Thursday, August 6, 2020

Heceta Head Lighthouse

Heceta Head Lighthouse from US 101 near Sea Lion Cave
1 mile round trip, 150 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Oregon State Parks parking fee required

Heceta Head Lighthouse is an icon of the central Oregon Coast, a small tower with a powerful light set on the edge of a forested but rocky headland jutting into the Pacific Ocean. A short and easy paved hike reaches the lighthouse from the Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint, a parking area a half mile away by the beach. Views of the coast along the hike are enjoyable, as are the views of offshore rocks that have become a rookery for seabirds.

The best view of the light, however, is not from this trail: the opening photo of this post is from an unmarked viewpoint along US 101 a few miles south of Heceta Head, just north of Sea Lion Cave.

Anna and I visited the lighthouse during a drive up the Oregon Coast from California. Heceta Head Lighthouse is a bit of a drive from Oregon's major population centers, lying on the central coast between Florence and Newport. The trailhead at Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint can be reached from either Florence in the south or Newport in the north via US 101, exiting for the lighthouse when indicated. There's a large parking lot and a self-service kiosk for parking passes. The parking area is by a beach; although there are no views of the lighthouse itself here, there are good views of the little cove.

From the parking area, a wide, paved path gently ascended through the forest with a lush understory. Within 200 yards of the start, there were nice views of the coast to the south and at a quarter mile from the trailhead we came to the lightkeeper's house. This was once the residence of the family tending the light, which had to be largely self sufficient in this isolated locale, hunting and growing food in a garden plot. The lightkeeper's house is today a bed and breakfast.

Lightkeeper's house
Leaving the lightkeeper's house, the trail passed a gift shop before returning to the forest and continuing the gradual ascent. As we approached the lighthouse, the forest thinned and excellent views opened down the length of the central Oregon Coast. Beyond the headlands near Sea Lion Cave, we could see the long, flat expanse of beach and dunes characterizing the Oregon Dunes region. 

Oregon Coast south of Heceta Head
At the end of the trail we reached the lighthouse itself, which is still active today. The lighthouse was built in 1894 with a Fresnel lens that projects its light for 21 nautical miles, making this the brightest light on the Oregon Coast.

Heceta Head Lighthouse
Walking to the far end of the fenced-off lighthouse perimeter, we found a good view of a rock just offshore that had become a seabird rookery coated in guano. Thousands of birds were nesting on the rock, with birds landing with fish and flying off to feed constantly.

Seabird rookery off Heceta Head
The easy hike to Heceta Head Lighthouse was a pleasant experience with good views of the coast and a close-up look at one of Oregon's most iconic buildings. It's a nice stop while traveling the Oregon Coast along US 101 and is probably best at shoulder times when there aren't too many tourists.

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