Easy hiking with lovely ocean views and a historic Coast Guard Station

Distance: 1.5 miles round trip (variable depending on route)

Type: out and back or loop

Difficulty: easy 

Best Season: all year

After two days of beautiful weather, we awoke to a dreary Oregon Coast day. Flat grey skies and scattered rain showers would persist throughout the morning, but we didn’t let that stop us from visiting Port Orford Heads State Park, site of historic Port Orford Lifeboat Station.


The now retired Coast Guard station was commissioned in 1934 to provide search and rescue services on the southern Oregon Coast. Their motto, “You have to go out…you don’t have to come back.” Today, visitors can hike short and easy trails to each of the three Port Orford heads for commanding ocean views. Highlights of the hike include the old lookout tower site and a view down to Nellie’s Cove where the lifeboats launched for rescue missions.


From the parking lot, we began our hike by catching the Headland Trail. We followed this approximately half a mile to a north facing viewpoint. Here we could see north to the Cape Blanco Lighthouse. Below us, harbor seals lounged on a large exposed rock.


We continued another half mile over to the remains of the lookout tower. From here, the Coast Guard crew had commanding views of the coastline. Seeing a ship in distress, they would send the call back to the station.

soggy Oregon Coast morning

We continued around the heads and found ourselves overlooking Nellie’s Cove. From barracks, crew would race down more than 530 steps to the boathouse in the sheltered cove where they’d launch their 36′ self-righting motor lifeboat. A sign describes the scene “It’s dark, the wind is gusting out of the south at almost 100 miles per hour, the waves are approaching 20′ in height, and driving rain is blowing up the hill defying the laws of gravity – a Pacific storm is battering the Oregon coast. A vessel is in distress of the rocky headlands. The lives of the crew are at risk. Once out in the ocean, the boat crew was at the mercy of the elements, often having to ride out the storms at sea after rescuing sailors in distress.”

Nellie’s Cove

We returned to the parking lot via the Cove Trail for a round trip loop of 1.5 miles. This was a short hike and the grey skies yielded disappointing photos, but the history was fascinating. I would have enjoyed a visit to the museum housed in the old barracks. Unfortunately, we visited on the one day of the week they are closed—Tuesday. For those who are interested, Oregon State Parks has a very nice brochure available on their website.

This short stop left us with plenty of day left.  We headed south for a more challenging hike at Cape Sebastian!


Directions to park: From highway 101, turn west at milepost 301 onto 9th street in Port Orford. Travel 0.2 miles then curve left onto Arizona Street. Continue 0.8 miles to the parking lot.

2 Replies to “Oregon Coast: Port Orford Heads, Sept 2014”

  1. That is one place along the coast that I’ve yet to visit . Thanks for sharing . I think I’ll plan a trip down there when the flowers are blooming for that short hike . Then there has to be some waterfalls in the area that I need to add to my list too .

    1. I have no doubt you’ll find some beautiful waterfalls Rich. You know of more waterfalls than anyone else I know! Port Orford was a nice little stop. Love the history and simply can’t imagine the courage those young men must have had!

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