Cities Guide for the Southern Oregon Coast

Coos County Parks

From wide-open ocean beaches to swimming holes nestled deep in the woods, Coos County offers more than 30 parks, boat ramps, campgrounds and picnic areas for year-round use. Add these with other facilities managed by the state park system, US Forest Service, and theBureau of Land Management (BLM), and you’ve got an impressive array of recreational opportunities in a remarkably diverse region.

You can pursue a busy slate of outdoor adventure from fishing, crabbing or clamming, to boating, hiking or swimming, or set a more leisurely pace and just enjoy the sights. Stop in a shady wayside grove of aromatic myrtle trees, watch the action at a fishing pier in the picturesque town of Charleston, or visit a historic covered bridge. If it’s too windy along the seashore, just head inland a few miles – it’s a nice summer day again!

Some of the sites are popular, with campgrounds filling up fast on weekends and holidays. Other places see few visitors, and there are many overlooked, little-visited places. So whether you enjoy “people-watching” or really want to get away from it all, you’ve come to the right place. Now pick a park . . .

LaVerne County Park

Among the jewels is LaVerne Park, about 15 miles east of Coquille. Set amidst diverse woodlands along the North Fork of the Coquille River, there are actually two parks here. West LaVerne Park has group camping and day-use, the main park family camping, RV hookups and day-use. In the main park is a popular wading and swimming hole complete with a sandy beach.

The river is low this year due to less-than normal rainfall, but there’s still enough water for some fun splashing-around. Don’t forget to bring along an inner tube or floatation device for some fun “rapids-running.”

There are playgrounds, a softball field and horseshoe pits, along with group picnic pavilions and barbeque areas. Other corners of the park offer shady picnic places under the towering maples, oaks, myrtles and evergreens, and there are quiet stretches of the river for fishing. Perhaps best of all, day-use is free at LaVerne Park, as it is at every Coos County park. 

Powers County Park

Another top destination is Powers County Park, in the Coast Range mountains about 20 miles southeast of Myrtle Point. Part of the park is on the site of an early-day sawmill. Foundations from one of the buildings have become part of the children’s play area, while the former log pond is now a 40-acre recreational lake. The pond’s stocked with legal-sized trout in the spring, and is open for fishing year-round. Summer months also see fishing for largemouth bass, brown bullhead and crappie. There’s a boat ramp for non-motorized boats, and youngsters enjoy splashing in the water along the grassy banks.

There are campsites with (and without) water and electric hookups, and group picnic pavilions. In addition to the children’s play area, there are horseshoe pits, and courts for tennis, basketball and volleyball. If you like delving into local history, the town’s cemetery is on a hillside just south of the park, while in the town of Powers you can view Wagner House, a restored pioneer-era cabin said to be one of region’s oldest dwellings.

Cherry Creek and Frona County Parks

Smaller county parks in the vicinity of the Coquille Valley include Ham Bunch-Cherry Creek Park and Frona Park. Both are situated along historic Coos Bay Wagon Road near the community of Dora, and both are set in impressive groves of myrtles and big-leaf maples. The trees create shady green grottos of cool relief on a hot summer day, and the sound of rushing water (coming from Cherry Creek and the East Fork of the Coquille River, respectively) adds to the soothing atmosphere.

Both have picnicking and primitive camping. Frona Park has some classic old playground equipment salvaged from the Dora school, including a tall slide that’s been rounded and smoothed by many years of “posterior polishing.”

Bastendorff Beach County Park

To many, the main draw of the Oregon Coast is the beach. Before we head out, let’s have a quick look at the weather. Specifically, the wind. If you’re here in summer, you can pretty much count on a persistent north wind kicking in most afternoons along the seashore. It’s not much fun out there in the wind! Mornings – if they’re not socked in by fog, another common summer phenomenon – can be best for wandering the beaches.

So let’s go!

It doesn’t get much better than Bastendorff Beach, about 15 miles west of Coos Bay. On a bluff above the beach are 25 non-hookup campsites and 56 campsites with electric and water hookups. They’re cozy and private, many surrounded by tall hedges of native salal and Oregon grape, and each with its own picnic table and fireplace.

The large day-use area provides picnic tables, open spaces for softball and volleyball, a big fire pit, horseshoe pits, basketball court and a fantastic playground area with swings, slides, teeter-totters, merry-go-round, spring-mounted “bouncing animals” and perhaps best of all, a big wooden fort!

Just down the hill from the campground and accessible by a loop road is Bastendorff Beach, a 2-mile long wide, flat expanse of sand that invites long walks, lazy sunbathing, or such important pursuits as kite-flying and sand castle building. There are tidepools along the rocks at the south end.

Or walk the other way to the jetty of the Coos Bay harbor entrance, where waves pound on the rocks, sending up plumes of water. You might spot surfers trying their luck in the waves near the jetty.

The beach offers surfcasting for perch and other species, while the jetty is a popular place for rock fishing. (But always be watchful of the waves!) There are also state park beaches, a botanical garden, day-use areas and campgrounds in the vicinity of Bastendorff Beach and Cape Arago.

On the subject of seafood, the tidal flats and beaches around the Coos Bay estuary support five major species of bay clams, including gapers (which locals refer to as Empires), along with cockles, Little Necks, Butter and soft shell. Rocks along the ocean yield mussels, but be alert for late-summer closures of ocean shellfish harvesting due to naturally-occurring toxic conditions.

To harvest clams, all you need are some rubber boots, a bucket and a shovel – and low tide. Ttidebooks are available in most local stores and shops, and local papers also print print tide charts. The tideflats around the Charleston bridge are among popular places for clamdiggers. You can clam year-round.

