2021 Feb: Oregon coast in winter via RV

Driving the scenic Oregon coast cured our Seattle winter blues, February 7-11, 2021. Designed for summer throngs, Highway 101’s many spacious campgrounds were thankfully uncrowded, despite some being closed for winter. We could relax, with no reservations! A downside of the wet season was deep mud on the longer trails, restricting hikes to well-established viewpoint paths. But to our delight as we parked in Ecola State Park, a herd of Roosevelt elk ambled by, grazing against a backdrop of Cannon Beach’s iconic sea stacks!

Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti) graze in winter at Ecola State Park, on the Oregon coast, USA. Behind the elk, various sea stacks rise from the Pacific Ocean, including nearby Bird Rocks and Haystack Rock offshore from Cannon Beach. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti) graze in winter at Ecola State Park, on the Oregon coast. Behind the elk, various sea stacks rise from the Pacific Ocean, including nearby Bird Rocks and Haystack Rock offshore from Cannon Beach.

This Google Map of western Oregon shows our route from north to south:

The above map’s waypoints include the following sights covered in this article:

  1. the striking Peter Iredale shipwreck at Fort Stevens State Park (featuring Battery Russell and a sprawling campground)
  2. Ecola State Park (starring Roosevelt elk, Indian Beach, Tillamook Lighthouse, and adjacent Cannon Beach village, Haystack Rock, and Chapman Beach)
  3. Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint, at Oceanside (with nice lighthouse & Octopus Tree). Note that northern access to the Cape Meares Loop road was closed during this winter 2021 but is open from the south.
  4. Newport’s Oregon Coast Aquarium
  5. Otter Rock’s Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area
  6. Seal Rock State Recreation Site (adjacent RV Park offers good views & beach access)
  7. Cape Perpetua Scenic Area
  8. historic Heceta Head Lighthouse

Highlights from the Oregon coast in winter

Harmonious with social distancing, our self-contained RV again proved perfect for pandemic travel.

We especially enjoyed walking trails and beaches around Fort Stevens State Park, which has a huge campground, with more yurts than I’ve ever seen! The campground was nearly deserted on a Sunday evening in February.

Peter Iredale sailing ship ran aground in 1906 on Clatsop Spit. Fort Stevens State Park, Oregon, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

In 1906, the crew of the sailing ship Peter Iredale took refuge at Fort Stevens, after she ran aground on Clatsop Spit. The wreck is visible today, within Fort Stevens State Park, along the Oregon Coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

<A flock of seabirds flies behind a shipwreck skeleton. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Shipwreck skeleton at sunset. In 1906, the crew of the sailing ship Peter Iredale took refuge at Fort Stevens, after she ran aground on Clatsop Spit. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The image below is from inside Battery Russell Lower Ammunition Bunker and Quarters at Fort Stevens State Park:
Battery Russell Lower Ammunition Bunker and Quarters at Fort Stevens State Park, Oregon Coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Fort Stevens operated from 1863–1947 as part of a 3-fort system defending the Columbia River Mouth. Built near the end of the American Civil War, this American military installation was named for a slain Civil War general and former Washington Territory governor, Isaac I. Stevens. In June 1942 during World War II, a Japanese submarine fired 17 rounds upon Fort Stevens (luckily causing causing no real damage), making it the only military base on the Continental United States to be fired upon by an enemy since the War of 1812.

Driving further south to Cannon Beach village, views are most impressive from Ecola State Park’s trails (see the first photo in this article). The Indian Beach trail was very scenic as far as the outlook to Sea Lion Rock, but thereafter 6-inch deep mud turned us back. Hiking onwards on the Coast Trail would be best left for a drier week or season.

Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti), Ecola State Park, Oregon coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti), Ecola State Park. Please don’t feed or approach the wild elk. Instead, let them graze in peace. A tourist leashed to a barking dog blithely approached too close to a female elk, which then protected itself with a false charge. The man and dog wisely retreated in fear! As a young woman tried to pet another elk, I warned her not to approach the large, unpredictable beast.

At the nearby empty Sea Ranch RV Park, we checked into the prettiest site along tidal Ecola Creek within popular Cannon Beach village. Very quiet during off-season, the resort town is a delight to explore on foot, including its beach and Haystack Rock. (Tolovana Beach State Recreation Site offers parking Haystack Rock and its beach.)

