United States

Explore the best Oregon Coast photo spots

44 photo spots Public

Greg Vaughn


Introduction

Oregon is blessed with a wealth of spectacular natural features, and the coast in particular offers the traveler and photographer plenty of opportunities for whatever time they have to spend. Oregon’s 363 miles of coastline includes a diverse landscape of beaches, sand dunes, rocky cliffs, forested headlands, hidden coves, sheltering bays, and river estuaries. Sea stacks, tide pools, wildlife, and lighthouses are also among the favored subjects for photography. Small cities and little towns are dots on a map connected by US Highway 101, the Pacific Coast Scenic Highway, which runs the length of the Oregon coast.

This guide covers the entire Oregon coast, from the Columbia River in the north to the California border in the south. Included are all the major locations of interest to photographers, and many lesser known sites with great photo potential.

While there are some remote stretches of wild coast in Oregon, the vast majority of locations of interest to photographers are easily accessible from Highway 101 via numerous state parks, waysides and trails. Oregonians are fiercely protective of the state’s natural resources, and years ago passed a law guaranteeing public access to all beaches. You may not cross private property to get to the beach, but once on the beach you’re okay right up to the vegetation line.

When photographing anywhere on the Oregon coast, it is extremely important that you are always mindful of “sneaker waves”, surf, and tides. Be vigilant and never turn your back to the ocean.

44 photo spots


Picks

There are fantastic photo opportunities all along the Oregon coast and it’s a bit of a challenge to name a few as favorites. When people ask what I recommend most, I take into consideration time of year, weather, and how many days are planned for a photo trip.These are the locations I tell people not to miss:

Northern Coast:
- Ecola State Park
- Cape Kiwanda

Central Coast:
- Cape Perpetua
- Oregon Dunes NRA (Umpqua Dunes section)

Southern Coast:
- Sunset Bay-Shore Acres-Cape Arago trio of state parks
- Bandon Beach

Travelling

A good tip is to plan your itinerary for a north to south route along Highway 101 as almost all of the sites you want to visit will be an easy right turn. Ideally make advance reservations for lodging or campgrounds, especially in summer and on holiday weekends.

Great photographs can be made at any time of year on the Oregon coast, but plan your visit with the seasonal weather in mind. Summer sees the most visitors, but this is not the best time for great sunsets. When temperatures reach the 90s in Portland and the Willamette Valley, a fog bank frequently sits offshore and the sun will just drop into the gray without putting on much of a show for the cameras.

Winters are mild, with snow and freezing temperatures rare, but storms with high winds and heavy rain are frequent (great for storm watching!) Dramatic skies and surf afterwards make great images; winter sunsets can be epic.

Late spring and early fall bring what most people consider the best weather -blue skies, passing clouds and sunshine, comfortable temperatures and a lack of heavy rain. Spring wildflowers abound in grassy meadows and headlands and with autumn rains mushrooms pop up on the forest floor. These seasons are also best for photographing coastal seabirds and wildlife.

In any season, bring a long-sleeve fleece shirt and a water-repellant windbreaker. Footwear should include shoes or sandals for standing in water between waves or crossing coastal creeks, or bring knee-high rubber boots. If you are planning to visit the estuaries, marshes or dunes, you’ll need mosquito repellant. Sunscreen is also highly recommended.

Some sites require a parking or day use permit. On-site kiosks are available for daily permits, or you can invest in an annual Oregon State Parks permit. The multi-agency Oregon Coast Passport. Federal “America the Beautiful” access passes are good for entry and day use at all US Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sites. If you camp at an Oregon State Park, your daily permit includes day use for any other state park, wayside or viewpoint that is posted as requiring a fee – just put your campground permit on your vehicle dashboard.

Parking areas listed in this guide are quite safe, but take usual precautions and make sure anything of value left in the car is hidden from sight.

Mobile phone service on the Oregon coast is very good, with the exception of a few areas, mostly on the central and southern parts of the coast. This being Oregon, good coffee and microbrew beer are available just about everywhere!

Please be mindful of your impact on the environment, flora, and the fauna in your photographic endeavors. If photographing tide pools and inter-tidal areas, avoid walking on mussel beds, and don’t move starfish for the benefit your composition. Most rock formations, larger sea stack, headlands and cliff areas are important nesting and roosting sites for seabirds, and climbing on them is prohibited. On the central coast, you may find seasonal closures to beaches to protect the nests of the snowy plovers. If you are lucky to happen upon a young seal pup on the beach, enjoy the experience but don’t get close even if you think the pup needs help - a mother may abandon her pup if she senses human involvement. Remember no photograph is worth jeopardizing the wellbeing of wildlife or causing damage to a sensitive environment.

Events

- Oregon Coast Shorebird Festival – September. http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Bandon_Marsh/visit/visitor_activities/shorebird_festival.html

- Lincoln City Kite Festivals – June and October. http://www.oregoncoast.org/festivals-events/

- Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest – June. http://www.cannonbeach.org/events/Main-Events/

- Shore Acres Holiday Lights – Thanksgiving through New Years Eve. http://shoreacres.net/holiday-lights/

- Florence Rhododendron Festival – Late May. http://www.ci.florence.or.us/community/rhododendron-festival

- Finders Keepers on the Beach: Lincoln City Glass Balls - Mid-October through May 30. http://www.oregoncoast.org/finders-keepers/


Curated By

Greg Vaughn
I am the author and photographer for two guidebooks covering the Pacific Northwest USA. Photographing Oregon won the Independent Book Publishers Association Ben Franklin Award for best travel book of 2010. It is also included in the Top Ten Best Travel Guides for Photographers.
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