Coast Guide: Oregon's Famed Lighthouses

Among the Oregon’s famed lighthouses, three shine the brightest.
Posted April 22, 2011

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Eleven lighthouses are sprinkled along the Oregon coast to help ships navigate its rough-and-tumble shoreline, with nine on the National Register of Historic Places. Each brims with romantic tales of shipwrecks, isolation and ghostly presences, but three merit special attention: Tillamook in Cannon Beach, Heceta Head in Florence and Yaquina Head in Newport.
The Tillamook Rock lighthouse, a.k.a. Terrible Tilly, near Cannon Beach, sits atop a rock a mile offshore and still lit with an automated light; the best view is from Ecola State Park, near Cannon Beach, with the aid of a pair of binoculars. First lit in 1881, the lighthouse required four men to work it, often isolated together for months at a time due to monstrous seas around the rock. The lighthouse became too expensive to maintain and was decommissioned in 1957. Today, it’s privately owned and operates as the Eternity at Sea Columbarium—in other words, a mausoleum. For a time, families could pay to stash loved ones’ urns in the bowels of Terrible Tilly, but the columbarium lost its license in 1999.
Yaquina Head (Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, 750 NW Lighthouse Drive; 541.574.3100; is Oregon’s tallest lighthouse at 93 feet tall and 162 feet above sea level. It’s been consistently lit—magnified by its original Fresnel lens—since 1873, with the exception of six months in 2006 when the building underwent an extreme makeover. Yaquina Head is also Oregon’s most storied lighthouse, plagued by controversy, bad luck (it was struck by lightning in 1920) and ghostly habitants (former keeper Herbert Higgins fell ill and died there, but not before lighting the oil wicks one last time). All myths aside, Yaquina Head is a marvelous example of a working lighthouse and offers—at the top of its 114 steps—an excellent view.
One of the coast’s most romantic spots is the Heceta Head Lighthouse (92072 Highway 101 S, Yachats; 866.547.3696; Standing at attention on a forested bluff overlooking dramatic rocks plunging to the cobalt ocean below, Heceta Head has been photographed so often it’s become the unofficial mascot of the Oregon coast. The former lightkeeper’s house is now the Heceta Head Bed and Breakfast (six rooms, from $133). The historic Queen Anne–style home has been restored, and by day also serves as the lighthouse’s interpretive center. B&B guests are treated to a seven-course breakfast prepared with fresh, local ingredients. It’s the perfect topper to the Heceta Head Lighthouse experience—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take in history, beauty and a fine meal.


This article was orginally published in May 2008

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