Today’s travels take us on a road trip to photograph 6 amazing Oregon lighthouses. Our trip begins at the Yaquina Lighthouse, just north of Portland, and ends at Oregon’s most western lighthouse, Cape Blanco. Other photo stops along our road trip will include Heceta Head Light, Umpqua Lighthouse, and Cape Arago Lighthouse.
If you love photographing lighthouses, be sure to keep reading to discover when to go, what to pack, and how to photograph these lighthouses. By the way, our lighthouse route also takes us by sea stacks, tidal pools filled with sea life, cool towns, interesting bridges and so much more.
So grab your cameras and let’s go photograph some lighthouses.
Note: My recommendations do not include the winter months since I have yet to be on the coast in winter.
OREGON COAST LIGHTHOUSES (excludes one private light head)
The lighthouses in red are the ones we will be visiting today. Click to expand and view.
HOW TO GET TO THE CENTRAL OREGON COAST
Routes I do not mention above may involve twisty narrow roads with steep inclines so please research each route .
Portland is the best major airport to fly into. After arriving in Portland, I recommend taking Interstate 5 to one of the driving routes I have listed above to reach the Central Oregon coast.
ESSENTIAL INFO- THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Oregon Coast Tides
Cell and Internet
Oregon Coast-What to Pack
Oregon Lighthouses- Recommended Camera Gear
Photo Tips For All Lighthouses
BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH OREGON LIGHTHOUSES
Oregon lighthouses are beautiful any time of year but if you are after views of the lighthouses in their spectacular coastal settings, I recommend visiting in September or October. Although dense fog and rain can occur anytime along the coast, statistically September to early October have the best weather.
If you wish to capture lighthouses with dramatic skies and crashing waves, you may want to consider visiting in winter. Although I have yet to visit in winter, Some of the best images I have seen of the Oregon coast were taken in winter.
My best advice is to decide what type of images you wish to create then research the months that have the greatest probability for creating your desired photos.
OREGON LIGHTHOUSE ROADTRIP
Lighthouse Road Trip- How Many Days?
The total mileage from the northern most Oregon lighthouse, Yaquina Head and our southern most lighthouse, Cape Blanco, is only a little over 150 miles. Don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a day trip.
Plan to allocate at least 3 days to photograph these lighthouses to have time to see some of the sights between the lighthouses. Actually, you could easily spend weeks photographing just this little area. This area is that packed with photogenic subject which I will cover in a future post.
FIRST STOP -YAQUINA HEAD LIGHT
Our first stop on the Oregon Lighthouse Road trip takes us to the spectacular Yaquina Head Light that was previously known as Cape Foulweather Light. Based on one of my visits here, I certain agree with the previous name.
This is the tallest lighthouse on the Oregon coast and is situated in a stunning cliff side setting. However, the lighthouse with the highest focal plane honor goes to Cape Blanco.
Yaquina Head is special in that, it is not only the lighthouse, but the surrounding grounds that offer stunning photographic opportunities. Here, whales tend to linger just off shore, harbor seals sleep on the Cobble Beach rocks and colonies of birds perch nearby.
Since I wrote an entire post on “Photographing Yaquina Head Light” I won’t repeat the information here. Instead let me refer you to the Yaquina Head Light post so that you can learn all about photographing this amazing place.
Where is Yaquina Head Lighthouse?
Yaquina is located off Highway 101 about 5 miles north of the cool town of Newport, Oregon.
How Many Hours Should You Spend at Yaquina?
This is hard to answer as it greatly depends on the weather, tides and what you wish to photograph. However, as a general rule I would recommend spending at least 4 hours to photograph the lighthouse, visit the interpretative center, tour the lighthouse, photograph the tidal pools of Cobble Beach, and make a stop at the Quarry Cove area.
In fact, A day could easily be spent just in this one location , time permitting.
Note: As of summer of 2023, tours of the lighthouse are only for the bottom floor.
DRIVE INTO YAQUINA HEAD
From a photographer’s perspective, Yaquina Head Light is hard to beat!
DRIVE -YAQUINA HEAD TO HECETA LIGHTHOUSE
The drive between Yaquina Head and Heceta Head Lighthouse is about 55 scenic packed miles that can keep your cameras busy for days. No kidding!
Actually, this section of our drive is so packed with places to visit you may forget you are on a lighthouse photography trip. Here are just a few of my favorite non lighthouse photo spots along this section of the drive.
