Oregon Coast Winter Activities

Storm Watching, Whale Watching, and a Gathering of Fisher Poets Await

Winter on the Oregon Coast brings storm watching, the annual gray whale migration, and the popular Fisher Poets Gathering where fun and fish tales rule.

When the days shorten and the rains set in on the Oregon coast, it’s time for the drama and excitement of winter storms. It’s also the time for seeing gray whales as they pass just offshore on their ancient migratory ritual. It’s at this time of year that sleepy coastal towns settle into such diversions as the yearly Fisher Poets Gathering.

Whale Watching

The week between Christmas and New Years Day is Whale Watching week all along the Oregon Coast. Gray whales are passing the coast in peak numbers at that time on their yearly southbound migration from Alaskan waters to the warm lagoons of Baja California in Mexico. At 28 sites, from the Washington border to the California border, trained volunteers help visitors spot the whales and can share information about the habits of these mammoth sea creatures. Stick around for a while and you’re likely to see whales pop out of the water headfirst, exposing nearly the length of their sleek bodies. Or you may catch a dive with the V-shaped tail fins in full view. Look for “Whale Watching Spoken Here” signs along the coastal highway, US Highway 101, to point you to one of the staffed sites. Ecola State Park in Cannon Beach offers excellent watching from the vantage point of a high headland. It’s located off the highway, just 80 miles from Portland via U.S. Highway 26. The Whale Watching Center of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department provides a map of all 28 sites. The center also supplies a list of charter boat companies that can take you out for an up-close view of the whales. Whether onshore or at sea, warm rain-proof clothing is essential, and binoculars are an advantage.

Storm Watching

The Oregon Coast can be a wild place! Wind-whipped waves put on dramatic shows tossing logs across winter beaches and pounding rocky shorelines with a force that sends salty spray high into the air. They are sights best watched from indoors at one of the many hotels and inns the face the ocean with wide picture windows and crackling fireplaces. Depoe Bay, on the Central Coast, is an ideal site for storm watching. Alongside the tiny natural harbor, where fishing boats come and go in good weather, the stormy winter sea piles up against the downtown seawall in a continuous display of crashing waves. Depoe Bay is on U.S. Highway 101 between the larger towns of Lincoln City and Newport, about 100 miles from Portland. While storms are exciting, remember to watch from a safe distance. Beaches can be extremely dangerous during storms because of strong waves and undertows, plus logs and other heavy debris traveling on the fast-moving waves.

Fisher Poets Gathering

For one weekend in February fishermen from Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska gather in Astoria, Oregon, for this popular festival that draws audiences from across the continent. At theaters and pubs all over town, you can hear fishermen’s stories, songs, and of course, poetry. There’s music too, plus historic tours, fishing boat tours, slide shows, and writing workshops. You can even catch a discussion of current fishing issues. The whole town gets involved, so following the venues from one event to another gives you an introductory tour of the city, as well. This is a fun tribute to Astoria’s history as a fishing town and the industry that still characterizes it today. Events run Friday through Sunday, at a cost of around $5 per day or $10 for the whole weekend. The festival takes place on Feb. 27 and 28 and March 1. A full Fisher Poets Gathering schedule of events and venues is posted each year with any fee changes. Astoria is at the far northwest tip of Oregon at the confluence of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean, about 100 miles from Portland.

Enjoy winter on the Oregon Coast!

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