The Red Beacon Of The River – Umpqua Lighthouse, Winchester Bay, OR

The lovely Umpqua Lighthouse

I do love lighthouses, which is a good thing considering we’re about to become bona fide tour hosts in a few weeks. There’s something about the bare isolation of the locations and the all-encompassing life of those who tended them that give lighthouses a wild and rather romantic aura, at least from a story-telling point of view. When we RV’d the North Coast last year we managed to visit majestic Yaquina Head and the stunningly pretty Haceta Head (our trifecta of perfectness day!). Our current spot is only a few miles from Umpqua Lighthouse which was actually a sister-build to Haceta (used the same plans no less), so I was mucho eager to go see it.

View of the ocean from right outside the lighthouse. It’s a ways back from the coast.

As luck would have it we awoke to yet another perfect sunshine day (man, are we having some good weather karma right now) and after a stiff espresso and hearty breakfast we loaded into the toad and took the pretty tree-lined drive to the park. The first surprise of the drive was that the lighthouse is so far inland from the beach.

Compared to other lighthouses on the coast, Umpqua Lighthouse was actually built to guide mariners through the entrance of the tumultuous Umpqua River rather than as a coastal beacon. The original structure (the first lighthouse ever built on the Oregon coast in 1857), was on a sandbank near the river, but was destroyed by the ever-eroding sand only 7 years later. The site went almost 30 years without a beacon (with quite a few shipwrecks along the way!) until the current lighthouse, built 165 feet above sea level on a hill further back from the river was opened in 1894.

The second surprising thing is the unusual red glow. Umpqua stands as the only colored signal on the Oregon Coast and it’s 2-ton 800-prism Fresnel lens (built in France in 1890) uses two white flashes followed by one red as its unique signature. And it’s still going too, one of only 5 remaining active lighthouses on the coast!  Since it’s a working lighthouse the grounds around the structure are fenced in, but there’s a neat local museum and the tour ($5) is well worth it to see the inner room and stand inside the dizzying rotating red lens (oh yeah, most coolest thing ever!).

Polly enjoys sand and wind at the beach

We roamed around the museum and lighthouse tour, admired the panoramic view (a good whale-watching spot too, no less) and then motored back to the RV to get Polly and head to the beach. Several days ago a local had given me the hot tip that you could beach-access just west of Umpqua Lighthouse off Salmon Harbour Drive, so we took the plunge and drove a mile down the dirt road to the water. Known as Ziolkouski Beach Park‎ it’s the perfect spot and definitely a local hidden hangout for dog-lovers and hardy surfers (full wetsuit required).

Waterfront dry-camping spots at Winchester Bay Marina

We wrapped up the afternoon by driving back through Winchester Bay, the cool fishing port guarded by the lighthouse that is famous for its locally grown oysters (grown right next to Ziolkouski beach in a protected triangle) with cute downtown restaurants and hosting no less than 6 different areas to park your RV. There’s the full gamut from upscale county-owned Winchester Bay RV Resort ($42/night for manicured, gorgeous full water views) to laid-back Windy Cove (FHU for $23/night just across the street from the resort) to water-front “parking” right on the harbour (dry-camping for $14/night or $252/month -> possibly the best deal on the coast?). Talk about RV friendly!

A gorgeous day at yet another gorgeous lighthouse. Life is good at “the beast” today!

P.S. For those interested I’ve added 4 more cool dune shots to yesterday’s post. Check ’em out!

Standing underneath the 65-foot tall lighthouse

The tour to stand inside the lens is WELL worth it!
The winding steps to the top of the lighthouse
The Lighthouse on a clear blue day
My kinda view!
Paul finds the perfect seat on the beach
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do

  1. says

    We really enjoyed our visit to the Lighthouse. We had David as our tour guide. He was wonderful! If you get a chance, go back at night. It is so cool to see those colors on the trees.
    Glad you are having better weather than we did.

  2. Rob says

    I’ve always been partial to lighthouses, my first station in the Coast Guard was Light Station Pt Robinson, on Burton Is (Vashon island for those in the Seattle area). I spent a year there, not really isolated but I didn’t have to leave often. The water is a pleasant place to be & giving tours of a lighthouse never got old for me… we only did it on the weekends.

    There is not a better place to be than the Oregon coast in the summer, with good weather!
    On one trip we were out 3 days, heading to something in the SF Bay Area. We spent the night in a different place each night and were only 4 hours from home… The weather was great!

    Enjoy the lighthouse!

    • libertatemamo says

      What a neat history you’ve had!
      And I totally agree that the OR coast is something else in the sunshine. Magical place when the weather is right!

  3. says

    We were always blessed with great weather on the coast in June. There’s no place on earth I’d rather be. I loved it even in the rain–you just have to be willing to have good rain gear and not let it stop you from the joys of everything the coast of Oregon has to offer. I could probably count on one hand the number of days we hit bad rain–we just suited up and went out to enjoy everywhere that was less crowded!

    • libertatemamo says

      You’re totally right Nancy. I enjoyed all the “moods” of the OR coast when we were here last year and I’m sure I will do the same over the next 2 months this year. Sunshine sure is nice, but the coast has something to offer in every weather.

  4. Sue Bidniak says

    another great day ..thanks for sharing..we never made it to the Umpqua lighthouse or Winchester I wish we time it will be at the top of our list..along with the dog beach!!!..glad the weather has improved finally!!!

    • libertatemamo says

      Well you just gonna have to come back :) We found we “missed” a bunch of stuff on the North Coast last year too. There’s always a good reason to come back.

  5. says

    We are so looking forward to Oregon. The weather here is quite warm so cooler days sound kinda nice right now. We are drawn to lighthouses also, having visited a number of them last year. We are anxious to hear how you like your hosting experience. Enjoy!

    • libertatemamo says

      You guys are gonna LOVE the weather here, especially if it’s like this week. Sunny, but lovely cool too. We hit a max of about 75 today I think.

  6. says

    Great attitude about the rainy weather in Oregon…thanks for the tips on the RV parks in the area. Really appreciate that info along with the costs info.

  7. dizzysmom says

    Awesome post about Umpqua River Lighthouse! My boyfriend Dave and I are tour guides there! (maybe the David mentioned in a previous comment?) We love every minute of our time there and it sounds like you did, too :) It’s an amazing lighthouse and it’s in one of the most beautiful parts of the Oregon Coast.
    I’ve been following your blog for a couple of weeks and I love your photos. Next time we’re in CA we have to visit some of the desert sites you’ve mentioned. We’ve been RVing full-time for about 3 years now and have hosted for Oregon State Parks pretty much the whole time. We love it here! It doesn’t get much better than the Oregon Coast on a warm, clear day–it’s heaven!
    You’ll have to revisit Heceta Head on your next venture up here. It will be reopening soon after a full renovation! We’ve given tours there as well and over the last year she’s been restored to her original beauty. Gorgeous!!

    • libertatemamo says

      How COOL to “meet” you on the blog!! I love OR State Parks and we’ve met many folks who volunteer there full-time. They have such a great program. We’re hoping to see Haceta Head again next year when we come back to the coast. We’ll be lighthouse hosting at Coquille River in July/Aug followed by Cape Blanco in Sept…if you’re in the area let us know!!


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