HECATA HEAD LIGHTHOUSE
Heceta Head Lighthouse is the most powerful light on the Oregon coast with an automated beacon that is visible up to 21 feet away. Even though the lighthouse itself is only 56 feet tall, situated on top of the 1000 foot Heceta Head Cliff, it is a very impressive lighthouse.
Heceta Head was the last lighthouse to be built on the Oregon Coast and is said to be the most photographed lighthouse on the coast. To learn all about this lighthouse, please visit: Heceta Head Lighthouse.
Where is Heceta Head Lighthouse?
The Lighthouse is located about 13 miles north of the quaint town of Yachats on Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint which was previously called Devils Elbow State Park. (I still refer to the area as Devils Elbow) The beach directly in front of the parking lot is called Cape Cove so it can get a bit confusing with all these names.
From the parking lot, the lighthouse is accessed by hiking an easy but a little steep half mile trail through a beautiful alder tree forest. The trail passes an innkeepers house which also functions as an overnight B&B. Be sure to make time to capture some images of the alder trees along the hike.
Heceta Lighthouse -Things to Know
How Long to Stay at Heceta Head Light
Photographing Heceta Head will not take longer than 1 to 1.5 hours from any of the locations listed below. However, if you wish to take a tour and/or also photograph the nearby tidal pools, sunsets, or other features, you should plan on adding another 2-3 hours to your visit.
PhotoTips- Heceta Head
Best Photo Locations
Photographing the lighthouse from the surrounding lighthouse grounds– Due to the steep hill behind the lighthouse, it is difficult to photograph the actual lighthouse entrance from ground level. However, a number of other compositions are possible, especially in the later afternoon light.
Note: The actual lighthouse grounds are small and by afternoon are very crowded making the area difficult to photograph.
A compromise I made to avoid the crowds was to photograph the lighthouse first thing in the morning from a side view as seen below.
Photo of the lighthouse from the grounds
One of the best places to photograph Heceta Head Lighthouse from is a short but steep trail behind the lighthouse. From the top of the trail you will be able to capture the lighthouse along with the Pacific Ocean. Due to a knee injury, I was not able to make the climb. For those who can, I highly encourage you to photograph Heceta from the top of the trail behind the lighthouse.
A third place from which to photograph the lighthouse is from the Devils Elbow aka Cape Cove Beach. I was not pleased with my compositions from this area so will not offer any advice to you other than to shoot tight enough to not let the landscape overwhelm the lighthouse like I did. However, Cape Cove Beach itself is very photogenic and worth spending time photographing.
Highway 101 roadside pullouts- Two of the most popular places from which to photograph the lighthouse are pullouts about .7 miles south of the main lighthouse entrance. One pullout is very small and can only hold 2 to 3 cars depending on the vehicle while the larger pullout can hold enough cars that finding parking should not be a problem. Both pullouts offer good views of the lighthouse and coast although I slightly prefer the smaller pullout.
Images of the lighthouse from the pulloffs
I should mentioned that the Cape Cove area directly in front of the lighthouse parking lot is also a great photo destination for tidal pool sea-life and sunsets.
Best Times to Visit
The lighthouse can be photographed from the grounds both in the morning and afternoon light. In the afternoon, images of the lighthouse up against the hillside are possible. In the morning, there are fewer people but as previously mentioned a steep hill behind the front of the lighthouse makes compositions a bit challenging.
From the Pullouts
Sunrise and sunsets can both be good time to photograph the lighthouse from these pullouts. However, both of these times also present challenges such as fog and areas in shadow. In fact, I highly recommend viewing the lighthouse on an app such as Photopills to evaluate the sun’s position at the time of year you plan to visit.
For example : I was there in summer and found that surprisingly mid morning to mid afternoon light created the best overall light as the fog bank was too dense for sunrise or sunset images. Also due to the sun’s position in the sky, mornings and evenings created too many deep shadow areas.
Lens: Lens in the range of 17mm to 50mm work best when photographing from the lighthouse grounds just be aware of keystoning when photographing lighthouses up close with an ultra wide angle lens.
To photograph the lighthouses from the pullouts, I recommend using longer lens in the range of 70-300mm.
Tripod: A tripod is essential when photographing from the overlooks. When photographing directly on the lighthouse grounds, a tripod is recommended but not essential.
Other: When photographing the lighthouse from the grounds with a wide angle lens, use a polarizer with care.
DRIVE-HECETA HEAD TO UMPQUA LIGHTHOUSE
The drive south from Heceta Head Lighthouse to the Umpqua Lighthouse is about 40 miles and will take you past the famous Oregon Dunes Recreation Area and also the neat town of Florence. If time permits, I encourage you to photograph the Oregon Dune access areas and also visit Florence, Oregon.
