There’s something romantic about lighthouses, I’ve always thought it. You always find them in the most stunning, awe-inspiring locations. Places that you almost can’t believe actually exist. Yaquina Head Lighthouse is no different. It stands on an exposed spit of land on the edge of the Oregon Coast and soars into the sky as the tallest lighthouse in Oregon. Believe me, you don’t want to miss it!
I just wish we had more lighthouses around our neck of the woods, but I guess living inland doesn’t offer many of those! So when we venture to the coast, we always have to hit up at least one lighthouse.
Immerse yourself in Yaquina Head Lighthouse’s history
Visiting Yaquina Head Lighthouse is like stepping back in time to the late 1800s. It’s easy to imagine yourself as the lighthouse keeper who climbed the dizzying 114 spiral steps every day to control the burning oil in the Fresnel lens. As you stand 162 feet above the ocean in the lighthouse tower and gaze out over the beautiful Oregon coast, it’s easy to pretend life here was simplistic and peaceful.
However, that wasn’t the case.
Harsh weather at the lighthouse
Yaquina Head Lighthouse is on a tiny spit of land that juts into the ocean. It was often buffeted by strong winds and rains that wreaked havoc because of its location. Construction began in 1871 but due to the difficult weather, builders often lost supplies which slowed progress significantly. The lighthouse tower is double walled and constructed from 370,000 bricks in an effort to protect the lighthouse keepers from the elements.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse was in constant battle with nature and her tricks. According to Lighthouse Friends, in 1880 a particular grim report for the Lighthouse Board was made:
This is … an exposed headland where violent gusts of wind are not infrequent. The soil near the upper surface is very friable and is filled with gravel and small pebbles. During squalls the face of the cliff is swept by the winds and great quantities of sand and gravel are lifted from their beds and driven against the buildings, injuring the shutters and breaking the glass. To screen the station in a moderate degree against this influence a close board fence about 8 feet high was built, in August, around the crest of the bluff close up to the margin, to arrest as far as practicable the flight of the gravel and throw it back upon the beach below. It has worked very satisfactorily. In January, the roof of the dwelling was greatly injured, the fences were blown down, the pickets broken off, and the displaced material scattered, drift-like, over the station. In October and January, sea-fowls broke, in the nighttime, several panes of glass in the lantern.
Visiting Yaquina Head Lighthouse today
Today, Yaquina Head Lighthouse is fully automated and runs off of commercial power 24 hours a day. Even though the original oil wicks have been replaced by a 1000 watt globe, you can still check out the original French-made Fresnel lens which is located at the top of the lighthouse. I’d never seen a lighthouse lens before and couldn’t believe how large they actually are!
The nightly task of keeping the life-saving light alive is over and the resident keepers and their dwellings are long gone, but that doesn’t stop the lighthouse from being alive with tales of days gone by. The Bureau of Land Management offer daily guided tours that offer a unique look into the history of the lighthouse. I definitely recommend the tour if you’re able — the guides are great and really know their stuff!
Honestly, it’s hard to pick my favourite part of Yaquina Head Lighthouse. Between the stunning tower that perches on the edge of a rocky bluff, the expansive view from atop the lighthouse, and the walls wrought with history, there’s just too much goodness to pick! Why pick anyways, when you can have it all?
What’s there to do here?
Besides standing in awe of the picturesque lighthouse, there’s actually lots to do at Yaquina Head Lighthouse. Although I must admit, I am partial to standing dumbstruck in front of the lighthouse. But that’s just me.
As I mentioned earlier, the tours of Yaquina Head Lighthouse are a must to truly experience the area. The tours are free and offered first-come-first-served. To make sure you don’t miss out, reserve your spot at the Interpretive Center or online. Tour times and availability do change throughout the year and due to weather, so make sure to check before you head out. The tours are roughly 45 minutes and led by a costumed ranger. Make sure you pick up your tickets at least 15 minutes before the start of your tour or else forfeit them to the waitlist.
While the tour is free, children must be taller than 42” and able to walk on their own in order to ascend the lighthouse tower. You must also be physically able to climb 114 spiraling stairs and good shoes are highly recommended.
The Interpretive Center is a great place to learn about the history of Yaquina Head Lighthouse. It’s run by Friends of Yaquina Lighthouses, who are a group of volunteers that care for the restoration and preservation of the area. There are great activities for young children and a gift shop that supports the lighthouse. This is also where you reserve your spot for a guided tour.
The Interpretive Center is only about a half mile from Yaquina Head Lighthouse, so it’s a great place to park to explore the area.
Hikes (aka, short nature walks)
The trails around Yaquina Head Lighthouse aren’t hikes so much as numerous short walks. Most of the trails are less than a mile return which makes for an enjoyable afternoon of looking for wildlife or simply enjoying the stunning Oregon Coast landscape. The trail is paved between the Interpretive Center and Yaquina Head Lighthouse.
Beautiful tide pools are located just below Yaquina Head Lighthouse. If you visit at low tide you might be lucky enough to see purple sea urchins, mussels, barnacles, starfish, turban snails, or hermit crabs (amongst more sea life!). Tide pools are fascinating and I can’t believe we didn’t have the opportunity to visit the pools. Next time, I’m not missing them!
The tide pools are a protected area so it’s important to not touch the animals or step in the tide pools. Let’s keep these places beautiful for everyone!
While sturdy walking shoes aren’t a must, we definitely recommend them. Between climbing the lighthouse, checking out the nature trails, and climbing over rocky shores at the tide pools, your feet will thank you if you treat them well.
Weather at Yaquina Head Lighthouse can change quickly. Remember the wicked storms mentioned earlier? Summer weather consists of high winds, fog, and cold temperatures. In the winter, strong winds and rain are common.
There are all kinds of cool things to see from the top observation areas around Yaquina Head Lighthouse. Make sure to bring binoculars so you can get up close and personal with them! Why watch the dots of birds when you can spy on them up as if you stood beside them?
Yaquina Head Lighthouse is located just north of Newport, Oregon on Highway 101. From Newport, head north on Highway 101 for 3.8 miles and turn left onto NW Lighthouse Drive. The Interpretive Centre is located just before the lighthouse parking lot.
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