The Port Orford Area
Cape Blanco is now preserved as Cape Blanco State Park (tel. 541/332-6774; www.oregon.gov/oprd/parks), where you'll find miles of beaches, hiking trails through windswept meadows, picnic areas, and a campground. This high headland is also the site of the Cape Blanco Lighthouse, which is the most westerly lighthouse in Oregon. Not far from the lighthouse is the Hughes House Museum (tel. 541/332-0248; www.portorfordoregon.com/friends), a restored Eastlake Victorian home that was built in 1898 and is furnished with period antiques. Both the lighthouse and the Hughes House are open to the public April through October, Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 3:30pm. Lighthouse admission is by donation.
For a good view of Port Orford and this entire section of coast, drive up to the Port Orford Heads State Park, which is located on the northern edge of town and has a short trail out to an overlook. The route to the wayside is well marked. Here you can also visit the Port Orford Lifeboat Station (tel. 541/332-0521; www.portorfordlifeboatstation.org), a small museum preserving the history of the Coast Guard on the southern Oregon coast. The museum is open April through October, Thursday through Monday from 10am to 3:30pm; admission is free. Right in town, you can visit Battle Rock Park and learn the history of the rock refuge that rises out of Port Orford's beach. This is a good beach on which to walk, as is the beach at Paradise Point State Recreation Site, just north of town.
In town you'll find several art galleries. One of my favorites is the Cook Gallery, 705 Oregon St. (tel. 541/332-0045), which features beautiful handcrafted wood furniture and sculpture, as well as prints and ceramics. North of town, check out the wood carvings at A&T Myrtlewood, 45683 U.S. 101, Sixes (tel. 541/348-2586; www.aandtmyrtlewood.com).
Six miles south of Port Orford, you'll find Humbug Mountain State Park (tel. 541/332-6774; www.oregon.gov/oprd/parks), where Humbug Mountain rises 1,756 feet from the ocean. A pretty campground is tucked into the forest at the base of the mountain, and a trail leads to the summit.
About 12 miles south of Port Orford is a place the kids aren't going to let you pass by. The Prehistoric Gardens & Rainforest, 36848 U.S. 101 S. (tel. 541/332-4463), is a lost world of life-size dinosaur replicas. Though they aren't as realistic as those in Jurassic Park, they'll make the kids squeal with delight. The gardens are open in the summer daily from 8am to dusk; other months, call for hours. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and youths 11 to 17, $6 for children 3 to 10.
The Gold Beach Area
There is, of course, a beach at Gold Beach, though it's not really the area's main attraction. That distinction goes to the Rogue River, which empties into the Pacific here at the town of Gold Beach and is the most famous fishing and rafting river in the state. You can tour the river in powerful hydrojet boats, which have a very shallow draft and use water jets instead of propellers. These features allow these boats to cross rapids and riffles only a few inches deep. Along the way you may see deer, black bear, river otters, and bald eagles. A running narration covers the river's colorful history. Three different trips are available, ranging in length from 64 to 104 miles. Two companies operate these trips: Rogue River Mail Boats, 94294 N. Bank Rogue River Rd. (tel. 800/458-3511 or 541/247-7033; www.mailboat.com), leaves from a dock 200 yards upriver from the north end of the Rogue River Bridge; Jerry's Rogue Jets, 29880 Harbor Way (tel. 800/451-3645 or 541/247-4571; www.roguejets.com), leaves from the Port of Gold Beach on the south side of the Rogue River Bridge. Fares range from $45 to $87 for adults and $20 to $40 for children.
When you want to get out on the beach, head north of town across the Rogue River to Nesika Beach. To reach the best stretch of this beach, take the North Nesika Beach turnoff and then continue north to the end of the road. Alternatively, continue a little farther north to Old Coast Road, where you'll find a steep trail down to the beach.
Jerry's Rogue River Museum, 29880 Harbor Way (tel. 541/247-4571; www.roguejets.com), at the Port of Gold Beach and affiliated with Jerry's Jet Boat Tours, is the more modern and informative of the town's two museums. It focuses on the geology and cultural and natural history of the Rogue River. It's open daily in summer from 9am to 7pm and daily in the off season from 9am to 5pm; admission is free. At the diminutive Curry County Historical Museum, 29419 Ellensburg Ave. (tel. 541/247-9396; www.curryhistory.com), you can learn more about the history of the area and see plenty of Native American and pioneer artifacts. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm. Admission is $2 for adults and 50¢ for children 16 and under. The museum is closed in January.
Golfers can play a round at the 9-hole Cedar Bend Golf Course, 34391 Cedar Valley Rd. (tel. 541/247-6911; www.cedarbendgolf.com), 12 miles north of Gold Beach off U.S. 101. If you'd like to go horseback riding, contact Hawk's Rest Ranch, 94667 N. Bank Pistol River Rd. (tel. 541/247-6423; www.siskiyouwest.com) in Pistol River, 10 miles south of Gold Beach. Expect to pay $40 to $60 for a 90-minute ride.
