Kayaking Oregon’s Gold Coast

Just returned from a week of kayaking and hiking along Oregon’s gold coast. Our group of kayakers included members of the Campbell Outdoor Club (nature enthusiasts) and three experienced trip leaders – Mel, Mary, and Al. We hauled our gear from Eugene’s River House to various coastal destinations and two kayakers followed in a separate vehicle, so we could ferry between different “put-in” and “take-out” points.

Oregon is particularly beautiful in June and the scenery did not disappoint! The southern gold coast includes 100 miles of breathtaking beaches, surf, coves, estuaries, wetlands, hiking trails, old growth forest, redwoods, cranberry bogs, wildlife, and rivers – it’s an awesome masterpiece of nature not to be missed!

Our leisurely trip included lots of laughter and we stopped in several towns along the way, including Elkton, Riverton, Bend, Bandon, Gold Beach, Port Orford, Reedsport, and Scottsburg. The first put-in was the interesting north spit wetlands near Bend. Then we loaded up the kayaks and headed south to Bandon for a paddle on the Coquille River. Our Bandon lodging was on the coast and we enjoyed many fantastic sunrises and sunsets. We watched one magnificent sunset near the Coquille River Lighthouse which is built right on the rocks and is both a coastal and harbor light.

“Oregon has no natural harbors along its rocky coast, so navigation has always been treacherous and plagued by shipwrecks. Congress authorized two lighthouses in the 1850s and another nine between 1868 and 1986. The lights that remain on this wildly beautiful rugged shore are scenic goals for hikers and tourists.”

On day two we planned a 7-8 mile paddle along the Coquille River but experienced strong winds in the afternoon. Unknowns for kayakers are wind and current. On the coast the wind increases most afternoons and it’s difficult paddling lightweight kayaks for long distances in strong head winds. With a few hours of kayaking left to reach the take-out point, we decided to stop short of our goal and ended our paddle at a house along the river bank. The friendly owner gave our guides a ride to the van so they could return to pick us up and load the gear. We arrived back in Bandon no worse for the wear and tear.

Bandon has excellent seafood restaurants and we enjoyed a group dinner that night and were up early the next morning headed for a paddle on Floras Lake or the New River. The New River is slightly north of Floras Lake and parallels the Pacific Ocean for about 10 miles. It loses only 10 feet in elevation between its source and mouth and is an area noted for extraordinary wildlife viewing. Since we did not find an easy put-in we opted for paddling in the protected estuary near Floras Lake.

Floras Lake is a dunes lake popular for windsurfing. It’s blocked from the Pacific Ocean by a narrow neck of sand and has a long, isolated ocean beach to the south. June is snowy plover nesting season and the park service cordons off portions of the beach to protect the birds. After a great paddle, being entertained by a playful sea otter family, and walking on the long beautiful beach we loaded the kayaks and headed toward our next stop – Port Orford.

On the way we enjoyed a loop hike at Port Orford Heads State Park and saw incredible coastal vistas including a fur seal colony sunning on the rocks below. The trailhead area once housed the Port Orford Lifeboat Station “surfmen” who kept watch over 40 miles of rugged, rocky Oregon coastline. The surfmen dashed down 530 steps to a boathouse in Nellies Cove to head out into huge storms on rescue missions in unsinkable 36-foot motor lifeboats – one of the boats was on display. The surfmen’s motto: “You have to go out; you don’t have to come back.” Their observation tower, boathouse, and stairs are gone now but you can see the dramatic vistas they surveyed while watching for ships in peril. The old lifeboat station is now a museum and interpretive center.

We checked into a Gold Beach lodge along the coast and had dinner at popular Spinner’s Restaurant at the mouth of the Rogue River. That night many in the group enjoyed a soak in open air hot tubs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The next day we woke to high winds with gusts up to 30 mph and decided it was not a good day for kayaking on the Rogue. Instead, the group hiked in the Foster Bar area near the little town of Agness and enjoyed the thick woods where we saw signs of bear.

The next day we visited Garrison Lake, found a take-out spot along the lower Rogue River, and put our kayaks in several miles downstream. The Rogue River paddle was very satisfying and we practiced paddling in eddy currents where the water flow either stops or reverses and runs upstream from the main downstream current. Our guides Mary and Al gave us some lessons in “ferrying” laterally across a current and “peeling out”, a technique for leaving an eddy by pointing your kayak upstream and letting the main current swing the kayak around and into the flow of the river. It was good fun and some of the kayakers got proficient at this maneuver. On our last night we had a potluck at the lodge and Mel cooked fresh fish bought from a local fishmonger.

Our last day was another windy one so after spending time at beautiful Port Orford we headed out for the five-hour drive back to Eugene. The plan was to find a sheltered put-in spot on the Umpqua River on the way home. We found a perfect launch near the head of the tidewater at Scottsburg and had a great paddle. On the last day I finally adjusted the foot braces to near perfection, was beginning to feel one with my kayak, and was ALMOST able to exit without help or tipping my kayak. The trip remains a euphoric and pleasant memory. It’s difficult to express the beauty of Oregon’s gold coast you really have to see it to believe it!

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