Devil's Elbow and Heceta Head Lighthouse: Oregon Coast PCH Vacation Destination
My husband spent his childhood trekking to the Oregon coast with his family, who spent some time during every trip at a hidden cove called Devil's Elbow. This public beach north of Florence and south of Newport on the Pacific Coast Highway is a popular tourist destination now, and the Oregon Parks service has instituted a fee structure to preserve its natural beauty. The beach is busier than it used to be, but still a great frugal vacation stop for a morning, afternoon, or a day. There is plenty to keep you occupied at this great beach that is perfectly unspoiled by development.
Right at the beach is the trailhead to the nearby Heceta Head Lighthouse, where you can hike and take a free tour. Who could ask for a more breathtaking marriage of scenery, family fun, and maritime history? No wonder people walked the great plains to come to the land of milk and honey. This is truly God's Country. This area is a wonderful spot for photography enthusiasts. It offers a variety of landscape and naturalist photgraphy opportunities with varied light conditions. Something is always happening here.
Devil's Elbow State Beach Nearby Amenities
Devils Elbow State Beach is a day use only beach with a well-developed parking lot, restrooms, and the nearby Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint with hiking trails serviced by the Oregon State Park Service that connect to nearby Carl G. Washburne State Park. Camping at the beach is not allowed, but a campground is available at nearby Carl G. Washburne State Park about three and a half miles to the north. The nearest restaurants are in nearby Florence, Oregon, where we stayed at the historic Driftwood Shores beach resort. If you are vacationing in Florence or Newport, I recommend you stop at a grocery store and pick up the supplies you will need for an all-day picnic lunch. Devil's Elbow is such a beautiful place that you might be tempted to spend your entire vacation here, except that there are several other equally picturesque places to explore nearby.
The beach, like almost all the beaches in Oregon, has sneaker waves and a strong undertow, so swimming is discouraged. We brought our swimsuits and played in the surf a bit, but we didn't venture out far into the water. Oregon beaches claim a few lives each year to unsuspecting swimmers caught by sneaker waves.
The sand on Devil's Elbow beach is perfect for building a sandcastle. Be sure to bring a shovel, pail, and other tools you might need. When we built our sandcastle here, we watched with fascination as a tiny crab burrowed under the sand. Our sand play was very enjoyable here, because the cove is perfectly sheltered from the strong summer winds that sometimes visit the coastal beaches in nearby Florence.
Devil's Elbow is surrounded by steep forest-covered mountains that are so thick they shield the views of the ocean during much of your drive. Expect your travel to be a bit slow paced, and be careful around the sharp curves in this area of the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).
Devil's Elbow beach is very clean and almost litter free, and ocean birds, otters, and especially sea lions are present. We enjoyed watching gulls and terns, and wished we had brought our binoculars and telephoto camera lens to enjoy the unique wildlife habitat that is so foreign to our own scenery in the Sonoran Desert. Devil's Elbow Beach is a paradise for sea birds, who nest in the rocks off shore. It is a wonderful spot for birders who want to spend a quiet morning or evening watching the coastal birds in their natural habitat.
A small creek flows from the forested coastal mountains that surround the beach under the bridge at Devil's Elbow and makes its outlet right onto the beach. Explore the eddies made by the pristine water, and look for small fish darting in the freshwater stream.
Take a Short Hike to Heceta Head Lighthouse
At the top of a steep hill on this sheltered cove sits Heceta Head lighthouse. For the cost of the $3 day use fee, your entire family can take the short, steep trail up to the lighthouse and walk up the over 80 steps of a spiraled staircase to see the large reflector mirror that transmits the lighthouse signal out into the ocean. The reflector mirror is a many-faceted marvel of 19th century ingenuity that magnified the flame-powered light that protected ships from the treacherous Oregon coastal waters.
You can tour inside this fascinating lighthouse which is still in operation today. And best of all, this tour is free after you pay the per-vehicle entrance fee into the park. Heceta Head Lighthouse is located in an area that was so remote and hard-to-reach 100 years ago, that an entire community supported its operation. Make sure to take the tour and ask the guides about the school house that existed at the entry to the beach and schooled caretaker's children. You will also hear about the perilous journey that caretakers had to take just to go shopping in the nearest town!
A fire damaged most of the original interior of the lighthouse during the early 20th century, but thanks to careful restoration and period photographs from other lighthouses, you can relive this experience with some daring pioneers! The lighthouse has hardwood floors that creak and sway in the wind. The lighthouse is now maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Where is the best place to stay near Devil's Elbow and Heceta Head?
Camping and Lodging Near Devil's Elbow State Beach
Campsites are available at nearby Carl G. Washburne Memorial State park. The fees are based on seasonal rates. The advantage of staying at this park is the access to a five mile sandy beach where you can spend additional time exploring and trails that connect right to Heceta Head lighthouse. Click on the website link above to learn more about making reservations online, or to call the park service directly. Campsite possibilities for this park include:
- Over 50 RV campsites with full water and electric hookups.
- 7 walk-in tent camp sites (first come, first served only)
- 2 yurts (must reserve online. See link above.)
You can stay at the Heceta Head Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast right at Heceta Head lighthouse. This scenic bed and breakfast offers gourmet dinners, views of the ocean, and a stay at a historic home built in 1898. It is a romantic location for a wedding or honeymoon, but book early. This B&B books three to six months in advance.
Lodging is available in the small coastal town of Yachats, due north of Devil's Elbow. Yachats is host a variety of lodging options, including vacation rentals, Bed and Breakfast Inns, Commercial RV Campgrounds, and motels. The beach views of this beautiful community are highly desirable and won't disappoint.
Thirteen miles south is the larger city of Florence, which has several of its own attractions, including Honeyman Dunes, and nearby Sea Lion Caves. Florence is the larger of the two towns and has many lodging options and restaurants, and a seafood fish market that offers fresh fish at reasonable prices.
Maximize Your Visit
- Wear plenty of sunscreen, even on a cloudy day. Reflection from the water will cause you to burn quickly.
- Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on the beach. There are no restaurants nearby.
- Bring some folding chairs, a good long book, and a pair of sunglasses.
- Watch for dangerous sneaker waves. Don't turn your back on the ocean!
- Watch the birds and the sea lions. Lots of wildlife here. Make sure to bring a pair of binoculars from home to view the birds nesting offshore and to identify wildlife in the water.
- Take the hike to the lighthouse.
- Watch the sun set from the lighthouse viewing area.
Where is Devil's Elbow State Beach?
Florence offers inexpensive lodging and a place to start your Oregon beach vacation.
Heceta Head Lighthouse is a historical lighthouse in central Oregon between Florence and Yachats at Devil's Elbow State Park.
Yachats Oregon is a small beachfront community that offers Bed and Breakfasts, Motels, and beach house rentals while you explore the Oregon Coast.
Camping is prohibited at Devil's Elbow State Beach, but you can camp nearby at this Oregon state park.