Heceta Head Lighthouse


Heceta Head is said to be one of the west coast’s most photographed lighthouses, and it’s easy to see why.  The old light has a perfect location, high above the Pacific.  And, it’s in great condition.

Heceta Head State Park is part of Devil’s Elbow State Park.  You’ll find both just north of Florence on US 101.

I thought I’d start off with a picture of the lighthouse itself, but to get to this point, you have to do a little walking.  Let’s go back and start at the beginning.

The hike up to Heceta Head Lighthouse is about 1/2 mile long, and gains about 150 feet.  It’s not difficult, and is, itself, quite a lot of fun.  Along the way, you’ll pass through an impossibly green forest that somehow seems to have a “magical” feel to it.

Along the way, you’ll also enjoy a great view of the Cape Creek bridge, which carries US 101.  At the south end is the Cape Creek Tunnel.  (By the way, that’s the parking lot, just in front, and to the left of, the bridge.  You’ll be required to pay $5 for parking, and be sure to have exact change, since you must drop the cash in an envelope.)

Historians at the lighthouse explained that back before the tunnel and bridge were built, the trip south to Florence would take much longer.  Travelers had to follow the beach, and could only pass during low tide.  Hard to believe, this wasn’t all that long ago, since the tunnel was just completed in 1932.

Once you’re about halfway there, you can enjoy an interesting perspective on the lighthouse, looking up from down below.

In this same area, you can split off from the main path, and check out the rocky sea stacks along the shore.

You’ll find plenty of sea birds here.

Climb a little further, and you reach the light keeper’s residence.  One of the old structures is gone, and the other one wasn’t opened to the public during my visit.  However, if you visit between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you can take a tour of the old house.

The lightkeeper’s house also serves as a bed & breakfast during the summer months.  Perhaps the best reason to spend the night is that guests have the opportunity to see the lighthouse in operation, at night, up close.  You can take a look at the available rooms and prices here.

The house that survived is the assistant lightkeeper’s house.  The head lightkeeper’s residence was sold in 1940 for–get this– $10.  Oh wait, it gets worse.  After plunking down the sizeable sum of money, the new owner then tore down the building, for the lumber.

Ok, on to the lighthouse itself.  Don’t hesitate to take the free tour of the lighthouse.  I always worry about getting trapped in some long, boring, and painfully historical presentation.  In this case, there was a little history, but it was all interesting, and it was only a few minutes before the tour climbed to the top of the light.

As you enter the lighthouse through the work room, notice the thickness of the archway.  This is also the thickness of the surrounding walls (no wonder the lighthouse has survived since 1894!)

Near the top, you can check out the view of the coast.

Once you’re at the top, you’ll be treated to a rare, up-close look at an original Fresnel lens.  The glass elements of the lens are carefully arranged to magnify all the light into a beam, that projects straight out.

As you take a close look at the glass, you’ll notice plenty of pits, nicks, and some elements that are completely gone.  This is the result of vandals that tried to trash the place, before it was protected and restored.  You’ll be warned by the tour guide not to touch the glass, since it’s incredibly fragile.  If you ignore that advice, good luck trying to explain the ‘clink’ of shattering, 110+ year old glass.

The entire lens rotates at a set speed.  This way, a ship at sea will see a flash of light every few seconds, and be able to determine their location, based on the number of flashes per minute, and the pause between each one.  The entire mechanism rests upon these bearings.

Once your tour is complete, consider a quick side trip uphill, behind the lighthouse.  From here, you can get a unique perspective, looking down on the light.

It’s also a nice walk through the woods.  Keep walking, and you’d eventually end up back at US 101, in Carl Washburne State Park, which is just north of Heceta Head.

After leaving Heceta Head, I drove just a short distance and stopped again, to check out the view.  On a more sunny day, the yellow flowers that covered the slopes would have been bright and beautiful.

Another attraction worth seeing, just south of Heceta Head, is Sea Lion Caves.  It’s delightfully touristy, and really quite amazing.  I didn’t stop on my trip south, but I did make it a point to visit on the return trip. You can check out my visit by clicking here.

Looking to the south, the sandy beaches and dunes of Florence come into view.

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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