Cool Little Coastal Town ~ Florence, OR

Old Town Florence Boardwalk

Nestled between the Siuslaw (Sigh-oo-slaw) River and the Pacific Ocean is the cool little coastal town of Florence.

Logging, agriculture, and commercial fishing have been the mainstays in this little coastal gem but tourism is steadily increasing as the town has been discovered.  Florence is a great location to settle for a few days or weeks and branch out to explore.

When we felt the need to change plans earlier this year, Terry began to look at the state parks along the coast for our RV stops, as they had been given great reviews.  With high season fast approaching, this became a challenge so we settled on some county parks instead.  Armitage in Eugene was a great Lane County park and we’ve found another right here, Harbor Vista.  With only 38 sites and lots of vegetation between them, we can’t even see our neighbors and the steady moaning of the foghorn on the jetty lulls us to sleep at night – heavenly.

Cozy, secluded camp site

Here are a few things we would recommend should you find yourself wandering these parts:

Historic Siuslaw River Bridge

1)  Old Town Florence

Sitting right on the riverfront, Old Town has some great little boutique shops and restaurants and a quaint little harbor.   The view of the 1936 Art Deco Siuslaw River Bridge makes for quite the lovely backdrop.

Toes in the sand, feeling like a kid!

2)  Florence Beach

The beaches we have seen thus far in Oregon are so rugged and wild, with piles of bleached logs strewn along the shores like old bones.  This beach is no different and is a peaceful place to explore near sunset.  We spent some time visiting with a couple who settled here from Eugene 9 years ago. They say the fishing is grand and they often find little treasures that have washed ashore, like Japanese glass floats used in fishing nets.

Terry bracing against the wind on the jetty

3) South Jetty

Head to the south side of town; turn onto South Jetty Road; park in one of the lots; and head to the beach.  Just getting there requires a little effort to traverse the sand dunes but the reward is another lovely windswept beach where you can walk for miles.  We headed over to the south jetty after our walk  and decided to watch the kite surfers as this seemed the perfect activity for this windy day. Amazing what some of these guys can do!

Kite surfer
Buggies racing up the dunes

4)  Dune Buggies

On our way back from the jetty, we heard a deafening roar so stopped to check it out.  Dune buggies and ATV’s were tearin’ up the sand and it’s no wonder many accidents occur on these vehicles as we watched the mayhem on the dunes.  With vehicles flying in every direction, heading up steep dunes, not knowing what may be coming at you at any given moment, I was quite surprised but thankful we did not witness an accident while we sat there.  I only have two words for those who take part in this sport – TOTALLY CRAZED!

Shoreline from St. Perpetua Trail summit

5)  Cape Perpetua/Heceta Head Lighthouse

Venture out about 10 miles north of Florence on Route 101 to Cape Perpetua, where you will find a stunning headland jutting out into the Pacific.  Named by Captain James Cook in March 1778, as he sighted it on Saint Perpetua’s Day, it became part of the Siuslaw National Forest in 1908.

The Civilian Conservation Corps carved out a network of trails, built an observation point overlooking the coast, as well as a campground in this 2700 acres of old-growth spruce, Western hemlock and Douglas fir. The Forest Service followed that up with a Visitors’ Center in the 60’s and today it’s a popular spot for whale watching and exploring tidal pools.

At high tide when the ocean is turbulent, which it was not on the day we visited (insert heavy sigh here), there are some striking features to enjoy along this section of coastline.  Spouting Horn, a unique salt-water fountain, Thor’s Well, a powerful force of nature, and Devil’s Churn, a long crack in the coastal rock that fills with ocean waves that occasionally explode when incoming and outgoing waves collide are wonders I just had to be satisfied to see through photos.  Check out Thor’s Well here, Spouting Horn here, and Devil’s Churn right here.

Take the 2.6 mile hike to the summit on the St. Perpetua Trail and you will be rewarded with some fabulous views of the coastline from the West Shelter Observation Point.

Heceta Head Lighthouse

Travel another 2 miles and you SHOULD be able to see some stunning views of the Heceta Head Lighthouse.  We knew there would be no tours available for this grand lighthouse that sits 205 feet above the ocean as it is undergoing an extensive renovation project which will last into late summer 2013.  What we did not know was that the entire tower is shrouded in black, almost as if she is mourning that she can’t be on display for all to see.  It was a disappointment but just means we will have to come back!

RV travels
Umpqua River Lighthouse

6)  Umpqua River Lighthouse

Six miles south of Reedsport or roughly 26 miles south of Florence stands the lovely Umpqua River Lighthouse.  Of the 9 lighthouses adorning the Oregon coastline, hers is the only one with a distinctive red and white Fresnel lens.  The very first Oregon coast lighthouse was erected on the northern spit of river here in 1857.  The one standing today is the second Umpqua River Lighthouse as the first crumbled into the river in 1861 when her foundation eroded.  This currently functioning lighthouse was built instead on the south side of the bay, standing 165 feet in elevation, with a 65 foot tower. Tours are scheduled when enough tourists are gathered together, which unfortunately was not during our visit.

By the time we end our Oregon wanderings, we will probably have seen 8 of the 9 lighthouses and I will most likely honor them with their own post.

Terry trekking up the dunes

7)  John Dellenback Dunes Trail

Six miles south of Reedsport is the John Dellenback Dunes Trail, highly recommended by our fabulous tour guides and RV buddies, Nina and Paul of Wheeling It.  In some respects I am saving the best for last, or perhaps the most entertaining, at least to us.  We were told this is a seldom traveled trail and as we ventured out the reasons became obvious.

I may have mentioned in a past post that I have an almost non-existent sense of direction, and if you do as well, DO NOT attempt this by yourself, particularly on a very breezy day as this one was.  This is a ~6-mile trail, with 4 of those miles done slogging through loose dunes, some BIG ones.  Your navigational aids are posts with blue striping to guide you to the ocean.  Imagine a trail that takes you through the forest, scampering up tall dunes, and dumps you off on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, and that would be the John Dellenback Dunes Trail.  Just for fun, throw in a little wind (or a lot in this case) to toss the sand around a bit, giving you a free nature-made facial, and if you walk through these loose sands in your bare feet (and you really must), a pedicure to boot!  I mused to hubby that if we shed a few more articles imagine how polished our skin would be (he wasn’t biting)!

Navigational aid when seen through the blowing sand!
Through the forest

With the wind whipping around us and sand blowing everywhere, we thought about stories we had read of people getting lost in real deserts.  At one point, as we scaled a large dune, Terry yelled “this is insane!” but he did have a smile on his face.

Destination beach!

Call me crazy, call me senseless, I laughed throughout the journey and had a total blast!  This is a must if you are looking for a different kind of hike, one that will TOTALLY work your legs and backside.

There is definitely lots happenin’ in and around this cool little coastal town so come on over!

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