Note: Although many of the dune areas are very photogenic, the shear number of tourists riding through the dunes make them difficult to photograph in summer. Late fall to winter are much better times to capture the dunes.
The Umpqua Lighthouse is 65 feet tall with 50 stairs and ls located just south of Reedsport at Winchester Bay. The lighthouse is on a Coast Guard barricks a short distance from the Pacific Ocean and therefore is not initially as visually appealing as the previous two lighthouses.
Don’t let that fool you, as this is still a photogenic lighthouse with a little creativity.
The present inland location was chosen since the original lighthouse, built in 1857, came crashing down due to waves and flooding waters. To learn more about this lighthouse, visit: Umpqua Lighthouse.
Where is the Umpqua Lighthouse?
Umpqua Lighthouse- Things to Know
How Long to Stay at Umpqua Lighthouse?
I recommend spending about 2 hours at Umpqua Lighthouse area. Unlike Yaquina, there is not that much to do besides tour and photograph the lighthouse. However the area around the lighthouse including Winchester Bay and the surrounding sand dune areas could keep you busy for a couple days.
Umpqua Lighthouse Photo Tips
Best Photo Locations
As I mentioned, this lighthouse is difficult to photograph due to it’s location. Without a doubt, a coast guard housing facility surrounded by fencing is not the most picturesque setting for a lighthouse as you can see in the below photo!
The Interior- Must be photographed from the tour. Each person will be given time to climb up a short ladder and take pictures of the lens such as the image below.
Photographing the lens requires a wide angle lens in the range of 17mm and handholding the camera from the ladder steps as you lead backwards! Cameras will flip screens make this easier to do.
Exterior- The most photogenic views of the lighthouse are created by eliminating the very bottom of the lighthouse from the composition.
The lighthouse can also be photographed from sand dune locations that are north of the lighthouse.
Best Times of Day
This lighthouse is best photographed in the afternoon to evening light.
Lens: Lens in the range of 28-200mm work best. Ultra wide angle lens should be avoided here since they will include some of the barracks.
Tripod: A tripod will be essential if you plan to do any night photography of this lighthouse, otherwise, it is nice to have but not essential. No tripods are allowed inside the lighthouse.
DRIVE -UMPQUA TO CAPE ARAGO
It is about 30 miles from Umpqua Lighthouse to our next stop at Cape Arago Lighthouse. Once again you are entering an area filled with subjects to photograph. In addition to the Lighthouse, here are a few subjects you may wish to consider photographing.
CAPE ARAGO LIGHTHOUSE
The Cape Arago Lighthouse is located in Charleston, Oregon and was originally built in the mid 1800’s to provide light to the Coos Bay Harbor at a time when the harbor was one of the most important harbors in Oregon. It is about 2.6 miles north of Cape Arago State Park and initially named Cape Gregory Lighthouse.
Today the lighthouse is no longer operational and the land is now private and closed to the public.
Visitors can still view the lighthouse from a few very distant vantage points along the Cape Arago Loop Road.
Where is Cape Arago Lighthouse?
Things to Know Before You Go
How Long to Stay at Cape Arago Lighthouse
One hour should be plenty of time to photograph the Lighthouse. However, as listed above, there are many places to explore off the Cape Arago Highway and the Charleston/Coos Bay area. This is an area where I strongly encourage you to spend at least a day or more if time permits due to all the photo opportunities in this area.
Cape Arago Lighthouse Photo Tips
As already noted, Cape Arago Lighthouse is best photographed from a short trail directly off Cape Arago Highway that will lead to distant views. From the vantage point, compositions will be limited so bring a collection of lens from wide angle to telephoto to create different images.
The lighthouse can be photographed from Lighthouse Beach but this trail is challenging. Please see “How to Find Epic Views of Cape Arago” for details.
Also, I have seen people kayak the bay in front of the Lighthouse in order to photograph it. I have not done that yet but will on my next trip. In fact, I believe this is likely the best way to capture this lighthouse.
Here are a couple views of the lighthouse from a popular vantage point off Cape Arago Highway.
I should note I have found this lighthouse challenging to photograph and have yet to get a great image of it.
DRIVE -CAPE ARAGO TO COQUILLE RIVER LIGHTHOUSE
Continuing another 28 miles or so down Highway 101, we arrive at the Coquille River Lighthouse. Once again we are fortunate to be in an area with not only a lighthouse to photograph but also amazing sea stacks at Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Merlin’s Hat and other rock formations as well as the cool town of Bandon.
