Saturday, January 9, 2021

Accessible Oregon: the Southern Coast, Part I

Woahink Lake
This month we revisit our series on quick, accessible, enjoyable stops in Oregon. These spots are perfect for people with mobility issues, for those travelling with small children, and for those whose itinerary allows little time for lingering.
Our central coast posts ended at Cape Perpetua, so our south coast journey begins just south of the Cape at Bob Creek. The small parking lot and miniature beach don't look especially promising, but this modest park is one of our favorite stops along this stretch of 101. The narrow beach and namesake creek lie just south of Gwynn Knoll, which provides some shelter from wave action and northerly winds. Park near what appears to be a shell midden and watch the waves roll in. Picnic tables are provided, although they are not wheelchair accessible. The tide pools here are fun to explore at low tide for those who can manage the short path to the beach and the sometimes-slippery rocks. We have found many agates and small shells at this little wayside.

Another sheltered beach is just down the highway at Heceta Head. There is a fee to park here, but it is definitely worth it if you can spend some time. Park looking directly at the waves. The sandy beach is wider here than at Bob Creek, and it is easier to reach. Heceta Head lighthouse perches on the head itself, and the former light keeper's house rests on a hillside above the beach (access to the house and lighthouse is by a hiking trail through the woods). For one of Oregon's most-photographed views, drive south from Heceta Head, cross a bridge and go through a tunnel. Watch for a pullout on your right with parking beside a low stone wall. Stop and look back over the little beach towards the pretty white lighthouse and the house tucked below it.

Proceeding southward, you will notice Lily Lake lying in a swath of dunes west of the highway. This body of water looks like you could walk right up to it; such is not the case. The shoreline of this catch-and-release lake is particularly reedy and brushy, making it difficult to access. Enjoy the view and keep driving.

Next we have a worthwhile stop: a swamp full of carnivorous plants. Turn east on Mercer Lake Road to find parking for 18 acres of lush forest that hosts darlingtonia californica, a native pitcher plant that really seems to like this location. A short, somewhat bumpy path leads to wooden walkways through the bog itself. The picnic tables are somewhat accessible, and a simple restroom is sometimes unlocked; the real draw here is the patch of bizarre lilies tucked in the coastal rainforest.

While you're in the area, turn west on Sutton Beach Road to find Holman Vista. This site provides access to hiking trails and Sutton Creek, but there is also a wheelchair-accessible platform that offers views over the dunes. Like several of the stops in this article, this park charges a fee, but passes from other Forest Service sites are accepted.

South Jetty
Florence itself is a pleasant, beachy town; visit Old Town for picturesque views of the harbor and the Siuslaw River among the shops and restaurants. Cross the river and turn west to visit the South Jetty, a ruggedly beautiful strip of dunes. This area is popular with ATV riders, and there is a fee charged, but if you keep driving out the bumpy paved road to the end, there is no fee charged there. This is a great spot to watch boats going in and out, and the bird watching is excellent in the dunes. Look just before the end of the road to find a fishing pier that is not quite wheelchair accessible due to the bumpy, soft ground; otherwise, it can certainly be walked to from the adjacent parking lot.

Cleawox Lake
A bit further south you enter Honeyman State Park. Turn west to find the day use for Cleawox Lake; there is a nice, accessible fishing dock here (state day use fee charged). Turn east to find Woahink Lake; watch for a large public park on the right. There is a boat ramp and dock here, as well as broad lawns with picnic tables. This park has no day use fee at this writing.

For those who can manage a short, level hike, the Siltcoos Recreation Area offers a unique wetland trail at Lagoon Campground. Well-spaced benches give walkers a place to stop and watch the abundant wildlife in this peaceful place. The deeper water at the west end is frequently stocked with catchable rainbow trout. Highly recommended for kids.  A Forest Service pass is required.

Heading south, watch for the Oregon Dunes Day Use Area. This park charges a fee, but honors the same Forest Service passes. A series of smooth, but somewhat steep, wooden ramps leads to two wheelchair-accessible viewing platforms. The same pass will grant you parking at the nearby Tahkenitch Lake boat ramp, with a small lakeside park and dock.

Pass through the town of Gardiner, which became something of a time capsule when the mills closed down. Go over the Umpqua River into Reedsport and drive east on Highway 34 for three miles to the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area. A series of parking lots offer a fully-accessible chance to see the resident wild elk, as well as a variety of bird life. This site is free.

Winchester Bay
Just south of Reedsport, watch for the briny little village of Winchester Bay. The boat basin here is accessed by a series of parking lots; just pull in and visit the docks for great photos. Drive through the marina to find a bayside park where you can watch the boaters trying their luck at fishing and crabbing. Nearby, the beautiful Umpqua Lighthouse shines it red and white lights out to sea; park on the west side to look out over the forest and dunes to the ocean (you may spot commercial oyster beds laid out in the water). Down the hill from the lighthouse, Lake Marie offers fishing for those who can navigate a short, somewhat steep paved path; this is a great place to take kids. There is a peaceful state campground here which offers "deluxe yurts" (read: bathrooms inside), and some are fully accessible.

Back on 101, continue southward to North Bend/Coos Bay. Be sure to check out the Coos Bay Boardwalk, a short but scenic waterside walkway at the foot of Anderson Avenue. Three open-air pavilions offer information on the history of the area, including a cutaway display of the historic tugboat Koos #2; a precipitous walkway allows access for those who want to examine the boat up close.

Now backtrack a bit and take Newmark Avenue and turn right on Hull Street to find the Empire Lakes and John Topits Park. While there are a few approaches to the lakes, this area offers accessible and family-friendly fishing and lake viewing, as well as wheelchair-accessible hiking near the lakes.

Newmark Avenue continues towards Cape Arago; watch for our next post, which will pick up at the Hollering Place and continue down the coast to Brookings. Happy travels!

Bob Creek

One of the most scenic pullouts in Oregon

Boardwalk amongst the darlingtonia lilies

Old Town Florence
At Florence's South Jetty

The almost, but not quite, accessible fishing pier

Trail to the dock at Cleawox Lake

Woahink Lake

Oregon Dunes Day Use Area

Tahkenitch Lake

These authors do not guarantee the presence of elk at the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area.
There are actually two in this picture. We swear.

Winchester Bay

Umpqua Lighthouse

Lake Marie

Koos #2 on the Coos Bay Boardwalk

John Topits Park. The paved trail to the left is close enough to the water to be fished from.
This pier in Lower Empire Lake is, unfortunately, not accessible. To anyone. Note the conspicuous lack of pier on either end. In any case, see you in part two!