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Visiting Cape Blanco State Park

Four miles north of Port Orford, west of U.S. 101, is Cape Blanco State Park, whose remoteness gives you the feeling of being at the edge of the continent—as indeed you are here, at the westernmost point in Oregon. From the vantage of Cape Blanco, dark mountains rise behind you and the eaves of the forest overhang the tidewater. Below, driftwood and 100-foot-long bull kelp on slivers of black-sand beach fan out from both sides of this earthy red bluff. Somehow, the Spaniards who sailed past it in 1603 viewed the cape as having a blanco (white) color. It has been theorized that perhaps they were referring to fossilized shells on the front of the cliff.

The lighthouse near Cape Blanco
The lighthouse near Cape Blanco. Photo © Judy Jewell.

With its exposed location, Cape Blanco really takes it on the chin from Pacific storms. The vegetation along the five-mile state park road down to the beach attests to the severity of winter storms in the area. Gales of 100-mph winds (record winds have been clocked at 184 mph) and horizontal sheets of rain have given some of the usually massive Sitka spruces the appearance of bonsai trees. An understory of salmonberry and bracken fern help evoke the look of a southeast Alaskan forest.

Atop the weathered headland is Oregon’s oldest, most westerly, and highest lighthouse in continuous use. Built in 1870, the beacon stands 256 feet above sea level and can be seen some 23 nautical miles out at sea. Cape Blanco Lighthouse (541/332-6774, 10am-3:30pm Wed.-Mon. Apr.-Oct., $2 adults) also holds the distinction of having had Oregon’s first female lighthouse keeper, Mabel E. Bretherton, who assumed her duties in 1903. Tours of the facility include the chance to climb the 64 spiraling steps to the top. This is the only operational lighthouse in the state that allows visitors into the lantern room to view the working Fresnel lens.

Near Cape Blanco on a side road along the Sixes River is the Hughes House (541/332-0248, 10am-3:30pm Wed.-Mon. Apr.-Oct., free), a restored Victorian home built in 1898 for rancher and county commissioner Patrick Hughes. Owned and operated today by the state of Oregon, the house offers an intriguing glimpse of rural life on the coast over a century ago.

Camping in Cape Blanco State Park

Scenic Rating: 8
There are 52 sites with partial hookups for tents or RVs up to 65 feet long. Other options include an equestrian camp with eight sites, a hiker/bicyclist camping area, four cabins, and four primitive group sites for tents or RVs for up to 25 people. Garbage bins, picnic tables, drinking water, and fire grills are provided. Firewood and restrooms with flush toilets and showers are available. Some facilities are wheelchair accessible. Leashed pets are permitted; one cabin is pet friendly.

Reservations are not accepted for single sites, but are accepted for cabins, the group site, and the horse camp at 800/452-5687 or ($8 reservation fee). Single sites are $22 per night, $7 per night per additional vehicle. The horse camp is $17 per night; the hiker/biker sites are $5 per person per night. The group site is $71 per night for the first 25 people, then $3 per each additional person per night. The cabins are $41-51 per night. Some credit cards are accepted. Open year-round.

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