Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Lakes of Florence, Part Two

Cleawox Lake
Christmas and New Years have come and gone, and in western Oregon the time of cold mud has settled in. These authors' thoughts now turn to car camping, and the Oregon coast is calling out to us. It's time to pack up the thermal underwear, dry firewood, and extra sleeping bags and head to Florence.

In Part One of this series, we explored the lakes north of this central-coast town. Now it's time to head south, over the Siuslaw bridge and down the coast. Pass through Dunes City (really just South Florence) to the intersection with Canary Road. A right turn here will take you to Honeyman State Park. While we have covered this popular park in a previous post, it provides year-round activities and arguably the best car camping on this stretch of Highway 101. The yurts and RV sites offer welcome shelter from winter storms, and tent camping is relatively easy to find here in the off-season. Long, beautiful Cleawox Lake can be paddled any time of the year, or try your luck with the stocked rainbow trout. There are hiking trails and dune access for walkers, as well as ATV access for much of the year.

Woahink lake
On the other side of 101, Canary Road leads to Woahink Lake, which, like many coastal lakes, is shaped like a bug splattered on a windshield. This crystal-clear, 800-acre lake can be accessed on the north end from a pullout on the right side of Canary Road; look for a simple put-in and a trail to a tiny, lovely lakeside beach. This is a perfect area for paddle sports, as the lake's northern arms provide hours of quiet exploration. The main part of the lake attracts motorboats and sailing craft; an expansive, grassy park with an excellent boat ramp is just a bit further down the road. This park also offers a covered picnic area, wide lawns for outdoor games, and even a small, wind-sheltered swimming beach. The deep, cool water of the lake is rumored to hold especially large yellow perch, as well as trout, largemouth bass, and even steelhead and coho salmon. While many anglers take advantage of the park's accommodating banks, the deeper water (over 70 feet in some places) is further out, so a boat can be an advantage.

Siltcoos Lake
Tyee Campground and Siltcoos River
Siltcoos River
Back on 101, drive south along Woahink's western bank toward the Big One: Siltcoos Lake. At over 3000 acres, this is the largest lake on Oregon's coast; however, unlike neighboring Woahink, it's quite shallow. At an average depth of 11 feet, this is one of the best warmwater fisheries in the state, but cutthroat and rainbow trout are also caught here, as well as a few coho salmon. Motorboats are helpful, as wind is often a major factor on this wide, shallow body of water. This is another bug-splatter-shaped lake, with a few different access points. The Westlake area has a good boat ramp and plentiful parking (fee charged); watch on your right just after the turn off of 101 for tiny Tyee Campground, nestled between the busy highway and a residential neighborhood. Despite its less-than-ideal location and tendency to randomly close, this simple facility is prized for its access to the three-mile-long Siltcoos River, a designated water trail. Paddle upriver to access the lake and a small marina. There is more riverside camping a bit further down the highway at the Siltcoos Recreational Area, but be aware of river flows in the winter and early spring months. The scenic lower Siltcoos harbors many snags which can trap and overturn unwary paddlers at high flow. If wind and water are a bit rough for boating, hike the four-and-a-half-mile loop trail to the lake; the trailhead is found across Highway 101 from the Recreational Area turnoff. This winding, wooded path makes a pleasant stop along the way, and mountain bikers will love the somewhat challenging root-crossed singletrack. Once beside the lake, you will find a few peaceful campsites scattered in the woods; these are only accessible from the trail or the lake.

Carter Lake
Carter Dunes Trail
At this point we are leaving the Florence/Dunes City area, but there is one more lake to be explored. On the west side of Highway 101, Carter Lake lies in a fold of the dunes. This long, thin lake is often less windy than its more expansive neighbors. Even though it only covers 28 acres, it's a scenic place to paddle and very popular with families and local trout fishermen. Carter Lake Campground is one of our favorites, but it is only open during the summer months. A variety of sites can be found here, but the RV sites have no electricity supplied. The very best tent sites are right beside the lake; look for pullouts alongside the campground road to locate these. There is also a simple swimming area and access to the Carter Dunes Trail, which leads for three-fourths of a mile through forests and dunes to an unfrequented beach (be prepared for some seasonal flooding of the trail). If the campground is closed, park in the lot just before the gate and take Taylor Dunes Trail. The first half-mile of this sandy forest path is accessible for most people with mobility issues, and well-placed benches allow for peaceful bird-watching stops. For those able to continue, the trail meets up with Carter Dunes Trail and continues to the beach. To access Carter Lake when the campground is closed, a right turn just past the campground leads to the boat ramp, which, at this writing, is fee-free. Paddle the lake, or join the folks fishing from the bank beside the small ramp.

Oregon's beaches rarely experience ice and snow, and weather between the famous coastal storms can be surprisingly pleasant. Check forecasts before you leave, bring wool, microfiber, and rain gear, and be prepared for sudden changes. Winter camping on the coast can be fun with a little preparation. See you on the water, or on a muddy trail!

Cleawox lake

Woahink Lake

Put-in on arm of Woahink Lake

Tyee Campground

Carter Lake

Bundle up, grab your boats, and we'll see you out there!