Below: Pounding surf eroded bluffs away, leaving Haystack Rock, a 235-foot high sea stack rising from the Pacific Ocean at Cannon Beach, Tolovana Beach State Recreation Site:
Haystack Rock, sea stacks, Tolovana Beach State Recreation Site, Cannon Beach, Oregon coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: Tillamook Lighthouse clings to a sea stack amid crashing waves, seen from Chapman Beach. Cannon Beach city, Oregon coast.
Tillamook Lighthouse clings to a sea stack amid crashing waves, seen from Chapman Beach. Cannon Beach city, Oregon coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: Bird Rocks and sea stacks seen from Chapman Beach, just north of Ecola Creek, the biggest stream running through the town of Cannon Beach.
See Bird Rocks and other sea stacks from scenic Chapman Beach, which is just north of Ecola Creek, the biggest stream running through the town of Cannon Beach, on the Oregon coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

A series of pretty parks greets travelers south of Cannon Beach:

  • At Oswald West State Park, the Cape Falcon Trail (4.5 miles round trip) is recommended in summer but is likely muddy and eroded in winter, so we skipped it.
  • Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint, lighthouse, and Octopus Tree are worth the side trip. In winter 2021, a portion of the loop road is closed due to washout, so one must access from the south.
  • Cascade Head Preserve trail (on land owned by The Nature Conservancy), would have had a great view on our sunny day, but was closed “due to Oregon state guidelines for COVID-19.”
  • Cape Lookout State Park Campground: is a nice campground on a beach near trails; but as the day was still young, we drove onwards.
  • Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint, Depoe Bay: is worth a stop to see crashing waves.
  • Otter Crest State Scenic Viewpoint: has impressive views high above the Pacific Ocean.

Below: At Otter Rock village, Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area features an orange headland perforated with two natural arches.
Devils Punchbowl was naturally carved by Pacific Ocean waves crashing into a rock headland, creating two caves which collapsed to leave two natural arches. Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area, Otter Rock, Oregon coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: A couple admires sunset at Beverly Beach State Park Campground, where we stayed the night before visiting Newport’s excellent Oregon Coast Aquarium.
Sunset at Beverly Beach State Park Campground, Newport, Oregon coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: The top reason we returned to Newport’s Oregon Coast Aquarium (previously visited in 2008) was to reexperience the tank of beautiful yellow-orange Pacific sea nettles swimming hypnotically against a blue background.
Pacific sea nettles (Chrysaora fuscescens) undulate hypnotically in a blue tank at Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport, Oregon, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: A Tufted Puffin at Oregon Coast Aquarium, in Newport.
A Tufted Puffin flaps its wings in a pen at Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport, Oregon, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: Sea anemones and other sealife at Oregon Coast Aquarium.
Sea anemones and other sealife at Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport, Oregon, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: A Green Moray Eel (Gymnothorax funebris) emerges from a pipe at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, in Newport, Oregon, USA. While it may look neon green, the skin of the otherwise brown eel actually secretes a yellow-tinted layer of protective, toxic mucus. Moray eels are the only fish (and the only vertebrates) with mobile pharyngeal jaws, an extraordinary hunting innovation where outer jaws firmly grasp the prey, then separate inner jaws within the throat shoot forward to bite the target and pull it in!
 Green Moray Eel (Gymnothorax funebris). Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport, Oregon, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Two images below: Ocean wave erosion exposes colorful rock patterns along the beach near Seal Rock State Recreation Site.
Colorful seaside rock patterns near Seal Rock State Recreation Site, on the Oregon coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Colorful seaside rock patterns near Seal Rock State Recreation Site, on the Oregon coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Colorful seaside rock patterns in Hill Creek near Seal Rock State Recreation Site, on the Oregon coast, USA. We stayed at the adjacent Seal Rocks RV Cove. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Images above and below: Sunset over Hill Creek, a stone’s throw south of Seal Rock State Recreation Site.

Sunset behind sea stacks reflects in Hill Creek near Seal Rock State Recreation Site, on the Oregon coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Sunset behind sea stacks reflects in Hill Creek near Seal Rock State Recreation Site, on the Oregon coast.

We stayed at the adjacent Seal Rocks RV Cove on our last night on the coast, then boogied back to Seattle the next day, before a foot of snow fell and isolated our street!

