island Lighthouse in The Ring (2002) and as the subject of mystery in the 1977 adaptation of Nancy Drew. It was also featured in Hysterical (1983).
As a young girl, I was an avid Nancy Drew reader and was ecstatic to learn it had played a role in my childhood heroin’s world. The TV series was filmed prior to the outbuildings being demolished, so you can see how different the area is today.
Unfairly, these movies portray the gorgeous lighthouse as a spooky, dreary place and as with much that comes out of Hollywood, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Information & Trailhead Location
A gorgeous stop along the Oregon Coast
The Oregon Coast is one of the most scenic routes in the world, winding its way along the windy coast of the Pacific. The Yaquina Head Lighthouse stands guard over this beautiful coast – as a quick stop, you’ll definitely want to add it to your itinerary!
For more photos of Yaquina Head Lighthouse, visit our SmugMug gallery.
Duration: ~1 hr return + walking the beach
Trail Notes: Tours of the lighthouse are first-come, first-served. Make sure to check out the tide pools, too!
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