Boardman State Park is crescendo of Oregon coast – OregonLive.com
On Oregon’s spectacular south coast, between Gold Beach and Brookings just north of the California border, U.S. 101 follows one of the most beautiful highway-accessible coastlines in North America, perhaps even the world.
And in Oregon, the scenery gets even better when you pull off the highway, park the car and go looking for its secrets. The 12-mile section of the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, as it passes through the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, is breathtaking.
And why shouldn’t it be? This is where the western edge of North America plunges into one of the wildest bodies of water on the planet, the north Pacific Ocean.
This is the so-called Banana Belt of Oregon, where temperatures can rise into the 70s in February. Brookings already hit 66 degrees on Jan. 21 this year this story was originally publish in 2013). When conditions are just right, with hot winds pouring down the west slope of the coastal mountains, it’s been known to approach triple digits on the beach.
The spectacle unfolds in glimpses from the highway, but the best views come after short walks. Spur paths lead to ocean overlooks and pocket beaches from the Oregon Coast Trail, which parallels the highway.
Drivers speed past in 15 minutes, but hikers can spend two or three days becoming familiar with the park named for the first head of Oregon’s state park system.
The micro hikes featured here are mostly less than a mile, except when an out-and-back beach stroll doubles the distance.
Milepost numbers, the vertical green signs along highways, are helpful in locating places to park. Mileposts begin with 0 at the Oregon/Washington line near Astoria and reach 328 at Gold Beach. Mileposts given for park features below are those used by the state park staff.
The scenic corridor begins 15 miles south of Gold Beach (or ends there when driving north). Watch for highway signs and use your odometer to locate turnoffs and parking areas. The corridor continues to within one mile north of Brookings, the nearest place to the corridor with full tourist services.
Within the corridor look for restrooms at Arch Rock, Whaleshead Beach and Lone Ranch, but no drinking water anywhere. A ranger walks all the trails beginning March 1 to survey winter damage.
Take a few hours or a few days, but take time to get to know Mr. Boardman’s glorious park. It’s the best the Oregon coast has to offer.
Arch Rock picnic area (milepost 344.6): A rugged chain of sea stacks making up Mack’s Reef, part of the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge, extend to the north. Hike a quarter-mile paved loop from the parking lot to a commanding view of Arch Rock, the island directly offshore with an obvious name.
Spruce Island viewpoint (milepost 345): A large island, big enough to have a small grove of Sitka spruce crowning its top, is in view from the parking lot. The best hike here is south 0.9 mile on the Oregon Coast Trail, then down a side trail to Secret Beach.
Secret Beach (milepost 345.3): One of Oregon’s most spectacular pocket beaches is reached by a quarter-mile trail from a small parking area along U.S. 101. The parking area comes up quick, between Mill Creek to the north and Miner Creek to the south, on the west side of the highway. A waterfall on Miner Creek just above the beach adds to the idyllic scene.
Thunder Rock trailhead (milepost 345.8): A collection of inlets and headlands punctuated by crashing waves and squawking seabirds, Thunder Cove can be reached by hiking west into the woods on a one-mile clockwise loop. Be extra vigilant with youngsters and pets because it’s possible to get right up to the edge of dizzying drops.
Natural Bridges (milepost 346): Surf crashes through arches, left over from the collapse of a sea cave, which come into view after you walk 100 feet south to a wooden platform. The trail to the north connects to the Thunder Cove loop after a quarter-mile.
North Island viewpoint (milepost 347.5): A trail goes down to secluded China Beach, a cliff-lined stretch of black sand. Hike west into the woods toward the ocean, then turn right and follow the trail 0.7 mile down to the beach. Return the same way, or at low tide go north on the beach past an outcrop, then take a section of the Oregon Coast Trail up to the highway (this trail is currently closed by winter storm damage; it will reopen this summer). For a different quarter-mile hike from the parking lot, walk west toward the ocean, then turn left. A boot path soon leaves the main trail to the west, ending at a prominent overlook.
Thomas Creek Bridge (milepost 347.8): A spectacular bridge, the highest in Oregon, gives a dizzying view 345 feet down to Thomas Creek. Park along the highway just north or south of the bridge and walk across the bridge. The best view of the bridge itself, with its twin steel towers reaching far down to the canyon below, is from the northeast side.
Indian Sands (milepost 348.6): Indian Sands’ unusual sculpted sandstone formations, intermixed with soft dunes, are surprisingly high above the ocean. Walk downhill a quarter-mile southwest from the parking lot and emerge from the forest for another spectacular section of coastline. To the south is a sea arch, to the north are three rugged coves before a view of the Thomas Creek Bridge. Cliffs are soft and can crumble, so be careful not to fall.
Whaleshead Beach (milepost 349.1): A milelong beach, easily accessible from a parking lot, is the longest on this stretch of coast. For another hike look for an Oregon Coast Trail marker up at the turnoff from U.S. 101. Park at the turnoff, then hike west through the woods for a quarter-mile, steeply uphill at first, for a breathtaking view above Whaleshead Island. Watch for water spouts from Whaleshead rock offshore. (East of the highway, Whaleshead community is the only cluster of buildings along the corridor, with vacation rentals, RV camping, a restaurant and small store.)
Whaleshead Viewpoint (milepost 349.3): Look down on Whaleshead Beach from a highway pullout.
House Rock Viewpoint (milepost 351.2): Another roadside view of the coast, with a monument to the park’s founder, Samuel H. Boardman.
Cape Ferrelo viewpoint (milepost 351.9): One of Oregon’s best seasonal whale watching sites, the tip of Cape Ferrelo is a half-mile walk west of the parking lot. Along the way, look for a path that goes down to the ocean and a pocket beach. The trail south goes to Lone Ranch Beach.
Lone Ranch picnic area (milepost 352.6): Lone Ranch Beach is lined with some close-in sea stacks. Walk down the paved trail past the picnic tables to the surf line, then go south a half-mile on the beach. To the north, the trail threads through vegetation, then begins a half-mile climb over the grassy headland to the 300-foot summit of Cape Ferrelo.
Harris Beach State Park (milepost 355.7): This anchor park of the south coast is south of the scenic corridor. Make camping reservations in advance during the busy season.
Park contacts: 800-551-6949 (information line), 800-452-5687 (camping reservations), oregonstateparks.org (information), reserveamerica.com (reservations); Harris Beach State Park (for camping); Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor.