Sand dunes, lighthouses and crabs galore make this coastal locale a gem to explore.
With one of the tallest sand dunes in Oregon, exceptional crabbing, a classic Oregon lighthouse and forested trails galore, Winchester Bay has all the ingredients for a memorable coastal escape.
Once a timber and fur town, Winchester Bay today beckons visitors with the promise of adventure in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. It’s also popular with anglers, not only for its abundance of Dungeness crab, but for its great salmon, halibut, tuna and cod fishing. Winchester Bay is also home to the Umpqua River Lighthouse, a treasure among Oregon’s remaining lighthouses, and plenty of Northwest wildlife like gray whales, Roosevelt elk, bald eagles and harbor seals.
In short, Winchester Bay has the perfect mix for a relaxing or adventurous getaway to the Oregon Coast. It’s quieter and less-traveled than some of Oregon’s other coastal destinations, but that simply adds to its appeal and has a way of turning first-timers into repeat visitors.
Cruise the Dunes and Watch Wildlife
Winchester Bay and the surrounding areas offers fun for everyone. Fishing for salmon in the Umpqua River? Check. Off-highway vehicles (OHV) on the Oregon Dunes? Check. Pleasant beach walks and forested hikes? Check and check.
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is one of the main draws near Winchester Bay. One of the world’s largest swaths of temperate coastal sand dunes, the area is ideal for OHV-ers (the climb up 500-foot Banshee Hill is a favorite) but it’s also welcoming to solace-seekers thanks to options for hiking and bird-watching.
For those who want to take in the area’s wildlife, migrating gray whales can be spotted between November and May from places like the Umpqua River Lighthouse. Or find good bird watching at the jetty near Salmon Harbor Drive; look for bald eagles, osprey, blue herons, grebes and all kinds of shorebirds.
Perched as it is on the Pacific Coast, Winchester Bay is, no surprise, a seafood mecca. DIY-ers can try their hand at crabbing for Dungeness or red rock crabs from the docks at Windy Cove County Park and the Salmon Bay Marina. The Pelican Market rents the supplies you’ll need. You can also dig for razor and soft shell clams throughout the Umpqua River estuary.
Fishing’s big in these parts, too. The Umpqua is renowned for salmon and steelhead, while the Pacific is rich with halibut, rockfish, tuna and perch. A handy guide from Douglas County has information on when and where to fish as well as local charters and guide services.
For the less adventurous who still have a seafood hankering, local fishers sell fresh crab, cod and halibut from the Breakwater Dock in Winchester Bay — and several local restaurants specialize in fresh Oregon seafood as well.
Get Cozy in a Campsite or Cabin
Camping’s the name of the game in Winchester Bay. But camping these days means a lot more than a tent and sleeping bags. Take, for example, Umpqua Dunes RV Park & Campground. Owned by Douglas County, the park is right next to Half Moon Bay and offers not only full hookup sites, but five brand new cabins with views out over the water, direct sand access and a convenient store.
Winchester Bay RV Resort also has two cabins that look out onto Salmon Harbor as well as waterfront sites on the bay and the Umpqua River. One other option for cabins are the two in Windy Cove, another county campground in the heart of all that Winchester Bay has to offer.
Set behind a dune and a pine forest, Half Moon Bay County Park & Campground has year-round camping and direct access to the Oregon Dunes. It’s a popular place for folks exploring the dunes via Off-Highway Vehicles, as is the county’s Sand Camp, which offers scenic beaches, unending dunes and camping from Memorial Day into the fall.
For more information on an escape to Winchester Bay, visit discoverwinchesterbay.com.
Top photo: Winchester Bay by Manuela Durson