I’ve always found lighthouses extremely romantic. They’re always in the most stunning, breathtaking locations — places you almost can’t believe actually exist — and Yaquina Head is certainly no different. It stands on an exposed spit of land on the edge of the Oregon coast and overlooks the rugged coastline. It’s also the tallest lighthouse in Oregon and the tower soars into the sky. Believe me, you don’t want to miss it!
Honestly, it’s hard to pick my favourite part of exploring here. 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 when you can explore it all?
It’s like stepping back in time when you visit Yaquina Head Lighthouse. It’s fun to imagine yourself as the lighthouse keeper when you climb the dizzying 114 spiral steps. 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.
But it wasn’t.
Yaquina Head is on a tiny spit of land that juts into the ocean. Construction of the lighthouse began in 1871, but it was often buffeted by strong winds and rains that wrecked havoc. Because of the difficult weather, builders often lost supplies which significantly slowed progress. To protect the lighthouse keepers from the harsh weather, the lighthouse tower is double walled and made from 370,000 bricks.
The lighthouse and its keepers were in constant battle with nature and her tricks. According to Lighthouse Friends, in 1880 a particular grim report was made:
“This is … an exposed headland where violent gusts of wind are not infrequent. … 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 … against this influence a close board fence about 8 feet high was built, in August, around the crest of the bluff … 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.”
Things to do
Today, Oregon’s tallest lighthouse doesn’t need a lighthouse keeper because it’s fully automated. It runs off of commercial power 24 hours a day and has a 1000 watt globe instead of the original lens. You can still check out the original French-made Fresnel lens, though, which is located at the top of the lighthouse. The lens is surprisingly large!
Besides standing in awe of the picturesque lighthouse, there’s lots more to do at Yaquina Head. Although I must admit, I am partial to standing dumbstruck in front of the lighthouse. But that’s just me.
The lighthouse is 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. The tours are a must if you want to truly experience the area.
The tours are free and 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 change throughout the year and due to weather, so be sure to check ahead of time. The tours are roughly 45 minutes and are led by a costumed ranger.
Keep in mind that you need to pick up your tickets at least 15 minutes before the start of your tour or else you’ll forfeit them to the waitlist.
Children must be at least 42” tall and able to walk on their own in order to ascend Yaquina Head’s tower. Adults must be physically able to climb 114 spiraling stairs. We also highly recommend wearing good shoes.
The Interpretive Center is a great place to learn about the lighthouse’s history. It’s run by Friends of Yaquina Lighthouses, volunteers who care for the restoration and preservation of the area. The Interpretive Center has great activities for young kids and a gift shop that supports the lighthouse. This is also where you reserve your spot for a guided tour.
The Interpretive Center is about a half mile from the lighthouse itself and is a great place to park to explore the area.
Hikes + short nature walks
The trails around Yaquina Head aren’t really hikes so much as short walks — most of the trails are less than a mile return. You can spend an enjoyable afternoon looking for wildlife or simply looking at the stunning Oregon coast.
Beautiful tide pools are located just below Yaquina Head. If you visit at low tide you might be lucky enough to see purple sea urchins, mussels, barnacles, starfish, turban snails, or hermit crabs. Tide pools are fascinating and you don’t want to miss 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!
What to pack
Yaquina Head is located right on the edge of the Oregon coast. It’s absolutely beautiful, but because of its location it does take some planning ahead.
It can get quite windy and even rainy here. Consider wearing a light jacket or vest to break the chilly air. Leggings or pants are usually better than shorts, since they’ll help protect your legs. There’s also no strenuous hiking, but you will want to wear a pair of runners for climbing the spiral staircase in the lighthouse tower.
If you want to check out the birds and other wildlife, bring a pair of binoculars!
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The lighthouse, Interpretive Center, and park grounds all have different hours depending on the season.
The summer season is from July 1 to September 15. Even though it’s the summer, the weather can be extremely unpredictable and winds and rain are pretty common. The park opens at 7 am and closes at sunset. The Interpretive Center is open from 10 am to 5 pm and tours are offered daily.
During the winter, spring, and fall the park grounds open at 8 am and close at sunset. The Interpretive Center is open from 10 am to 4 pm, while the lighthouse itself is only open for limited ranger-led tours.
Tours of the lighthouse are free, but you do need to buy a vehicle pass. Permits can be bought on site. For up-to-date pricing, visit the Bureau of Land Management: Yaquina Head.
They also honour America the Beautiful National Park passes, Recreational Lands passes, and Oregon Pacific Coast passes.
Yaquina Head 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.