Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area is a BLM area about 4 miles north of Newport and has the tallest lighthouse on Oregon’s coast. But it is so much more than just a piece of land with a lighthouse on it. It is 100 acres of natural beauty that will take your breath away. It did mine!
Yaquina Head is a 14 million year old lava flow that juts out into the Pacific Ocean. The basalt rock doesn’t wear as fast as the surrounding sandstone, so it stayed as the ocean eroded the land around it. The basalt was quarried to build local roads, so there is a big hole cut into the rock about mid-way out. There is an interpretive center in the old quarry and a large parking lot that is used to access the trails and lighthouse (the light has its own parking lot, but it is much smaller and is prone to fill up).
I spent several hours at Yaquina Head the Sunday I was in Newport, exploring a couple of the beaches and hiking on some of the trails. I ended up coming back later in the evening, just before sunset, to explore Cobble Beach at low tide. More on this in a minute.
Before I continue, I wanted to mention that the Oregon coast continued to amaze me as I travelled down it. While I did end up finding a place I liked more than Yaquina Head, this was one of my top spots on the coast. The combination of the raw beauty, varied beaches, hiking trails that led to spectacular vistas, and the perfect setting for a lighthouse makes Yaquina Head a must-see stop for anyone in the area. Seriously. Go there! You can thank me later.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse
Yaquina Head Light was first lit in 1873 and is still active today. At 93 feet tall, it is the tallest lighthouse in Oregon. Perched on the very west end of the basalt rock formation that is Yaquina Head, it is hard to imagine a more dramatic location for a lighthouse.
Free tours (after you pay the fee to get into Yaquina Head) are available and arranged by visiting the interpretive center. Tour signup is on a first-come, first-serve list and limited to 16 people per tour. In the summer the tours fill up fast, but I was able to get a spot on the last tour of the day. If you don’t show up 15 minutes before tour time to get your pass, it is given to stand-by people, so I showed up at 15 ‘till 2 and was able to grab a spot on this earlier tour.
Tours are given by a BLM employee that is dressed the part. She explained the purpose of the two rooms at the bottom of the light and then up the 114 steps we went to the base of the actual light. Jammed into a small space (which is why tours are limited to 16), we were told about the light and took turns going up the last few steps to stick our heads into where the lens was. What a view!
Cobble Beach is accessible from the lighthouse parking lot and gets its name from the smooth, round basalt rock that has broken off over millions of years and been rounded smooth due to wave action. It’s also the best place at Yaquina Head to observe tide pools.
While I was waiting for the lighthouse tour I wandered around Cobble Beach for a while. The tide was in so there were no tide pools to observe, which meant a return trip was in order. After a quick consultation with the tide chart, I found out I needed to come back that day a little before sunset when the tide was at its lowest point. Wow, what a contrast between high and low tides! Low tides opened up a world of sea life that was hidden earlier in the day. The BLM provides a volunteer to answer questions about sea life, and to make sure people behave themselves at low tide.