Port Orford: 27 miles S of Bandon; 79 miles N of Crescent City, CA; 95 miles W of Grants Pass. Gold Beach: 54 miles N of Crescent City, CA; 32 miles S of Port Orford. Brookings/Harbor: 26 miles N of Crescent City, CA; 35 miles S of Gold Beach
The 60-mile stretch of coast between Port Orford and the California state line is perhaps the most beautiful stretch of the entire Oregon coast, yet because of its distance from major metropolitan areas, it attracts surprisingly few visitors.
Let’s look history in the eye before we move on to the golden delights of Gold Beach today. There are a couple of big backstories that have had a major influence on the development of the town and the surrounding region. In 19th-century California, gold prospectors struggled through rugged mountains in search of pay dirt, but when they arrived in Oregon, they discovered they could scoop it up off the beach. The black sands at the mouth of the Rogue River were high in gold, and it was this gold that gave Gold Beach its name. The white, gold-greedy settlers inevitably came in conflict with the local Tututni tribe, whose forbearers had lived in the region for at least 8,500 years. Violence erupted in 1856, but within the year the Rogue River Indian Wars had come to an end, and the Tututnis were removed to a reservation.
When the gold played out, commercial fishermen moved in to take advantage of the river’s incredible salmon and steelhead runs (Zane Grey wrote about this period in his novel Rogue River Feud). A Scotsman named David Hume became the “Salmon King” of the Rogue, opening canneries that shipped out 16,000 crates of salmon a year. The efficiency of the commercial fishermen’s nets and traps quickly decimated the local salmon population, and a hatchery had to be constructed to replenish the runs. Another backstory.
Today, the chief delight of is the wild and scenic Rogue River that empties into the Pacific at Gold Beach. The Rogue is, to my mind, one of the great rivers of the West, perhaps of the world. You’ll see it far below, glittering if the day is bright, darkly mysterious if the weather is foggy or rainy, as you cross the Art Deco Patterson Bridge that spans the north and south banks above the river’s wide estuary. There is, of course, a beach at Gold Beach, though it’s not really the area’s main attraction. That is, and always will be, the Rogue, the most famous fishing and rafting river in the state.