Oregon's most photographed lighthouse stands at the tip of a scenic, forested cape
About the Hike: Two easy trails climb through the coastal woods to this spectacular lighthouse and the allegedly haunted lighthouse keepers' house nearby.
Difficulty: Two easy trails lead to the lighthouse, a 0.5-mile path from the state park and a 1.3-mile Oregon Coast Trail segment from the north.
Season: Open all year, but the Oregon Coast Trail section is slippery in wet weather.
Getting There: Drive Highway 101 north of Florence 12 miles or south of Yachats 15 miles. Just north of a tunnel, turn downhill into the Heceta Head Lighthouse Viewpoint (alias Devils Elbow State Park). Expect a $3 parking fee.
If you would rather hike the longer, more scenic trail to the lighthouse, drive one mile farther north on Highway 101 to a paved pullout on the right signed "Overnight Camping Prohibited."
Fees: A $3-per-car fee is charged at the state park, but the parking pullout on Highway 101 (the trailhead for the longer trail) is free.
Hiking Tips: The short, half-mile trail to the lighthouse starts at the far end of the Heceta Head Lighthouse Viewpoint picnic area's parking lot and climbs 0.3 mile through salal meadows and spruce groves to an old road. To the right is the Heceta Light Station, a white clapboard, 1893 duplex that once housed the two assistant light keepers. Still allegedly haunted by a young woman named Rue, the building is now a fabulously scenic bed and breakfast inn with six rooms that run $135-220 (for information call 541-547-3696).
From the Heceta Light Station, walk left along the old road 0.2 mile to the lighthouse itself. When it's open (noon to 5 pm Monday through Thursday and 11 am to 6 pm Friday through Sunday), volunteers lead visitors up the tower's 58 steps to see the lens rotating on its ball bearing track.
Even if you don't climb the tower, bring binoculars to watch the antics of the 7,000 long-necked, black Brandt's cormorants that roost April through August on the rocks below the railed yard. Tufted puffins, now rare here, were once so numerous that they gave the small offshore island its name: Parrot Rock.
The longer and quieter 1.3-mile hiking route to the lighthouse begins at a poorly marked (but free) parking pullout on the east side of Highway 101. From the pullout, walk 100 feet north and cross the highway to find a Hobbit Trail post. When the path forks after 50 feet, keep left. This trail climbs through an ancient, wind-swept Sitka spruce forest with salal, rhododendrons, and views up the coast as far as Cape Perpetua. Wear boots, because the tread is slick and slippery in spots. After 1.3 miles the path switchbacks down to the lighthouse.
History: The Devils Elbow is the name of the scenic cove beside Heceta Head. The cove won its name because it confounded early mariners with devilish currents. The picnic area here, long known as Devils Elbow State Park, was recently renamed Heceta Head Lighthouse Viewpoint Wayside because state bureaucrats wanted to avoid satanic references in state park names.
Still, many people prefer the old name. Heceta Head (pronounced huh-SEE-tuh) honors Bruno de Heceta, the Portuguese captain of a Spanish ship, who first sighted the cape in 1775. The beacon here first shone in 1894, using a 2-ton array of prism lenses that is still in service. This was the last of Oregon's dozen coastal lighthouses to be built. Bricks for the tower were shipped from San Francisco to Florence, carted down the beach, and hauled over the hills on wagons. The lens, with 640 delicate, hand-ground prisms, was off-loaded onto the cape by surf boat.
Geology: Heceta Head and nearby Cape Perpetua are both remnants of oceanfloor lava flows. Long after the volcanic action had ended, this entire section of seafloor was buckled up by the advancing North American continental plate.
By William Sullivan