Yaquina Head Lighthouse (pronounced ya-QUIN-uh) is a top destination for families on the Oregon Coast. Yaquina Head is Oregon’s tallest lighthouse, but there are a lot of other fun things to do here too, including tide pools, whale watching, hiking, and a museum. The lighthouse and surrounding area are known as Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, and it is truly outstanding. Yaquina Head Lighthouse is located just a few minutes drive from Newport, Oregon and the renowned Oregon Coast Aquarium.
My family visited Yaquina Head Lighthouse when my son was an infant and my daughter was a preschooler. It was one of the highlights of our Oregon Coast vacation.
Here’s what you can expect on a visit to Yaquina Head Lighthouse.
Take a lighthouse tour to learn how the lighthouse works and what it would be like to be a lighthouse keeper. Enjoy a bird’s eye view of the Pacific Ocean and the scenic Oregon coast. Lighthouse tours are offered by Friends of Yaquina Lighthouses at no additional charge, most days of the week and on weekends.
Tours are available each hour from noon to 4:00 p.m. every afternoon except Wednesdays. Tours must be reserved in person on the day of the tour and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Sign up for a tour at the Interpretive Center.
Good shoes are required to ascend the steep and winding staircase to the top of the lighthouse. No bare feet, flip flops or high heels are allowed. Large bags, food and drink must be left outside the lighthouse. Visitors should be physically able to climb 114 stairs to the top of the lighthouse.
Children must be at least 42 inches tall and must be able to walk the tour on their own. All children under age 12 must be accompanied by someone over age 16. Our children were too young to tour the lighthouse, but it was still worthwhile to walk around it and take photos.
The Interpretive Center, which is run by volunteers from Friends of Yaquina Lighthouses, was our first stop in the park. Here, we learned about the history of the Yaquina Head Lighthouse and found some fun games and activities for my preschool age daughter. This is a fun place to learn, play, rest and browse the gift shop.
There are parking areas at the Interpretive Center and the lighthouse, about a half-mile apart. The Interpretive Center is a good base if you want to park once and explore the rest of the park on foot.
Follow the trail from the Yaquina Head Lighthouse to explore the tide pools below. At low tide, you may spot sea stars, green anemones, spiny purple sea urchins, mussels, volcano shaped barnacles, turban snails, hermit crabs and many more.
Wear sturdy shoes to visit the tide pools. The trail is rocky and the tide pool area can be slippery. I wore flip flops and they limited my enjoyment of the tide pools because they didn’t protect my feet at all. Closed toe athletic shoes are best, but sport sandals with sturdy soles and straps would probably be fine too. Carry jackets with you as well. The weather can be chilly and unpredictable on the Oregon Coast, even in the summer.
Remind everyone in your family that the tide pools are a protected area. Do not step in the tide pools or touch the animals. Keep a close eye on young children to keep them from injuring themselves or the sea life.
If tide pools are a priority for your family, be sure to visit at low tide. Find the tide predictions for Yaquina Bay at http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/weather/tides/tides.html.
The rocks just beyond the tide pools were covered with harbor seals during our July visit. That’s not the sort of thing we see in the wild in Salt Lake City, so it’s fun memory for our family. It should be pretty easy to spot seals year-round near Yaquina Head Lighthouse. According to the BLM website, April and May are the best time to spot seal pups.
We also spotted a gray whale from the trail between the Interpretive Center and the lighthouse. December-May is the best time to see migrating whales near Yaquina Head Lighthouse. However, about 150 gray whales spend their summer feeding along the Oregon Coast, so you might also see them during a summer vacation. Orcas are occasionally spotted as well.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse is an excellent place to go bird watching. Depending on the time of year, you might see bald eagles, peregrine falcons, brown pelicans, swallows, vultures, kestrels and red-tailed hawks.
Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area has several short nature trails for those who are hoping to spot wildlife or enjoy the scenic beauty of the Oregon Coast. All of the trails are about one mile or less, round trip. The trail from the Interpretive Center to the lighthouse is wide and paved, as are paths to three observation points.
Oregon Coast Quests
Now that my children are older, Oregon Coast Quests are the type of activity that we would really enjoy. Each Quest takes about 45 minutes. From the BLM website,
“Yaquina Head has three Quests that give our visitors a comprehensive view of the history and management of this breathtaking park. Quests are clue-directed hunts that encourage exploration of natural areas. “Questers” follow a series of word clues and learn about the environment. Once all the clues are found, the secret location is revealed – a box where visitors can sign their name and get the official Yaquina Head quest stamp.”
Oregon State University sponsors the Quest program and more information can be found at http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/visitor/oregon-coast-quests. Oregon Coast Quest books are available at many stores along the Oregon Coast.
Good to Know
Where: Just off of Highway 101, near Newport, Oregon.
When: Open year-round, though hours change seasonally. Summer is the most popular time to visit, with the longest hours.
Currently, Yaquina Head hours are 8:00 a.m. to 8:15 p.m. The Interpretive Center is open 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Lighthouse tours are offered each afternoon on the hour, beginning at noon, except for Wednesdays.
Call 541-574-3100 for hours and tour information for the date of your visit.
How Much: $7 per vehicle. Pass is good for three days. Bring cash, because credit cards are not accepted. Here are other options you may wish to consider:
- Entrance is FREE for visitors on bikes or on foot.
- Entrance is FREE if you have a National Parks Annual Pass
- The Oregon Pacific Coast Passport costs $10 per vehicle for 5 days and is honored at 17 popular parks along the Oregon Coast.
How Long: 2-4 hours for most families.
Amenities: Picnic facilities, modern restrooms, gift shop. No food is sold on-site, but Newport has a good selection of restaurants and grocery stores.
- Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area: www.blm.gov/or/resources/recreation/yaquina
- Friends of Yaquina Lighthouses: www.yaquinalights.org