Oregon State Scenic Viewpoint
Oct. 18, 2015 – Heceta Head Lighthouse was one of the main attractions I wanted to see while staying at nearby Carl Washburne State Park. I always enjoy visiting lighthouses. They seem like quaint memories of the past now, but they were critically important in the 19th century when sailing traffic was heavier and these lights were what stood between ships and crushing seashores. This one’s light was first lit in 1894 and the last on-site light keeper left in 1963 when it became automated.
From the beach-side parking lot, there is an easy, paved half-mile walking trail up to the lighthouse that gains 150 feet in elevation. This trail replaced the wooden path the light keepers used to get to work during the day and foggy nights.
There are places you can stop and take in the views – this one of the beach and I really liked this neat old Suislaw River Bridge and its graceful arches. I also thought it was cool to see where the river flows into the ocean and enjoyed walking along here after my tour of the lighthouse.
The views of the beautiful and powerful Pacific and the mist that hung in the crevices of the mountainside were worthy of a stop for proper appreciation.
Before you get to the lighthouse, you’ll pass what was the two Assistant Lighthouse Keepers’ duplex quarters, now the Heceta Head Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast (not open to the public for tours). The views from here are incredible.
Here you see how both houses occupied the space up here, with the head keeper’s house in the foreground. So sad that this house was torn down in 1940. A History and Architectural Survey by the U.S. Forest Service provide different theories, but apparently the definitive reason is not agreed upon by historians. Both houses were built in the Queen Anne inspired Victorian design popular of the day. Lots of pictures and information of the architecture of the house in Section 2-3 of the History.
Getting up to the main attraction is well worth the trip. Several sources I saw say this is the most photographed lighthouse on the Oregon Coast. I’m sure others might disagree, but who cares – it’s incredible to say the least.
I was disappointed that they didn’t let you up the stairs due to renovations that were going on up there, but I appreciated the details given by a couple of RVers who were hosting there for the season, so it was especially nice to meet them.
Their information helped me to imagine what it was like for the keepers in the days when the revolution of the lens was controlled by a system of weights, called clockworks, which were wound by hand.
Early Days of Light Tending (U.S. Forest Service)
Three keepers were needed here to keep the lights shining bright, winding the clocks and keeping the station cleaned, polished and repaired. Constant maintenance was needed to ward off leaks and water damage to both the exterior and interior.
The first shift began at sunset and ended at midnight and the second lasted from midnight to sunrise. One man was always off duty at night. The shifts were taken in turn, which gave each keeper a full night’s sleep every third night.
The salaries of the light keepers were fixed by law in 1867, and the law was not changed for 50 years. Besides housing and firewood, the head keeper was paid $800 annually, the first assistant $600, and the second assistant $550. It wasn’t until 1910 that installation of indoor plumbing eliminated the need for outside privies. All good reasons why none of these guys look particularly amused, I guess.
I was especially thankful they told me about another little trail past the oil house that led up to this view where you could really see the light shining as it rotated.
Atop the 1,000′ high Heceta Head, the tower is 56′ tall. The light can be seen 21 miles from land and is rated as the strongest light on the Oregon coast.
The lens is the Fresnel type usually made in France, but this one was made in England and is the largest English lens of its type in the United States.
I sat up there for quite a while taking in the expansive view. The waves crashing here were amazingly powerful and sounded like the boom of canon fire sometimes. During certain times of the year, these rocky refuges serve as homes to seabirds, harbor seals and sea lions, but none except seagulls were visible while I was here.
Little 1:30 minute YouTube video of the rotating light and the crashing waves from the upper vantage point.
Once I went back down to the shoreline, I could see where I’d been at the Assistant Lighthouse Keepers’ quarters.
The walk along the shore here was wonderful, looking back at the lighthouse and the pounding waves in the background. Parts for the lighthouse were shipped in and unloaded onto shore here, then carried up the hillside on wagons.
This distant view was taken from the parking lot of Sea Lion Caves, a little further south on U.S. 101.
Parking: There is ample parking for RVs, but in the upper lot before you get down to the lot by the water, where there is no turnaround large enough for an RV.
Fees: There is a $5 fee, but don’t forget: if you’re camped at an Oregon State Park, display your receipt in your windshield and these kind of fees are included.
Heceta House: A History and Architectural Survey (U.S. Forest Service) – Several pages with background and construction details, early residents, what such an isolated life was like and changes that took place in more modern times, including the lighthouse’s role in WWII. I always love looking at old photographs of life in what feels like a long-ago age compared to how we live today.
Bed & Breakfast – Want to spend a night at a lighthouse? You can stay in the former assistant light keeper’s cottage. But check out what they say about it being haunted below.
Great Lighthouses Oregon (PBS) – Ghost story is told of a woman whose young child died while the family worked at the lighthouse in the 1890s. Strange and unexplained happenings have been reported by several guests and caretakers at the lighthouse to this day.
Ghostly Headlines (Part V of the History above) tells of a mysterious lady being the station’s “ghostly occupant.” Some stories say “Rue” was a little girl who died there, while others say Rue is the “grey lady” who is Rue’s mother and is still searching for her.