Earlier that day, we had visited the following destinations further south:

Near Yachats city, Cape Perpetua Scenic Area offers an attractive network of trails and viewpoints, managed by Siuslaw National Forest:

  • Highway 101 curves spectacularly across the face of Cape Perpetua’s rock cliffs.
  • The turbulent crack of Devils Churn offers a steep walk down to a rocky shore strewn with driftwood, making a great break from driving.
  • At 800 feet above the Pacific Ocean, Cape Perpetua Headland is the highest car-accessible viewpoint on the Oregon coast. From the parking area at the top, a short loop trail provides inspiring views south and north. (Or for more exercise, one could get here via trails from the campground or visitor center below.) Early explorer Captain James Cook first observed this headland in 1778 and named it after Saint Perpetua. In 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt formed the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Cape Perpetua became a base camp for young men to learn skills. Many of the area’s campgrounds, trails, and plantings are the work of the CCC.
  • Cook’s Chasm and Thor’s Well Trail offers another permutation on waves perpetually crashing against rock (optionally connecting with trails to Devils Churn and the Visitor Center).

1893 Lightstation at Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon coast, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Built in 1893, Heceta Head Lightstation is a short walk from the parking lot on a beautiful remote bay. Don’t miss the side trail that switchbacks to views like this just above the Lighthouse tower. Walking further upwards leads to an impressive view of Hobbit Beach, which is reachable by continuing further to the northeast on the same trail.

  • In this area, the Siuslaw Indians traditionally hunted sea lions and gathered sea bird eggs from offshore rocks. Heceta Head is named after Spanish explorer Bruno de Heceta, who explored the Pacific Northwest during the late 1700s.
  • The light at top of 56-foot tower was first illuminated in 1894. Perched 205 feet above the ocean, its Fresnel lens beams the brightest light on the Oregon coast, visible up to 21 miles out to sea.
  • Location: Halfway between Cape Perpetua and Florence, a turnoff just south of Carl Washburne State Park (which has a great campground) takes you to the parking lot on a beach, where you can walk a half mile to the lighthouse. (Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint was created in the 1990s by combining Heceta Head State Park with the former Devils Elbow State Park at the scenic cove at the mouth of Cape Creek.)

A weather warning caused us to retreat back to Seattle before a foot of snow would fall to block our street, cutting the trip from 6 days to 5. On that missed day, we would have sought the following Oregon coast highlights further south (which I photographed in February 2012):

Index of my Oregon articles:

All images from this trip, “2021 Feb 7-11: RV Oregon coast”


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2016 Sept: Oregon: Wallowa: Eagle Cap Wilderness backpack

From September 11-13, 2016, we enjoyed walking 22 miles in 3 days backpacking to Mirror Lake and idyllic Glacier Lake in Eagle Cap Wilderness, within Wallowa–Whitman National Forest, in the Wallowa Mountains, on the Columbia Plateau of northeastern Oregon. Scenery of “the Wallowas” resembles that of California’s Sierras but is much closer to Seattle!


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Our 3-day, 22-mile route was as follows:

  1. Hike 7.3 miles gaining 2000 feet from Two Pan Trailhead (5600 ft) up East Lostine River to camp at popular Mirror Lake (7606 ft). This excellent base camp has lots of sites (but adjacent Sunshine Lake may be more photogenic and less crowded), with three good day hikes for extended stays:
  2. Day hike from Mirror Lake to Glacier Lake via Glacier Pass (6 miles round trip, 1200 ft gain), highly recommended! Other options from Mirror Lake include (not done by us):
    • Ascend Eagle Cap, a short and steep 3.5 miles round trip gaining 2000 feet.
    • Loop via Moccasin Lake to Douglas Lake and Horseshoe Lake, 8.6 miles gaining 500 feet (or omitting Horseshoe makes 5-mile loop).
  3. Backpack out 8.7 miles via scenic Carper Pass (800 feet gain) to remote Minam Lake and West Fork Lostine. Walking out this different route adds variety to the trip but creates a more-punishing 3000-foot cumulative descent back to Two Pan Trailhead. Minam Lake suffered from low water levels this September, but the outlet West Fork Lostine River was pleasant to explore.

If you have 4+ days, considering reversing the loop and camping the first night at less-crowded Minam Lake, then the second/third nights at one of the following: Upper Lake (good base for ascent of Eagle Cap), or popular Mirror Lake, or nicer Sunshine Lake, nearby Moccasin Lake, or most-beautiful Glacier Lake (which is more effort over a ridge 1000 ft up, 200 down).

