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Strong, constant winds and waves battered at the Oregon coast for thousands of years, shaping the sand into towering dune formations. It is estimated that the Oregon Dunes are at least 100,000 years old. Congress agreed that 32,186 acres of the coastline should be protected from development and named these formations the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is the largest coastal expanse of sand dunes in North America. Some dune formations can reach as high as 500 feet above the sea level (the heights can fluctuate from year to year). It’s believed that the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area was the inspiration for Frank Herbert’s novel Dune.
The closest large town to Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is Coos Bay, which is a popular tourist destination. The sea stacks and pristine beaches are the main draws for nature lovers and photographers. Coos Bay, in addition to an artsy downtown shopping district, is the closest town with a hospital with an emergency room. Coos Bay is about 23 miles south.
Stretching over 40 miles of coast from Florence to Coos Bay, OR, Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area has a wide variety of beach activities, including hiking, photography, fishing, boating, and swimming. In addition to a dazzling array of recreational fun, it’s also one of the few coastal beaches on which vehicles can be driven. Bear in mind, though, that certain sections of the dunes are protected to preserve the formations for as long as possible as well as to protect the western snowy plovers’ nesting grounds, which are endangered. Vehicles are strictly prohibited from entering these areas. They are open to exploring most of the park, otherwise. The park offices have maps depicting these off-limit areas.
There are a little over 100 miles of trails for hikers and horseback riders to explore. Some trails ascend dunes, rewarding stalwart hikers with a sweeping view of the vast, endless ocean. Other trails lead explorers out onto rocky jetties where one may occasionally spot pods of whales and dolphins swim past. Certain jetties are also known as excellent crabbing spots (the park office has crabbing equipment available for rent). Bring a camera. Photographing a whale breeching is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Patient and quiet hikers may also spot Roosevelt elks, sea lions, pelicans, bald eagles, and even an occasional black bear.
Four boat launches spaced out along the coast allows for easier access to the Pacific ocean. Anglers can expect to catch a wide array of saltwater fish, including but not limited to tuna, halibut, sea trout, and salmon. Note that anglers must have a fishing license for either shoreside fishing or deepwater fishing.
It’s a long drive from the closest hotel, so rent an RV and skip waking at the crack of the dawn to beat the crowd. Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area RV campgrounds are scattered along the 40 miles of the coast. The campgrounds range in size from as few as five RV sites to over 50. While most lack hookups, they all have restrooms at minimum. Some campgrounds have flush toilets and drinking water.
RV camp near Reedsport, at Tahkenitch Lake Campground. Close to Tahkenitch Lake, many sites are waterfront. Though it is primitive, there are vault toilets should a visitor require it.
Alternatively, camp in an RV near Florence, at Tyee Campground. Able to accommodate only nine RVs, this small campground means more privacy and quiet. In addition to vault toilets, there are faucets with drinking water. Each site has a fire ring and a picnic table.
Many coastal towns in Oregon are full of charm, history, and friendly locals, and exploring them all is a snap in a motorhome rental. Hop onto the scenic byway that follows the contours of the coast. Along the way, keep an eye out for ancient lighthouses that stand sentinel against Pacific storms and the ravages of time and unique geological features that make Oregon beaches so remarkable. Near Yachats, is Thor’s Well, an unusual sinkhole that formed in a rocky seabed. As water gushes in, the water swirls away in a seemingly bottomless drain.
Alternatively, head inland into the heart of the mountains. Nestled in valleys are small farms and vineyards. Elkton is considered a growing wine region, and visitors will find vineyards that thrive in Oregon’s nutritious, dark soil. Brandborg Vineyard and Winery is an award-winning wine producer that has an on-site tasting room and tours of the grounds.
At the end of a long day of playing in the sand and exploring in an Airstream rental, kick up your heels by the crackle of a campfire, and watch stars appear in the night sky.