Something special happens at Heceta Head Lighthouse as the sun goes down (2015)
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.