Hikers have an abundance of options in the area. At the Frances Schrader Old Growth Trail, 10 miles up Jerry's Flat Road/South Bank Rogue River Road near the Lobster Creek Campground, you can hike through an ancient forest of huge, majestic trees. In this same area, you'll also find the Myrtle Tree Trail. Along this .25-mile trail, you'll find the world's largest myrtle tree, which is 88 feet tall and 42 feet in circumference. For more information on hiking in the Gold Beach area, contact the Siskiyou National Forest's Gold Beach Ranger Station, 29279 Ellensburg Ave., Gold Beach, OR 97444 (tel. 541/247-3600; www.fs.fed.us/r6/rogue-siskiyou).
South to Brookings
Gold Beach itself is a wide sandy beach, but just a few miles to the south, the mountains once again march into the sea, creating what, in my opinion, is Oregon's single most spectacular section of coastline. Though it's only 30 miles from Gold Beach to Brookings, you can easily spend the whole day making the trip. Along the way are numerous viewpoints, picnic areas, hiking trails, and beaches.
The Oregon Coast Trail, which extends (in short sections) from California to Washington, has several segments both north and south of Gold Beach. The most spectacular sections of this trail are south of town at Cape Sebastian and in Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor.
The first place you'll come to as you drive south from Gold Beach is Turtle Rock Wayside, just south of town. Although this is little more than a roadside pull-off, it does have a nice view. The next place to stop is at Cape Sebastian, which is 5 miles south of Gold Beach. This headland, which towers 700 feet above the ocean, is a good vantage point for whale-watching between December and March. A 2-mile trail leads from the parking area out to the end of the cape and continues down to the beach at Hunter's Cove. This little-visited spot is one of the best places on the south coast for a hike.
Another 2 miles south on U.S. 101, you come to Meyers Creek, which is at the Pistol River State Scenic Viewpoint. Here, scattered on the beach, you'll find some of the rugged monolithic rock formations that make this coastline so breathtaking. This is the most popular windsurfing and surfing beach on the south coast and is also a good clamming beach. About 2 miles farther south, you'll come to the sand dunes at the mouth of the Pistol River.
South of the Pistol River, you enter the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, which has numerous viewpoints, beaches, picnic areas, and stretches of hiking trail. About 6 miles south of the Pistol River, you come to Arch Rock Viewpoint, a picnic area with a beautiful view of an offshore monolith that has been carved into an arch by the action of the waves. Two miles beyond this, you come to the Natural Bridge Viewpoint. These two arches were formed when a sea cave collapsed. In 2 more miles you cross the Thomas Creek Bridge, which at 345 feet high is the highest bridge in Oregon. In a little more than a mile, you come to Whalehead Beach Viewpoint, where a pyramidal rock just offshore bears a striking resemblance to a spy-hopping whale. There's a better view of Whalehead Rock a half mile south.
In another 1 1/2 miles you'll come to House Rock Viewpoint, where sweeping vistas unfold to the north and south. At Cape Ferrelo Viewpoint and Lone Ranch Viewpoint just to the south, you'll find a grassy headland. Just south of here, watch for Rainbow Rock Viewpoint, which has a panorama of a stretch of beach strewn with large boulders. Go another 3 miles to Harris Beach State Park (tel. 541/469-2021), the last stop along this coast. Here you'll find picnicking and camping and a good view of Goat Island, which is the Oregon coast's largest island.
The Brookings Area
The Chetco River is known throughout Oregon as one of the best salmon and steelhead rivers in the state. It is also one of the prettiest rivers and offers opportunities for swimming, rafting, and kayaking. If you want to go out fishing for salmon or steelhead with a guide, contact Fishawk River Company (tel. 541/469-2422 or 541/661-0031; www.fishawk.net).
The area's botanical attractions are one of the most interesting reasons to pay a visit to the Brookings area. At Alfred A. Loeb State Park (tel. 541/469-2021; www.oregon.gov/oprd/parks), which is 8 miles up the Chetco River from Brookings on North Bank Road, you can see old-growth myrtle trees (from which the ubiquitous myrtlewood souvenirs of the south coast are made). Myrtle (Umbellularia californica) grows naturally only along the southern Oregon and northern California coasts. The Brookings area is also the northernmost range of the giant coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), and just beyond Loeb State Park, you'll come to one of the largest stands of coast redwoods in Oregon. Here the 1.3-mile Redwood Nature Trail loops past numerous big trees. This nature trail is connected to Loeb State Park via the .8-mile Riverview Trail. The region's wild azaleas, celebrated each year over Memorial Day weekend, come into bloom in May. The best place to see them is at Azalea Park, which is a couple of blocks east of U.S. 101 just before the bridge over the Chetco River at the south end of Brookings.
One of the more unusual places to visit in the area is the Brandy Peak Distillery, 18526 Tetley Rd. (tel. 541/469-0194; www.brandypeak.com), which is located north of Brookings off U.S. 101. (Take Carpenterville Rd. for 4 miles up into the hills, and then go right on Tetley Rd. and immediately right into the distillery.) This microdistillery produces varietal marc brandies (unaged brandies), as well as barrel-aged brandies, grappas, and pear brandy. The distillery is open for tours and tastings Tuesday through Saturday from 1 to 5pm between March and early January, and by appointment the rest of the year. If you want to be absolutely sure, call beforehand. Three miles south of Brookings on U.S. 101, be sure to stop at the Chetco Valley Museum, 15461 Museum Rd. (tel. 541/469-6651), if for no other reason than to see the largest Monterrey cypress in the state (perhaps the country), in front of the museum. In summer the museum is open Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4pm (call for hours in other months).