Oregon’s secluded South Coast overlooks the Pacific Ocean and is where many vacationers go hiking, fish, camp, and observe the Northwest’s wildlife and natural beauty.
Often thought of as Oregon’s underdeveloped coastline, the South Coast is a destination unto itself. Towering cliffs and tree-studded hillsides provide sweeping vistas of the Pacific Ocean. Spacious beaches and small, hundred-year-old towns dot U.S. Highway 101, the South Coast’s main artery.
Finding a park at which to camp, hike or fish isn’t a problem. The South Coast has more than 20 state parks from which to choose, and more than 100 miles of coastline to explore. Hotels, motels, vacation rentals, inns, and rustic resorts can be found both on the coast and nestled along scenic byways.
Favorite Attractions on the South Coast
The South Coast’s balmy weather is its most famous quality and has dubbed the region’s lower half the “banana belt” of the Oregon Coast. At its base, rimmed by California’s northern border, are the cities of Brookings and Harbor. Known for its pleasantly warm weather and excellent fishing opportunities, Brookings-Harbor, as the area is referred to, is a prime destination for campers and RV’ers, particularly during Brookings’ Azalea Festival.
Oregon’s famous rock monoliths, or sea stacks, can be seen everywhere as one drives north. These stone giants provide lush feeding and breeding grounds for birds and wildlife. Harris State Park, just north of Brookings, has the largest island off the Oregon Coast, as well as sea stacks populated with birds, seals, and other wildlife.
The community of Pistol River is where windsurfers go to test the elements on the South Coast. The town’s unusual name refers to an incident during the 19th century in which a soldier lost his pistol in the nearby river. Pistol River’s yearly windsurfing competition has elevated the town to national recognition. The competitions are a testament to the fact that it doesn’t really matter how cold the water is, the Northwest is still the best place to play.
The city of Gold Beach owes its name to the 19th-century gold excavations at the mouth of the Rogue River. The Rogue is a river rafting country, although the lower Rogue is more known for its exceptional fishing opportunities. For those who enjoy hiking, there is the Rogue River trail, which skirts alongside the estuary.
Hiking, Boating, and Fishing Opportunities
The Humbug Mountain State Park, further north, has in addition to beach access, an invigorating climb to the top of the mountain (1756 feet/535.23 meters), where a 19th-century exploration team is said to have once stood. Humbug’s strange name is again a tribute to weird Oregon history – in this case, to an expedition leader’s frustration after discovering his men had surveyed the wrong mountain.
Port Orford, north of Humbug Mountain, seems exceptionally small in population for a locale of such stunning beauty. Port Orford’s hills afford sweeping views of monoliths and 100-mile vistas. The town’s large fishing docks, which sit on tall concrete pilings are evidence of the winter weather patterns here: Fishing boats are raised by a crane and docked on land rather than moored in the water. Hundred-mile-an-hour winds are not uncommon at the heart of Port Orford’s winter season.
Cranberries, Cheese and Golf
North of Port Orford, the highway turns eastward and skirts past berry farms and old forgotten homesteads until it reaches the city of Bandon, the South Coast’s northern resort town. Once a quiet village dedicated to cranberry farming and cheese production, it now attributes much of its fame to golfing and scenic beauty. Wildlife-covered monoliths named for legendary figures, enchanting walking paths, and a carefully preserved river estuary offer the visitor numerous opportunities for experiencing Oregon’s unspoiled backyard.
Opinions differ as to where the South Coast ends, and the Central Coast begins. For many, Bandon is the most popular marker, although it leaves out the adjoining cities of Coos Bay and North Bend, as well as \Winchester Bay, Reedsport, Gardiner and other inland towns, which all have their own charms. The South Coast may be Oregon’s undiscovered frontier, but its beauty and natural setting still makes it one of the Northwest’s richest recreational resources.