COQUILLE RIVER LIGHTHOUSE
The Coquille River Lighthouse is located immediately north of Bandon at the mouth of the Coquille River in Bullard Beach State Park. This is one of Oregon’s more popular lighthouses and definitely worth a visit.
There is a small gift shop inside the lighthouse building but the lighthouse stairs are closed to the public.
Where is Coquille River Lighthouse
Coquille Lighthouse -Things to Know Before You Go
How Long to Spend at Coquille Lighthouse
The lighthouse can be photographed easily in an hour, however there are many different vantage points from which to photograph the lighthouse. Several that are best photographed at different times of the day.
Also, the sea stacks at Bandon are one of the most photographed coastal areas in Oregon. Therefore, depending on your schedule and interests, consider spending an entire day in this area. You won’t regret it.
Coquille Lighthouse Photo Tips
Best Photo Locations
Photograph the lighthouse from the Bullard Beach State Park entrance. There are a large number of compositions that work well from this location but I favor the front of the lighthouse with the steps.
Another great spot from which to photograph the lighthouse is from the Bandon South Jetty Park across the river from Bullard Beach State Park. Although you will not be capturing the front of the lighthouse as easily from this location, there are quite a number of good compositions for the lighthouse including sunrise during the summer months.
Unfortunately I had terrible conditions when photographing from Bandon South Jetty Park and was never able to capture an image that did this spot justice. I wish you better luck at this location.
Best Times of Day
This lighthouse can be photographed from so many vantage points that, except for the dreaded midday light, you should be able to create pleasing images whenever you visit. However, my preferred time of day to photograph Coquille Lighthouse is in the morning hours.
Lens: Wide angle to 70mm are great when photographing from Bullard Beach. When photographing from the Jetty Park, lens in the range of 50mm to 300mm come in handy. I do not recommend ultra wide lens at the Jetty Park as the Lighthouse will look too small.
Tripod: Highly recommend using a tripod for both stability and also for slower shutter speeds.
Other: All other recommended gear mentioned in above packing guide.
DRIVE -COQUILLE TO CAPE BLANCO
The last stretch of our Oregon Lighthouse photo trip is just under 30 miles and can be made without any stops if time is a factor. Although there are some scenic locations along the route, they are not the must see destinations found along the previous routes.
CAPE BLANCO LIGHTHOUSE
Cape Blanco, the southern most lighthouse on our tour, is also the most western lighthouse in Oregon. The lighthouse became operational in 1870 and holds a number of Oregon records. Not only is it the oldest continually operational lighthouse on the Oregon Coast but it also sits higher than the other lighthouses with a focal height of 257 feet even though it only has 57 stairs.
The lighthouse is located in Cape Blanco State Park in a beautiful spruce forest perched on rocky cliffs by the Pacific Ocean.
WHERE IS CAPE BLANCO LIGHTHOUSE?
Cape Blanco-Things to Know Before You Go
Cape Blanco Photo Tips
Best Photo Locations
Photograph the Cape Blanco lighthouse by standing directly in front of the lighthouse with the Pacific Ocean behind it. Horizontal and vertical views both work well from this location but I find the vertical view adds a feeling of height to this lighthouse.
Photograph the lighthouse by standing behind the lighthouse where again you can include part of the Pacific Ocean in the image.
Satellite image of the third photo spot
Photograph the lighthouse from the parking lot. The lighthouse can be photographed directly from the lighthouse parking lot which offers good views of the lighthouse and ocean.
Lastly take time to photograph Cape Blanco in the area marked third location on the above satellite image. The area is accessed by parking in the lighthouse parking lot and walking across the main road to a grassy area. Walk carefully as the area is very uneven. (best in the mornings)
Lighthouse Interior- The interior of the lighthouse can only be photographed by taking a tour. If capturing the lighthouse interior is important to you, be sure to visit during tour hours.
Be aware that after climbing the stairs, the lens itself can only be viewed by climbing and standing on a ladder. For this reason, any photos of the lens are best captured with a cell phone. Yes I said cell phone!
Best Times of Day
Sunrise, sunset, early mornings and also evenings are good for photographing the Cape Blanco Lighthouse due to the many locations from which the lighthouse can be photographed. I prefer sunrise, sunset or mid mornings but this is a lighthouse that you can photograph at a time that works for your schedule.
