Consider lighthouses the coastal equivalent of fire lookout towers. Utilitarian in their function and design, yet they possess a simple and eloquent beauty as well. Guiding lights through rough and stormy waters, we oft forget about their purpose and become more enamored by their settings. And like their fire spotting brethren, many a lighthouse has been retired and their keepers replaced with automation. We romanticize about the folks who once staffed these structures—rugged individuals—determined souls. Not too unlike we hikers! While many of our coastal lighthouses can easily be reached by car—here are a few you can hike to, allowing more time to relish in their glory.
Roundtrip: 4.0 miles
Fees/Restrictions: Discover Pass required if parking at state park; dogs must be leashed
The tallest lighthouse on the West Coast, the 107-foot high Westport Lighthouse projects a beam of light up to 25 miles into the frequently foggy sea. Built in 1898 at Point Chehalis on the southern entrance of Grays Harbor, thanks to years of accretion (the opposite of erosion) the lighthouse now stands a good third mile away from the shoreline. The massive South Jetty at the harbor’s mouth has helped capture shifting sands creating quite a dune complex near the lighthouse.
While most folks visit the lighthouse merely by walking a short path from Ocean Avenue, you can enjoy a wonderful 4.0 mile out and back hike right from the Westport Marina. The concrete Dunes Trail begins at the end of Westhaven Drive near a new observation tower. Head south on this path and quickly escape Westport’s hubbub of whale watchers, deep sea fishers, and gift shop browsers.
Hugging Half Moon Bay, a popular spot for stand-up paddlers, the trail soon enters Westport Light State Park. This park, immediately adjacent to the South Jetty is a Washington hot spot for surfers. Cross the park access road and pick up the trail once again now traversing impressive primary dunes. You’ll come to a couple of nice observation decks granting great views out across a wide strand of beach and to the jetty.
The trail comes to a state park parking lot on Ocean Ave. Now walk east on the sidewalk alongside salt-sprayed pines and reach the stately lighthouse after .2 mile. Visit the grounds for free, or pay for a tour (check hours at the Westport Maritime Museum) and climb the lofty lighthouse.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse
Roundtrip: 5.0 miles
Fees/Restrictions: Day use fee, America the Beautiful Pass, or Oregon Pacific Coast Passport; dogs must be leashed
Oregon’s tallest lighthouse can also be easily driven to, but that’s not we’re all about here. The Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area with its showcase lighthouse contains several miles of outstanding trails. Do all or most of these interlinking trails and you will have yourself a good half day outing. You can easily spend the entire day here exploring tide pools, and watching for puffins, seals, and eagles from windswept bluffs. And of course, there’s the lighthouse where tours are regularly scheduled.
Start your hike on the Quarry Cove Trail dropping down to Quarry Cove, a cove that once was—a quarry! The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) acquired Yaquina Head in 1980 to protect this scenic and biologically important area from an enlarged excavation. After counting the seals, head back up to the trailhead and continue west soon coming to a junction. The trail right crosses the road and climbs 180 feet to Communications Hill. Here enjoy sweeping views south to Newport’s beaches and beyond.
Retrace your steps back to the Quarry Cove Trail and continue westward on the long jutting headland. Pass the interpretive center (or stop in and learn something) and come to the Cobble Beach Trail next. It’s a short hike down to this rocky little beach with its excellent tide pools. There’s one more diversion before the lighthouse—the Salal Hill Trail taking off right for more excellent sweeping views. The lighthouse is a short ways now. Completed in 1873, it’s one of the oldest lighthouses in the state. At 93 feet tall—it’s the state’s tallest. Be sure to direct some attention also to Colony Rock just off shore. It’s a major seabird rookery. There’s good whale watching from this spot as well. For an area of just 100 acres, this Yaquina Head packs a lot in.
North Head Lighthouse
Roundtrip Loop: 4.2 miles
Fees/Restrictions: Discover Pass required; dogs must be leashed.
Like the Westport Lighthouse, the beacon gracing Cape Disappointment’s North Head on the Long Beach Peninsula was also built in 1898. But this lighthouse only stands at 65 feet tall as opposed to Westport’s towering 107 feet. However, what makes this lighthouse so dramatic is its setting. It sits upon a 130-foot coastal headland overlooking one of the most treacherous sections of coastline on the Pacific.
As with Westport’s lighthouse, you can easily access North Head by driving to a short paved path. But why? We’re here to hike, right!? Instead reach it via a 2.1 mile route over rugged North Head. The North Head Trail is one of the wonderful hiking options in the 1,884-acre Cape Disappointment State Park. Lewis and Clark named the cape back in 1805, during a miserable winter. You however will more than likely bestow upon this wild seaside bluff more lavish praise.
Start through a flat marshy area before heading up onto a small rugged ridge. Pass through mist-saturated groves of ancient Sitka spruce. Found primarily along the coast from Northern California to Southern Alaska, Cape Disappointment harbors nice stands of this scaly barked conifer.
Eventually come to a parking lot. Turn left and continue down a trail leading to the lighthouse. Savor the views and embrace the full force of the Pacific from this treacherous spot. Good thing there is a lighthouse here. If you still want to explore, check out the lighthouse on Cape Disappointment, also in the park. Built in 1856, it’s the state’s oldest.
For detailed information on the two Washington lighthouse hikes listed above as well as others-pick up a copy of my best selling Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula 2 ed Edition (Mountaineers Books). The most comprehensive hiking guide to the Olympic Peninsula-you’ll find 136 hikes to choose from in this trusted guide.