Gold Beach and the Rogue River
Gold Beach was named for the nuggets mined from the area’s black sands during the mid-19th century. Despite its name, this is one coastal town where the action is definitely away from the beach. The Rogue River defines the northern city limits and is the town’s economic raison d’être. During salmon season, Gold Beach hotels and restaurants fill up with anglers, while jet-boat tours of the wild river are also a draw. Jerry’s Rogue Jets (541/247-4571 or 800/451-3645, $50 and up adults), by the bridge at the north end of town, takes passengers upstream to the isolated hamlet of Agness, where a homespun mountain lodge (meals around $15) serves family-style fried-chicken lunches and dinners. Other trips head farther upstream to the Rogue River rapids and the roadless wilderness areas of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
The usual motel rooms are available along US-101, but for a more memorable visit, try the Tu Tu’ Tun Lodge (96550 North Bank Rogue River Rd., 541/247-6664 or 800/864-6357, $160 and up). Set on a hill above the Rogue River, seven miles upstream from the coast, this upscale fishing lodge (pronounced “ta-TWO-tun”) has plushly rustic rooms and a great restaurant.
Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor
Between Gold Beach and Brookings, US-101’s windy, hilly roadbed is studded with the cliff-side ocean vistas, giant conifers, and boomerang-shaped offshore rock formations of Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor.
The park covers 12 of the “Fabulous 50” miles between the two towns, and all of the features come together at Natural Bridges Cove. Located just north of the Thomas Creek Bridge (the highest bridge in Oregon), this turnout is easy to miss despite being well signed because, from the highway, it appears to be simply a parking lot fronting some trees. From the south end of the parking lot, however, a short trail through an old-growth forest leads to a viewpoint several hundred feet above three natural rock archways standing out from an azure cove.
Brookings: Harris Beach State Park
The drive through the malled-over main drag of Brookings offers only fleeting glimpses of the Pacific, and if you’re hoping for a first or last “Wow!” before or after the 300-plus other miles of coastal Oregon’s scenic splendor, these few miles along the California border may be somewhat anticlimactic. That said, Brookings does have beautiful Azalea Park, which is gorgeous during the April-June spring bloom. The popular, welcoming beachfront B&B rooms at Lowden’s Beachfront Bed & Breakfast (14626 Wollam Rd., 541/469-7045, $109 and up), just west of US-101, offer direct access to a driftwood-strewn beach.
Just north of Brookings, one final piece of Oregon’s abundant natural beauty has been preserved at Harris Beach State Park, across US-101 from the Oregon Welcome Center. Here you can walk down to a driftwood-laden beach and look out at Bird Island, where tufted puffins and other rare birds breed.
Heading south, just over the California border from Brookings lies Redwood National Park, truly one of the West Coast’s great places.