The bays of the Coos and Coquille rivers are also open year-round for crabbing, which can be done from a boat or from the many public docks and fishing piers. The docks in the fishing community of Charleston are also open for crabbing, and you can rent gear at a number of shops.  The county has a public fishing pier in Charleston, near the bridge and visitor information center. A yearly fishing license is required for all bay, ocean, lake and river fishing; a separate shellfish license is required to harvest clams, crabs and mussels.

Bandon Beaches 

The county technically operates only a couple of beach areas in Bandon, but include these with five state park beaches and you’ve got a lot of potential beachcoming. Start a tour at the county-run South Jetty Beach, accessed by a road leading from Old Town. The road follows the river, passing many historic buildings, including a 1930s-era Coast Guard building now used as Port of Bandon offices. It’s just across the channel from Bandon’s historic lighthouse, long decommissioned in favor of a smaller, automated light on the side of the river.

The other beach accesses are reached from Beach Loop Drive. Follow the signs from Old Town, or take 11th St. off US 101 and follow it to Beach Loop Drive. Just west of the intersection of 11th and Beach Loop is Coquille Point and county-run Kronenberg Beach. There are paths with interpretive signs along the headlands, as well as an ornate wooden staircase down to the beach. And what a beach! This has to be one of the most spectacular on the Oregon Coast, with offshore islands -- called seastacks – lunging out of the sea at dramatic angles. Other islands are home to thousands of seabirds, which wheel and soar overhead.

Continue south along Beach Loop to four more state park beaches, with the road eventually leading back to US 101 about two miles south of downtown Bandon.

Bullards, Whiskey Run and Seven Devils Beaches

Just north of Bandon are even more beaches. Head up US 101 and cross the bridge over Coquille River. A few hundred feet beyond is Bullards Beach State Park, with campgrounds, picnic areas, boat ramp, hiking and equestrian trails, a historic lighthouse – and oh yes, a long beach.

Keep going up US 101 about 2.2 miles beyond the bridge to Seven Devils Road, and follow signs to Whisky Run Beach and Seven Devils State Park. Vehicles are permitted on Whiskey Run Beach, while at Seven Devils, it’s strictly for hikers.

Ten Mile Lakes County Park

The north end of Coos County is called “dunes country” for its proximity to the world-famous Oregon Dunes. The dunes begin on the north side of Coos Bay and extend about 40 miles north to Florence. Much of the land – actually a mix of open sand and dense coastal forest – is administered by the US Forest Service as the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. There are dozens of beach accesses, all-terrain-vehicle (ATV) riding areas, campgrounds and day-use areas, as well as trails for hikers, bikers and equestrians.

It’s not all sand and thick woods, either. There’s water everywhere! Many small, seasonal lakes are created out in the open dunes during the rainy season. Here also are some of Oregon’s largest freshwater lakes, many in forested settings that might make you think you’re up in the mountains.

Such is the case with Ten Mile Lakes, among the state’s top recreational lakes and one of the largest in dunes country. It’s actually two lakes, connected by a short channel, and is a longtime favorite with anglers, boaters, waterskiers and those who enjoy personal watercraft. Many homes -- some accessible only by boat -- ring the lakes, and there’s even an island with a few residences.

There are full services in the community of Lakeside, and the county boat ramp is a busy place on summer weekends. The adjacent county park has a sandy beach for wading and swimming, as well as shady picnic areas on a cool expanse of lawn.

Just north of Lakeside is William Tugman State Park and Eel Lake, another large, freshwater lake in a woodsy setting. There aren’t any homes or development along its shores or on the upland slopes, and there’s a speed limit for boats, so the setting here is more serene than nearby Ten Mile Lakes.

Closer to the Coos Bay/North Bend area you can explore Saunders Lake, where you’ll find Saunders Lake County Park and Boat Ramp.  

River Country

The rivers that feed Coos Bay, as well as the Coquille River, have always been an important part of life along the southern Oregon coast. The waterways served as early-day “highways” for a variety of riverboats and other vessels, as well as for rafts of logs that were floated down from the hills to sawmills. These days, most of the traffic is recreational – with an emphasis on fishing.

Whether you’re here in the spring, summer or fall, it seems there’s always something running – from steelhead and salmon, to perch, stripers or shad.

Coos County operates a number of boat ramps on both river systems, including Rooke-Higgens Park along the Millicoma River, which also includes a primitive campground. Farther up the Millicoma River is Nesika Park, with a day-use area in a grove of tall mrytles and a nearby campground.

There are other boat ramps along the Coos River, and several around Coos Bay operated by the cities and other agencies.

Boat ramps along the Coquille River start right in Old Town Bandon, and continue at intervals nearly 40 miles up the river to Myrtle Point. Other popular launches can be found at Bullards Beach State Park, Rocky Point County Boat Ramp, Riverton County Boat Ramp, Coquille City Boat Ramp and Arago Boat Ramp. 

Sandy Creek Covered Bridge . . . and much more

Among the unique destinations in the Coos County Parks system is the Sandy Creek Covered Bridge in the community of Remote. Don’t let the name mislead you – Remote is actually situated along Highway 42, the region’s main east-west route. The restored bridge makes an interesting stop along the way, or an unusual destination for a picnic. There are even picnic tables on the bridge -- under the covered roof -- making it a cool getaway on a hot summer day.

These are among the highlights of the far-flung Coos County Parks system, but your wanderings will undoubtedly take you past some of the smaller waysides and parks as well.

The best way to explore is to get the official Coos County Parks brochure at any local visitors information centers, Chamber of Commerce office or at the Coos County Parks office in Coquille. Their number is (541) 396-3121 ext. 354.
Information provided by Westways Press:  

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