Directions: In the northeast corner of Oregon, from Pendleton, take Interstate 84 east to La Grande. Turn north on State Highway 82 through Elgin to Lostine (10 miles west of Enterprise). In Lostine, go 7 miles south on Lostine River Road to the National Forest boundary where it turns into Forest Road 8210, up Lostine Canyon for 11 more miles to the end of the narrow gravel road with some washboard roughness. At the trailhead, backpackers self-issue their own Wilderness Visitor Permit, one per group. Horse-packers can be booked to assist your trip.

Other good hikes in the Wallowa Mountains:

From Wallowa Lake Trailhead, attractive Ice Lake is 15.4 miles round trip (not yet done by Tom). From Ice Lake, the scenic white granite Matterhorn is 1977 feet gain in 3.4 miles round trip to an impressive view. A good inexpensive base with hot showers is Wallowa Lake State Park (just south of Joseph and Enterprise, Oregon). Optional extension:

  • From the Ice Lake Trail junction (2.6 miles one way from Wallowa Lake Trailhead), the following scenic extension adds 21.3 miles round trip: a lollipop-shaped loop to Horseshoe Lake, Douglas Lake, Moccasin Lake, Mirror Lake and Glacier Lake.

See also our nearby hikes in Hells Canyon and Eastern Oregon.

USA: Eastern Oregon

View Tom Dempsey’s photos of Eastern Oregon, including:

  1. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
  2. Enterprise & Imnaha: Hells Canyon Recreation Area, Wallowa Mountains
  3. Wallowa Mountains: Eagle Cap Wilderness backpacking
  4. Troy: Wenaha River Trail, Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF
  5. Pendleton: Ninemile Ridge Trail, Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF

1. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

From a visit on March 15-16, 2014, we show photos of Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, including Painted Hills Unit and Sheep Rock Unit (Blue Basin Overlook Trail):


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2. Enterprise & Imnaha: Hells Canyon Recreation Area, Wallowa Mountains


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Much of this area is within the extensive Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

3. Wallowa Mountains: Eagle Cap Wilderness backpacking


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For more details, read my separate article about backpacking Eagle Cap Wilderness.

4. Troy: Wenaha River Trail, Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF


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Wenaha River Trail starts from the Wenaha River’s confluence with the Grande Ronde River in the Blue Mountains of northeast Oregon.

5. Pendleton: Ninemile Ridge Trail, Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF


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Oregon favorite statewide images (consolidated from many trips)


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Index of my Oregon articles:

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2014 spring training hikes in Washington & Eastern Oregon

Where can Seattle hikers go in the spring when high Cascades trails are covered in snow? Motivated to train for summer trekking in Peru, we enjoyed the following series of early season hikes in Washington and Oregon, traveling 1-4 days at a time out of Seattle between April 14-Jun 13, 2014:


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As driving trips out of Seattle, these spring hikes (photos above and links below) gave lots of variety, including wonderful wildflowers and snow-free footing with altitude acclimatization as high as 7140 feet in Washington’s Kettle Range:

  • Oregon (camping in RV parks in our VW Eurovan Camper)
    • John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (click to article or see photo show below): March 15-16 was an excellent time for us to visit, with pleasant temperatures; snow-free most of the year.
    • Troy: Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF, Grande Ronde River:
      • Wenaha River Trail (8.2 miles/600 ft gain): on May 19, this pleasant trail was dry and snow-free.
      • We enjoyed being the sole campers next to the Grande Ronde River in quiet Shilo Troy RV Resort (hot showers; electric hookup).
    • Enterprise: Wallowa Mountains
      • Imnaha River Trail (9.3 miles/800 ft gain), Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest: May 20 was perhaps a week too late to avoid an overgrowth of poison ivy and blackberry thorns across the trail – next time, early to mid-May should be best. Bring a machete. For sure, avoid midsummer heat on this trail which is hikeable from late March through November.
      • In Enterprise, Log House RV Park had friendly staff and good views of the Wallowa Mountains and Eagle Cap Wilderness.
    • Pendleton:
      • Ninemile Ridge Trail (5.3 miles/1250 ft gain, plus more if you want): May 21 had excellent Lupinus luteolus (Pale Yellow or Butter Lupine) flowers; usually best from mid- to late-May.
  • Washington
    • Blewett Pass (camping for 2 nights):
      • Iron Creek to Teanaway Ridge Trail (7.2 miles/1850 ft): May 28 had excellent footing, with some easily crossed snow patches at the top. Camp in nice quiet Forest Service pullouts along the gravel access road.
      • Ingalls Creek Trail (11.2 miles): Excellent on May 29; best mid-May to early-June for wildflowers and rushing high-volume water; hikeable May to October. Camp conveniently in Blu-Shastin RV Park near Leavenworth.
      • Table Mountain Trail #1209, near Blewett Pass, Wenatchee National Forest (5 miles/800 ft): on May 30, one snow blockage in the access road forced us to walk a mile to the trailhead, discovering beautiful rafts of Glacier Lilies, Grasswidow, and Columbian lewisia flowers under the burnt forest!
    • Mt Si Trail, North Bend (9 miles/3170 ft): snow-free most of the year, except summit Haystack area.
    • West Tiger Mountain, Issaquah: snow-free most of the year.
    • Cougar Mountain, Issaquah: snow-free most of the year.
    • Wallace Lake, Gold Bar (loop 8.5 miles/1500 ft): snow-free most of the year.
    • Kettle Range, Colville National Forest, near Republic, for the highest snow-free, early-season hikes in Washington, above 7000 feet elevation:
      • Copper Butte Trail (9.2 mi/2150 ft, reaching 7140 feet elevation): snow-free footing on June 12.
      • Wapaloosie Mountain Trail (6.2 mi/1850 ft, reaching 7018 feet elevation): snow-free footing on June 13.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

