It starts at dusk, when the light on the 121-year-old lighthouse first illuminates. Climb the trail behind the lighthouse to a viewpoint perched above, and you can capture its glow, framed by a watercolor sky painted by the setting sun.
Park Manager Kevin Beck shared the secret with me recently during a south coast work trip, and now I’m passing it on to you. And here’s another of his secrets: after the sun dips below the ocean and as the sky darkens, the light does something magical.
For the full experience, you must stand with your back to the base of the lighthouse, Kevin instructed me in a lowered voice. Gaze inland, and you’ll see beams of light stream across the forest. Let your gaze follow the light as it sweeps across the sky, 21 miles out to sea, and fades away. Over and over every 10 seconds: a soothing pattern that holds you mesmerized.
This isn’t an experience you can show in a picture. You’ll just have to go there yourself.
It’s just one of the reasons why Heceta Head is one of the most beloved of Oregon lighthouses. The beautiful and powerful Fresnel lens, the charming Lightkeeper’s House that’s been restored as a bed and breakfast, and the magnificent clifftop views are also good reasons to cherish Heceta.
Perhaps most impressive to me is its construction and what it says about the ingenuity of those early pioneers who chose to settle in such a remote and harsh area. Building materials had to be carted from Florence (a 5- to 9-hour journey, depending on the tides) or delivered by ship. Because boats couldn’t come all the way to shore, crews relied on ocean currents to float logs to land, or the builders rowed materials to shore. Everything had to be moved up the steep hill, 150 feet above sea level.
When the U.S. Lighthouse Service first lit the five-wick kerosene lamp on March 30, 1894, the first order Fresnel lens equaled 80,000 candles. Today, Heceta has the brightest beacon on the Oregon coast with a modern 1,000-watt quartz bulb that produces light akin to 2.5 million candles.
Heceta Head State Scenic Viewpoint (park information and driving directions)
You can tour the lighthouse 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. daily through September and 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. March through May and in October; tours are weather-dependent in the winter months.
Park in the day-use area ($5 parking fee) and take a short walk uphill to the lighthouse. Be sure to bring a flashlight if you walk in to see the sunset and lighthouse beam.
The 2011-2013 restoration of the lighthouse sparked the attention of regional travel and food magazine Sunset. This month, the magazine announced that the lighthouse has won a 2015 Sunset Travel Award in the category of Best State Park Renovation. The restoration countered the effects of years of sea spray, storm winds and disuse. Today, the lighthouse looks much as it would have in 1894.
We at Oregon State Parks are proud and excited. We take very seriously the job Oregonians have bestowed on us: to protect and share a special time in history and a certain kind of magic that is meant to be passed down from generation to generation.
If you go
Stay in first-come, first-served Carl G. Washburne State Park, a 3-mile hike or short drive away from the lighthouse. The campground has 51 full hookup sites, seven electrical sites, two reservable yurts and seven walk-in tent sites. Those tent sites are another secret – spacious, forested and removed from the rest of the campground. We provide wheelbarrows to haul your gear from the parking area to the campsite. Reserve Washburn yurts or other nearby state park campsites online or call 800-452-5687.
Just downhill from the lighthouse, the Lightkeeper’s House is now a bed and breakfast run by a concessionaire of the U.S. Forest Service. Reserve one of the 6 guestrooms and wake up to a decadent seven-course breakfast.
Grounds surrounding building remain open
The historic Wolf Creek Inn State Heritage Site will be closed for construction during the 2015 season. The project, to install a climate control system designed to protect the historic integrity of the late 1800s building, will coincide with the search for a new concessionaire to operate the Inn.
You can still stop and explore the area during the building closure. Picnic tables, a portable restroom, electric vehicle charging station, and rose garden are available at the park, located in the town of Wolf Creek at Exit 76 on Interstate 5, 20 miles north of Grants Pass. The nearby Golden State Heritage Site is also open.
The climate control system will allow better management of temperature and humidity in the Inn, believed to have been built between 1873 and 1880 as one of many similar way stations serving travelers and explorers on the early roads and trails in western Oregon. The estimated cost of the project is $400,000, funded by the share of Oregon Lottery profits dedicated to state park repairs, and includes accessibility improvements to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Plans for the future Wolf Creek Inn concessionaire contract are under way. A “Request for Proposals” may be issued in the fall/winter of 2015, which could lead to a contract with a new concessionaire for the 2016 season.
People interested in receiving notice when the re-opening date is set can send their contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s Go Camping 2015
Let’s Go Camping overnighters are set for 17 state parks this summer. We provide the tent, sleeping bags and know-how. Learn how to set up a tent, build campfires and prepare meals in your campsite for $30 per family. Visit bit.ly/1gqYGkS for a list of locations and dates. Call 888-953-7667 to register.
Camp, play and fish for free the weekend of June 6-7 in celebration of State Parks Day and Free Fishing Weekend.
State Parks Day
Camping is free the night of June 6 in traditional sites—full hookup (sewer, electricity and water), electrical hookup (electricity and water), and tent sites. Parking at the 26 parks that charge a day-use parking fee will also be free June 6 & 7. Campsite reservations may be made by calling 800-452-5687 before 5 p.m. June 5. Or, reserve online at www.oregonstateparks.org. Of the 52 state park campgrounds, 40 take reservations.
Join guided hikes, open houses, tours and special barbecues on Saturday. J.R. Beaver, Oregon’s State Park mascot, will be on hand for the kids.
Silver Falls State Park east of Salem will host a free barbecue, guided waterfall tour and its annual Foot Race Challenge, with a 5K, 6-mile and kids race. Stub Stewart State Park west of Portland will offer a free lunch at the Hilltop Day-Use area, along with a guided hike, bike ride and orienting workshop. Go to our event calendar and search on State Parks Day for a complete list of activities.
Submit your Instagram photos and videos of your park adventures throughout the weekend and summer with #InventAdventure.
Free Fishing Weekend
Visitors will be able to fish, crab and clam without a license June 6-7 for Oregon’s Free Fishing Weekend, hosted by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). ODFW will provide the gear, bait and instructions at some state parks, including Champoeg, Detroit Lake, Jessie Honeyman and parks in the Columbia River Gorge. See a list of all events statewide.