The one caveat is that coastal fog tends to be so heavy here that capturing the lighthouse can be difficult in the early morning hours and late evening hours. Please check the weather forecasts before making final trip plans.
The lighthouse interior can only be photographed during tour hours.
Lens: This is a location where lens choice depends on your location when photographing the lighthouse. From the actual lighthouse grounds, photographing with lens from 17mm to 70mm would be my recommendation. However when photographing from the two locations by the parking lot, you recommend including lens up to 200mm in your bag.
Tripod: Except for shots taken from the lighthouse stairs, I highly recommend using a tripod.
Other: Photograph with a polarizer at all times. Also consider adding ND stop filters for slower shutter speeds during daytime photography. Lastly, be sure to include all items in the above recommended camera gear packing guide.
OREGON LIGHTHOUSE ITINERARY
Now that you know a little about the 6 lighthouses and how to photograph them, let’s look at a 3 day trip. Based on the time of day I believe I believe is best for photographing each lighthouse, I encourage you to make the drive from north to south.
If you have 5 days, which I strongly recommend, you can make the drive in either direction and also have alot more time to photograph the other wonderful coastal subjects.
3 Day Road Trip
Day One: Yaquina Head, Newport, & Heceta Head
Start the day at Yaquina Head Lighthouse and plan to spend 3 to 4 hours photographing the entire area.
Drive south for about 5 miles to Newport, Oregon for lunch and a little sightseeing. For those who love seafood chowder, I recommend making at stop at Nye Beach’s Chowder Bowl. There is also another popular chowder restaurant called Mo’s Seafood & Chowder.
While in the area spend a little time exploring Newport’s Historic Bayfront if time allows. Be sure to read my Newport Oregon post for things to see in the Newport area.
Start your drive south towards Heceta Head Light and try to schedule your arrival time for about 3 hours before sunset. If you are traveling in the summer time, you may want to move that up a bit to be sure yourare there in time for a tour of the lighthouse.
Allow two hours for this 50 mile drive. Once you arrive, photograph Heceta Head first by visiting the lighthouse itself then drive to the overlooks to capture sunset images.
After photographing Heceta Head, I recommend spending the night in Florence if you are staying in a motel. For those of you who camp, like I do, well there are a number of options along the route.
Day Two: Umpqua Lighthouse, Cape Arago and Coquille
Start the day spending the early morning hours in downtown Florence and also photographing the Suislaw River Bridge.
Make the 26 mile drive to Winchester Bay so that you arrive just before noon. Why? There are a number of great seafood restaurants at Winchester Bay, a great marina, and a wonderful bakery called Sugar Shack.
After eating lunch, head to Umpqua Lighthouse (3 minute drive) and begin by taking a tour. After the tour, it will be afternoon which is the best time to photograph the Umpqua Lighthouse exterior.
After photographing the lighthouse, get back on Highway 101 and head south 30+ miles to the Cape Arago Lighthouse. Plan to spend the rest of the late afternoon here not only photographing the lighthouse but also the sunset from Sunset Bay. The entire Cape Arago drive has fantastic photo opportunities.
Either spend the night in Charleston or Coos Bay.
Day Three: Coquille River Lighthouse and Cape Blanco Lighthouse
Get up early and make about another 30 mile drive to Bullard Beach State Park for the Coquille River Lighthouse. For early birds, get up real early and start the day photographing the haystacks on the beach at Bandon, Oregon before heading a short distance back to Coquille River Lighthouse.
Photograph the lighthouse in the early morning light then head to Bandon to photograph the lighthouse again from Jetty Park. Take a break and enjoy a lunch in Bandon, Oregon at one of its amazing restaurants.
Head south on Highway 101 for the final stop at Cape Blanco Lighthouse. Take the rest of the day until sunset to photograph this amazing area.
Final Thoughts- Photographing 6 Oregon Lighthouses
This Oregon lighthouse photo road trip was naturally focused on the 6 lighthouses listed above. As you plan any trip to the Oregon Coast to photograph lighthouses be sure to allow enough time in your schedule for weather delays. It is the coast after all!
Also don’t overlook all the other many amazing subjects one will likely encounter along this road trip road, some of which I have mentioned above, many of which I have not listed. Although I only provided a 3 day itinerary, this road trip takes you by places that could keep your clicking for weeks without ever photographing the same subject twice!
Thanks for allowing me to share my lighthouse photo tips with you and please feel free to leave a comment or post any questions you may have.
Safe travels to you all and I hope to see you back here again soon.