When I planned my outdoor adventure through Oregon and down its mystical, magical coast, my original route had me heading south along Highway 97 until I got to the geologic crown jewel of the state, Crater Lake National Park. From there, I was going to wind my way down the Umpqua River until I arrived at Tokatee Falls and hot springs. But, as we all know, even if you possess the best-laid plans, the universe likes to throw the occasional curveball, and that's exactly what happened on this trip.
About an hour into my drive, I began to notice the beautiful blue sky that had accompanied me up from Bend and up until that point had given way to an imposing stack of brooding storm clouds. Within 15 minutes, I was smack in the middle of a mid-spring whiteout. Just before the turnoff to Crater Lake, I ran into a wall of taillights and the unfortunate news that the highway was being closed. Black ice and drifting snow had made for treacherous travel conditions and I needed to find another way to the coast. But, as we also all know, curveballs aren't always a bad thing. Sometimes, the unplanned stops make the trip even better. The new route I took, off Santiam Pass, through the ancient Willamette National Forest, and along the McKenzie River, took me to a few new gems that made the adventure even more epic.
After an 11 mile drive off the byway, you'll reach one of Oregon's most stunning waterfalls (and that's saying something, Oregon has over 200!), Proxy Falls. A short .75 mile hike from the parking lot, Proxy Falls is one of the best and most accessible waterfalls in the entire Pacific Northwest. As you reach the upper viewpoint, it’s easy to see why Proxy is likely the most photographed waterfall in Oregon. Its perfect oval shape is not only super unique, but it's perfectly framed by the abundant old growth forest in which it resides. A short but steep scramble down the hill leads to the ultra-lush base in Proxy Creek. With each step forward, the falls seem to grow taller and more imposing. The natural beauty here is infinite and almost overwhelming at times; places like these are incredibly special. You are likely to encounter several like-minded visitors at the falls, so if you want it to yourself, get there early.
As I hopped back into the car, I realized how wet and cold I had become while hiking around at Proxy Falls. The perfect remedy would be a quick soak in Terwilliger Hotsprings and lucky for me, it was only a short drive down the road! As you turn off Highway 126, the road becomes extremely washboard-like and bumpy, but the views of Cougar Reservoir around each corner more than make up for the ride. A short 4 miles later and you’ll arrive at the parking lot for the hot spring. Make sure to pay the daily fee ($6) as this helps the Forest Service maintain the pristine setting that you are about to enjoy. This is a clothing optional area, so if the prospect of nudity makes you uncomfortable, check out the more family-friendly Belknap Springs, which is close by. Once again, this is a spot that's best visited early in the day if you're looking for peace and solitude!
After a few hours of driving west, I had finally reached the rugged southern Oregon coast. I stopped in downtown Bandon to grab a sandwich and some firewood, and I even made a couple friends in the process. That’s another amazing thing about the coast; everyone is extraordinarily friendly here. The other thing that the southern coast is known for is its unbelievable sea stacks that dot the shoreline. A local recommendation led me a few minutes away to Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint. As I made my way down the wooden boardwalk to the beach, a couple seagulls circled effortlessly overhead and all I could do was smile at the perfect moment. After snapping some photos of the wizard’s hat at sunset, I built a fire on the beach and enjoyed my dinner in the shelter of a nearby sea cave. It was the perfect reward for a long day on the road.
My comfy accommodations, furnished for me, were a short 15-minute drive south of Bandon. The hyper-friendly coastal culture was still evident upon check-in at the Bandon/Port Orford KOA, as I chatted with the owners for about 30 minutes before settling into my delightful Cabin. The unit was furnished with 3 beds, a porch swing, and a fire pit; the perfect setting to rest and recharge after a long day of exploring. All the modern amenities that one would hope for (like clean bathrooms) are located on the property, a short walk away. My stay here was truly memorable and it proved to be a wonderful home base while I explored the incredible southern Oregon coast.
The last stop on my road trip was Samuel H. Boardman State Park, a beautiful 90-minute drive down Highway 101. This section of coastline is, without a doubt, one of my favorite areas in the entire Pacific Northwest. There are several points where you can access the park, and each offers new and breathtaking viewpoints and trails for visitors to choose from. I decided to explore the Natural Bridge and it instantly became one of the very best places I've ever been to, anywhere. Picking your way through the densely forested switchback is not necessarily easy, but it's oh-so-worth the view at the end. As the trail meets the ocean and becomes a narrowing ridge line, you begin to see the sheer power of the ocean at work. Down below your feet, the water has managed to erode a perfect U-shaped opening in the rock, creating a suspended coastal arch that will afford you a one-of-a-kind traverse (use caution here!) With a secret beach tucked behind the arch, and many unique sea stacks just offshore, this small section of the southern Oregon coast was worth the 6 hours of driving on its own.
It'll be hard for any place to top the mind-blowing beauty from this trip, even if it didn't follow the original planned route. Who knows, maybe the views at Toketee Falls and Crater Lake can stack up to these! Only time, and another road trip, will tell.
My name is Ryan Field and I am a professional landscape & lifestyle photographer based out of Bend, Oregon. I've been pursuing photography professionally for close to 2 years now and it's the best decision I've ever made. with my camera in hand, I've not only visited bucket list locations but I've made genuine friends that'll last longer than any image I'll ever take.