Lighthouses bear an air of mystique. Tragedy, hauntings, beauty, calamities, restorations – whether presently active or decommissioned, each of Oregon’s coastal lighthouses has a colored past and a rich story to tell.

Thinking of a lighthouse as merely a uniquely shaped building set in a beautiful, dramatic location with the sea at its feet does not even begin to do it justice. It’s worth reflecting on the purpose of these coastal guardians. In the words of a former lighthouse keeper:

When a mariner saw a bright light piercing the abysmal black of night, it was like a glimpse of heaven, especially under adverse weather and sea conditions. It was blessed assurance for a shipmaster to be able to get his bearings from a beacon along the shore or from a light clearly marking a sea-girt obstruction, for there are no more horrifying sounds to any mariner than those of the unexpected roar of breakers in the inky blackness of night and then the grinding, scraping screams of a ship being ripped open by an immovable, encrusted reef.
James A. Gibbs,
Oregon’s Seacoast Lighthouses

Tending the Tower

To truly appreciate the courage and fortitude involved in establishing and maintaining these sentinels, one must begin to grasp the enormity of duties and strains of the lighthouse keepers of yesteryear. Their job involved enduring the elements and isolation in order to protect seafaring vessels. It took countless hours of effort in their quest to keep ships safe.

A glimpse into the life of a lighthouse keeper is provided by another lighthouse enthusiast and author:

The most important responsibility of the wickies was to keep the station’s light clear and running from one hour before sunset to one hour after sunrise. […] The responsibilities included cleaning and polishing the lens, cleaning and filling the lamp, dusting the complex driving mechanism, as well as cleaning the walls, floors, and galleries of the lamp room. […]

Because storms cracked booms, threw boulders and stones against the lighthouses, and the saltwater corroded metal and ate away at structures, maintenance and repair were also a continuing responsibility[…] Storms not only broke lighthouse windows, but the wind-driven sand pitted lamp room windows that needed to be replaced at towering heights, so the warning light could penetrate the glass.
Dennis M. Powers,
Sentinel of the Seas

Audible Warning

For those not tending a lighthouse, it’s easy to overlook the fact that most include a foghorn. Solitude, close quarters, lengthy duties, weighty responsibility – I am in awe that these strains were periodically withstood accompanied by a blaring backdrop. These authors convey the impact of such devices:

When wet, gray layers of fog envelope the Oregon coast, it is almost as if one is blindfolded. Shipmasters and lighthouse keepers become tense. Danger stalks the sea. To live through long sieges of fog is a form of torment, diaphones or air sirens blasting shattering notes at intervals accurate to a split second. So great is the volume of sound and so penetrating, the noise and vibration can become an instrument of torture. James A. Gibbs, Tillamook Light

When fog draped its heavy shroud over an area, the lighthouse’s foghorn didn’t stop blasting until the dark mists dissipated—and that could take days. […] As these horns blasted, keepers over time could permanently lose part or most of their hearing. Wickies changed their way of talking when the horn sounded and would only talk during intervals of silence. After the foghorn stopped, the keepers and their families often found themselves still talking in that same strange staccato language. Dennis M. Powers, Sentinel of the Seas

Lighthouse Roundup

As with any 100 Steps page, the intent is not to explain an area or feature, but only to provide information so you can determine if a walking venue is suitable. There are many websites and books devoted to lighthouse history and colorful tales, and if you want to learn about these prodigious structures, I direct you to those. The introduction above is included merely to perhaps tickle your interest, providing further enticement to get out and walk amongst these beautiful pieces of Oregon maritime history.

Below is a list of Oregon’s coastal lighthouses, 100 Steps-style.

Cape Blanco Lighthouse
  • Sixes
Cape Blanco State Park
Oldest standing lighthouse on the Oregon coast
125 steps
mild grassy slope
Active, Tours
Coquille River Lighthouse
  • Bandon
Bullards Beach State Park
Tower contains a solar-powered light
125 steps
level except for 20 very steep steps
Decommissioned, Tours
Cape Arago Lighthouse
  • Charleston
Sunset Bay State Park
Stands on Chief’s Island, an islet
No public access
Active, No tours
Umpqua River Lighthouse
  • Winchester Bay
Umpqua Lighthouse State Park
Lens emits distinctive red-and-white flashes
25 steps
flat pavement
Active, Tours
Heceta Head Lighthouse
  • Florence
Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint
Rated the strongest light on the Oregon coast
0.5 miles
150-foot elevation gain
Active, Tours
Yaquina Bay Lighthouse
  • Newport
Yaquina Bay State Recreation Site
Only existing wooden lighthouse in Oregon
175 steps
Steep stairs, then steep to moderate brick path, one resting spot
Active, Tours
Yaquina Head Lighthouse
  • Newport
Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area
Tallest lighthouse on the Oregon coast
250 steps
Smooth pavement and sidewalk on slight incline with two resting spots
Active, Tours
Cape Meares Lighthouse
  • Tillamook
Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint
Oregon’s shortest lighthouse
0.2 miles
Paved trail of moderate decline, steeper after it turns
Decommissioned, Tours
Tillamook Rock Lighthouse
  • Cannon Beach
Ecola State Park
Stands on a basalt rock islet
No public access
Decommissioned, No tours
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
  • Ilwaco, WA
Cape Disappointment State Park
First lighthouse in the Pacific Northwest
0.6 miles
200 feet elevation gain
Decommissioned, No tours

Step counts and associated terrain are my own accounts. Other distances, plus the data regarding service, tours, and the lighthouse factoid come from links that can be found in the Related Links section of the associated 100 Steps page. In some cases the city listed is not where the lighthouse is located, but from where it can be viewed.


Something missing?

The astute observer will notice the list excludes Cleft of the Rock Lighthouse, located on Cape Perpetua, and Pelican Bay Lighthouse in Brookings. These lighthouses have no 100 Steps pages since they are private residences, and there is no state park from which to view the towers.