From a late-Winter visit on March 15-16, 2014, we show photos of Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, including Painted Hills Unit and Sheep Rock Unit (Blue Basin Overlook Trail):


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Index of my Oregon articles:

– Tom and Carol Dempsey
Seattle, Washington
Apr 14-Jun 13, 2014

USA: Oregon: John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

From a trip on March 15-16, 2014, we show photos of Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, including Painted Hills Unit and Sheep Rock Unit (Blue Basin Overlook Trail):


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Photo favorites of 2014 spring trip from Seattle to Texas via Oregon

The above John Day Fossil Beds images are from our 6000-mile trip from March 15 to April 9, 2014, where my wife Carol and I drove our VW Eurovan Camper from Seattle to Texas and back, visiting some great parks in Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Texas and California. That trip produced these favorite photos:


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Oregon favorite images (consolidated from many trips)


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USA: OREGON favorite images

View favorite photos from Oregon, USA in this show:


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USA: OREGON & WASHINGTON: Columbia River Gorge

Photos of Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area span both Oregon and Washington, including: Multnomah Falls, Latourell Falls, Wahclella Falls, moss smothered trees on Tanner Creek, Horsetail Falls & Creek, Upper Horsetail (Ponytail) Falls, Beacon Rock, Triple Falls & Middle Falls of Oneonta Gorge, Wahkeena Creek, Fairy Falls, blossoms of Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum), tugboat pushing barges of grain.


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Recommended Oregon and Washington guidebooks from Amazon.com

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Recommended Oregon guidebooks from Amazon.com

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USA: OREGON: plants & patterns

Photos of Oregon plants and patterns include: sun rays bursting through foggy trees at Champoeg State Heritage Area, insect-eating (carnivorous) Cobra lilies at Darlingtonia Wayside near Florence, shiny iridescent sea foam bubbles, and cool sand and algae abstracts shaped by tides.


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Oregon favorite images


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USA: OREGON: Cascades Range, Crater Lake, Umpqua

Photos of the Oregon Cascades Range include Crater Lake National Park, Toketee Falls, North Umpqua River, Watson Falls & Creek, Douglas County, Oregon, USA.


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 Oregon favorite images


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USA: OREGON: sea life, Newport Aquarium

Abundant sea life thrives along the Oregon Coast. View photos of the Newport Aquarium, sea nettles, starfish, sea anenome, fish, and other animals. The Oregon Coast makes a great fall, winter, or spring escape.  Camping and lodging are more crowded in summer, but summer weather is warmer and much less rainy.


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USA: OREGON Coast: seascapes, lighthouses

See attractive seascapes and lighthouses along the Oregon Coast for a great fall, winter, or spring escape. Summer has more crowded camping and lodging, but the weather is warmer and much less rainy.

Seascapes

Attractive Oregon coast seascapes include Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Ecola State Park, Cape Meares, Oceanside, and more.


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Lighthouses and ships

Photos of Oregon lighthouses and ships include: Heceta Head Lighthouse, keepers house with holiday lights, orange sunsets, Umpqua Lighthouse State Park at Reedsport, Cape Meares Lighthouse, the “Westward Ho!” 1850’s sternwheeler on Siuslaw River at Florence, and Sandy Creek Covered Bridge at Myrtle Point.


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Oregon favorites


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