There’s a whole lotta sand out here. In fact if your mind didn’t know you were in Oregon your eyes would think you landed in the Sahara Desert. A sudden urge to wear long, flowing garments and mount a camel overcomes you. Or perhaps your inner child gets the upper hand and you run up the mountain of sand, leap frivolously into the air and cannon-ball down the slope. Either way you know this moment is rather surreal and completely unique.
We’re in the dunes of Oregon, baby, it’s a totally different world out here and the sunshine has come out to greet our arrival.
But before I get carried away by sand-waves and imaginary stories, let me tell you a little about this area. The Oregon dunes are the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America. Formed over millions of year by wind and rain, these ever-shifting mountains stretch a mind-boggling 40 miles (~64 km) from Florence to Coos Bay along the central OR coast. At points the massive sand-mass runs 2.5 miles in-land and rises 500 feet above sea level. It’s all protected as a Recreation Area and yet completely open to the public with large areas set-aside for off-road vehicles and other areas dedicated for day-use, horses or hikers. This being Oregon it’s also super dog-friendly allowing off-leash voice-control while on the dunes (I love it!)
Most people come here to ride the dunes, but our goal was to hike them and preferably all to ourselves (it’s a simple request, no?). A quick stop at the Visitor Center in Reedsport informed us the biggest and least-visited dunes were in the South with the 6-mile round-trip John Dellenback trail being the best bet for an all-round experience. The fact that this trail was only ~1 mile from our campground was just a cool bonus. With sunshine in the forecast and the surety of fine views we were set to go!
And the trip was probably one of the coolest hikes I’ve done. The dunes are not just sand but a complex eco-system of high dunes, low-lying lakes & plains, tree islands (small isolated remnants of older coastal forests), sand plants, coastal forest and beach. The hike takes you through ALL of it. Right from the tallest wind-swept dunes to thick, moist forest and all the way to the beach. Parts of the trail are marked, but the poles get constantly buried and it’s easy to get lost without a bearing. For that very reason so very few folks actually come here and we had literally the entire 3-hour hike to ourselves.
So, what was it actually like? Long wind-swept ripples of sand, curves of color and texture, spots of brilliant flowers, blasts of blue sky and horizons of dark clouds. All this interwoven with surprising lakes and dense coastal forest. Polly went dog-bananas on the dunes and your truly was swept-away by the photography. It’s totally everything you expect and much, much more. Despite taking 3 hours to hike it was so varied and interesting the time practically sped away.
So my advice is embrace those long robes, release your inner child and take the trip over and away here to the dune-sands of time. You most definitely won’t regret it!