Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Mile 207.3 to Mile 232.3: Florence to Winchester Bay

Notations such as “(Hike 76)” refer to hikes in my book Day Hiking: Oregon Coast.

Cumulative mileage figures in parentheses refer to mileage in this section only.

From the Siuslaw River Bridge in Florence, follow US 101 south 0.6 mile to South Jetty Road; take it west 2.5 miles and get back onto the beach at the first beach parking area. Here begins what you probably pictured when you imagined walking the Oregon Coast Trail: miles and miles and miles of uninterrupted beach walking, at least two or three days' worth.
The Siltcoos River is 5.7 miles ahead. It is easy to wade at low to mid tide and probably at high tide. I didn't know that, however, and was arriving tight at high tide, so about 0.6 before reaching the river, I went east to Siltcoos Beach Access (toilets, no water) and walked 0.3 miles to Driftwood II campground (caters to ATVs; water, showers, toilets) and a short distance further to the bridge over the Siltcoos at Waxmyrtle Campground (no ATVs; water & toilets) and picked up Waxmyrtle Trail to the beach well south of the river's mouth (see Hike 70 and associated map). But let’s assume your timing is better and you wade the Siltcoos: the next creek crossing is 5.5 miles south of the Siltcoos at the mouth of Tahkenitch Creek (14.3 miles), easily waded at low tide and probably mid- or even high tide in summer.

A few landmarks along this long stretch of beach: About 3 miles south of the Siltoos, look for a trailhead sign in the foredune; it leads inland 1 mile to Oregon Dunes Day Use Area (Hike 76), which doesn’t offer a hiker anything but a flush toilet and potable water. You’ll see another trailhead sign 1.5 miles farther—part of the Hike 76 loop. Follow it inland a short distance to a nice little campsite on the right just above Tahkenitch Creek, or go a little further, up and over a "tree island," to an oxbow in the creek (in the photo; enticing, huh?); you can cross the creek and camp in the oxbow.

Continuing south from Tahkenitch Creek, it’s another 4.5 miles to the end of Sparrow Park Road and Threemile Creek (easily waded), where there are frequently people (car) camping. The Umpqua River's North Jetty 5.25 miles farther.

I know of no boat ferry service across the mouth of the Umpqua. I took my chances and hiked to the lonely end of the north spit, then followed first a sand road and then the beach inside the rock jetty about 1 mile to a sandy cove (25 miles) and was able to flag a boat for a short ride to the marina at Winchester Bay, just 0.25 mile across the water. You might be able to prearrange a ride by calling Winchester Bay RV Resort at 541/271-3407 and inquiring about options (I have not tried calling them). The sandy cove is apparently a popular boaters' campside on Fourth of July weekend and perhaps other times, but it was quite deserted when I was there on a gloomy midweek morning in midsummer. You should have more luck flagging someone down on a weekend. If you don't want to chance it, turn inland at Sparrow Park Road and follow the main road (avoiding spur routes) east 4 miles to U.S. 101, then follow the highway south through Gardiner and Reedsport to Winchester Bay—a long walk, and one I wouldn't recommend.

WHERE TO SLEEP: Not at Honeyman State Park, which has a hiker-biker camp but which is not easily accessible from the beach (you could bushwhack across the dunes, but there’s no direct trail). Camp on the beach or in one of the developed Forest Service campgrounds clustered at the mouth of the Siltcoos (see map, Hike 70); Driftwood II, catering to ATV enthusiasts, tends to be loud. For primitive camping, see notes above for campsites along Tahkenitch Creek. Also, about 1.5 miles south of the mouth of Tahkenitch Creek, look for a trail post in the dunes; from here, a footpath and posts mark the way 0.5 mile inland to the north end of Threemile Lake and a lovely primitive campsite perched at the forest's edge (Hike 79). For developed camping near Winchester Bay, Umpqua Lighthouse State Park is about a 1-mile detour off the OCT route just south of Winchester Bay. Tent camping may be an option at the county's Windy Cove Park (catering to RVs). There are motels and other lodging here as well ( But this is an ideal stretch for primitive camping.

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