Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area


Yaquina Head is one of my favorite spots on the Oregon coast.  It offers a lot to see in a small area: a great lighthouse, a rocky beach, and at low tide, some fascinating tide pools teeming with ocean life.  This is federal (not state) land, so you will need to pay an admission fee or use your National Parks annual pass — but it’s worth the money.

My Visit

Yaquina Head is the picturesque Oregon Coast scene that you’ve been dreaming about.  Oregon’s tallest lighthouse is perched atop a rocky headland, surrounded by crashing waves, a beach covered in polished river rocks, and at low tide, some spectacular tide pools.  Better yet…

… I had arrived at Yaquina Head just before sunset — an end to the day that was promising to be a photographer’s dream.  Within minutes, though, this turned into a vacation disaster… almost.

You see, the clouds were aligning for a stunning sunset, but the whole scene was so beautiful…

… that for a moment, I forgot that clouds were… well… clouds.  Typically, they bring rain.  And on this evening, those clouds were pretty big, pretty dark, and they were moving towards the coast.

Interesting Facts: The Yaquina Head (pronounced ya-QUINN-uh) Lighthouse stands 93 feet tall.  It was first lit on August 20, 1873.  Don’t confuse it with the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, which is near downtown Newport and the Yaquina Bay Bridge.

While awaiting the sunset, I took a few pictures at the observation area near the lighthouse (the building itself had already closed for the day).  Then, I noticed the large number of birds congregating on the rocks offshore…

… and decided it would make for a nice picture, too.  So, I headed down the stairs onto the beach…

… where more great photographic opportunities awaited.

I’m not sure if you can see the raindrops in this picture, but around this time, they started falling.  I didn’t think much of it at first.  I took my jacket off, and covered my camera and tripod — but kept shooting.  After a minute or two, I realized that this was no passing shower — and suddenly it occurred to me that the big cloud was, indeed, part of a very significant storm.

With my tripod still fully extended (but covered with my jacket — leaving me in just a t-shirt), I picked up my equipment and made a run for the stairs.  It’s not easy to run on a beach covered with rounded rocks, especially when they’re wet.  I made it to the stairs, ran up to the parking area, and over to my car.  By now, the rain was pouring, and I was thoroughly soaked — as was the jacket that was covering my camera.  I opened the passenger side door, and tossed in my camera bag.  At that moment, I heard a crash.  A gust of wind had toppled my camera and tripod, which I had left standing near my tailgate.

I rushed around, and found my camera lying on the ground.  I picked it up and looked at it quickly.  The screen displayed an error message.  Fantastic.  I pushed the tripod, with camera still attached, into the car and shut the tailgate.  Alright — I would get inside, dry off, warm up, and assess my situation.

But, there was one more problem.  My rental car was locked… with the keys inside.  In a decade of traveling, this was the first time that had ever happened, and what a heck of a time for it.  I went around to the other doors, trying each one.  Looking in the passenger side, I saw the keys on the seat.  No doubt I laid them there when I tossed my camera bag inside.  I certainly don’t remember re-locking the car, though.  Maybe it locked itself.

No matter.  I now had a bigger problem.   I was stuck outside, in a 40-degree driving rain, in a t-shirt.  I ran over to the car next to me in the parking lot, and begged for shelter.  A nice couple, also photographers, let me in.  They were waiting for the rain to pass, hoping for another magical sunset moment.

The rain did pass…

… AAA did arrive and unlock my car…

…and I did manager to capture a few nice pictures of the sunset… on my camera phone.

Later that night, at the hotel, I dried off my camera, removed the battery and put it back in, then held my breath as I threw the switch.  It powered up, and seemed to be working well, despite the abusive day it had endured.

This wasn’t my first visit to Yaquina Head.

During my 2007 visit, I was lucky enough to not get caught up in the middle of a storm, and as a bonus, I was there at low tide.  That meant I could carefully walk around the rocky tide pools, and see some brilliant starfish, and other sea creatures.  On that day, I should have stayed for sunset.  Instead, I moved on to nearby Agate Beach, where I did not find any agates, nor did I capture a compelling sunset shot.

The Bottom Line

The name really does say it all.  The Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area is outstanding.  Try to plan your visit around low tide, so you can explore the tidal pools.  Sunset is also a great time to visit — just not when a storm is coming ashore!


Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area is located north of Newport, Oregon, on US Highway 101.  Watch for a sign at one of the last traffic lights in town.

Drivelapse Video

Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Yachats to Newport, and out to Yaquina Head:

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