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Port Orford Heads Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Nellie's Cove, Port Orford Heads (bobcat)
Self-righting lifeboat, Port Orford Heads (bobcat)
Coast lily (Lilium maritimum), Port Orford Heads (bobcat)
Garrison Lake and Cape Blanco from Port Orford Heads ( (bobcat)
Coastal gumweed (Grindelia stricta var. stricta), Port Orford Heads (bobcat)
The trails at Port Orford Heads (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps


Hike Description

From 1934 to 1970, this 300-foot high headland hosted the dwellings and offices of a year-round lifeboat operation, one of nine on the Oregon coast. The self-righting lifeboats, housed in Nellie’s Cove, were reached by a long, narrow staircase, most of which remains although you are discouraged from using it. The boats were designed to go out in all kinds of weather to assist vessels in distress, rescue crews, and salvage cargo. From 1970 to 1976, the station was used by Oregon State University for marine research projects, after which it became part of the Oregon State Parks system. In addition to visiting the station itself, visitors can take advantage of a small network of trails to stroll through the Sitka spruce forest and out along the headlands, which offer spectacular views south and north and out to sea.

Check the map showing the state park’s trails, and then zigzag up the pole-railed path to the buildings of the former lifeboat station. To your right is an example of the 36’ 8” self-righting lifeboat itself. Walk straight towards the old barracks building, now a museum (opened in 2000). The museum offers displays on the lifeboat station’s history, including shipwrecks that station personnel. The station staff was increased exponentially during World War II. One of the crew's jobs was to rescue survivors of an American tanker that had been torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. The museum is open six days a week (not on Tuesdays) from April to October.

From the north side of the barracks building, take the path out past a sign designating the Cove Trail. Pass a fat spreading Sitka spruce dripping with leathery polypody ferns, and walk through a salal thicket to get a view of Nellie’s Cove. You can see the concrete breakwater that connects two of the three sea stacks and the pilings of the old boathouse, which burned down in the 1970s. Continue on the trail, where coast irises bloom in early summer, and Douglas-fir, spruce, tanoak, and hazel form the canopy. Get a view south to Redfish Rocks and Humbug Mountain before walking through a tunnel of hazel and spruce. Reach the Port Orford Lookout Tower Site, where only some concrete pads remain. The 37-foot tower provided a perch for spotters scanning the ocean for vessels in distress. Now, interpretive signs here tell about coastal geology and the Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve to the south.

Take the paved path leading uphill past silk tassel shrubs draped with honeysuckle. At a junction, go left to proceed through an open thicket of salal, thimbleberry, evergreen huckleberry, sea watch, and stunted shore pine. Make a left at the next junction as well to take the out-and-back Headland Trail. Be sure to keep an eye out for the park’s resident black-tailed deer, and scan the ocean for whale blows. As you descend the trail, you’ll get views north to Cape Blanco and rocks and stacks offshore, including pyramid-shaped Klooqueh Rock. Look for harbor seals hauled out on the flatter rocks. From the end of the trail, you’ll get more views north to Garrison Lake, the mouth of the Elk River, and the Cape Blanco Lighthouse.

Return up the Headland Trail, and make a left at the junction. Wind up the slope through snow brush and salal, and turn left to reach the parking area.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Dogs on leash
  • Open dawn to dusk
  • Museum open April through October, Wednesday to Monday 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Picnic area, restrooms, interpretive signs

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 120 Hikes on the Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson
  • Day Hiking: Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson
  • Best Hikes With Kids: Oregon by Bonnie Henderson & Zach Urness
  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Oregon Coast & Coast Range by William L. Sullivan
  • Out Our Back Door: Driving Tours and Day-Hikes in Oregon’s Coos Region by Tom Baake
  • From Sea to Summit: The R.A.D. Guide to Hiking in Curry County, Oregon by the R.A.D. Outdoor Club
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Jan Bannan
  • The Dog Lover’s Companion to Oregon by Val Mallinson

More Links


Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.