Exploring Tide Pools

The Pacific Coastal Highway (OR 101) is a roadtripper’s dream. There are so many nooks and crannies to explore that you could wander it for weeks and barely scratch the surface. We spent the summer visiting the state a few years back and found several gems we want to share with you.

Tide Pools at Heceta Head

Tide Pools at Heceta Head

Purple Sea Star in Tide Pool

Purple Sea Star in Tide Pool

On today’s agenda are some of our favorite tide pools! The beaches in the pacific northwest are quite different than east coast beaches, and even different from the Pacific beaches further south in California. Here, the rocky coastline connects mountains to beach. In plentiful pockets, when the tide recedes, it leaves behind small tide pools captures by rocks. The sea life in these tide pools is diverse, including anemones, crabs, sea stars, and mussels. Exploring around pools at low tide became a quick hobby of ours. We easily lost hours hopping from rock to rock and searching for wildlife. Some tide pools are accessible from sand and others require scrambling, but in any given area there are all kinds of places to look, making this an ideal family activity.

Of course, be careful where you step because this sea life is also fragile. And keep an eye on the tide schedule to make sure you don’t get caught out too far from shore. The tide comes in slowly but you should still be aware to stay safe.

Sunset Bay Beach

Sunset Bay Beach

Here are some of our favorite places to explore tide pools:

Cape Arago State Park (southern Oregon coast)

Colorful Crab in Tide Pool

Colorful Crab in Tide Pool

These tide pools are located at the end of the road on a peninsula that juts out into the Pacific. You’ll need to make a small hike down from the parking area to the tide pools. This is a short hike (1/4 mile or less) but somewhat steep and involving a fair number of stairs. You can camp at nearby Sunset Bay Beach State Park (make a reservation online to guarantee a spot), making this an ideal road trip stopping point. Off the coast, seals and sea lions can be seen (and frequently heard) lounging and mingling. There are no fees to visit this park or tide pool area. In late spring and early summer, the tide pools are closed to protect seals during the pupping season.

Sunset Over the Heceta Head Lighthouse and Tide Pools

Sunset Over the Heceta Head Lighthouse and Tide Pools

These state parks are pretty close to the town of Coos Bay and when we were there, rangers told us they had frequent enough break-ins so we strongly recommend you use caution here. Leave valuables at home instead of in your car and carry anything you brought with you down to the tide pools.

Heceta Head Lighthouse (central Oregon coast)

Yaquina Head Lighthouse from Beach

Yaquina Head Lighthouse from Beach

This was our most frequented spot along the coast and the tide pools did not disappoint. You’ll need to pay a small parking fee here or display a pass for the Oregon State Park system. You can also hike up to the lighthouse and enjoy higher views of the Oregon coast without too much strenuous elevation gain. If your’e really adventurous, you can hike over to Hobbit Beach from here (but we’ll feature that in a Hiking the Oregon Coast blog). If you’re there in the afternoon, stick around for sunset from the beach or drive up the road just a ways to get a spectacular view of the lighthouse.

We found this to be a safe place to park but you never know, so we recommend that you do not leave any valuables in your car while you are out exploring.

Yaquina Natural Outstanding Area (central/northern Oregon coast)

Morning Light in Yaquina Natural Outstanding Area

Morning Light in Yaquina Natural Outstanding Area

This area requires either a day fee or a National Parks pass. A Northwest Forest pass might work but we never tried it. The tide pools involve a descent down several flights of stairs from the parking area. You can also hike around the lighthouse and up a short distance to a scenic view of the coast. Off the coast, you'll likely view sea lions or seals and migrating birds use many of the small rocky islands off the coast here for landing areas. This natural area has one of the strangest names we've encountered in the National Park system but it is indeed Outstanding.