Getting family members to agree on one location for a healthy winter weekend becomes easier when your destination is Gold Beach, a town that tugs at your wild side with such active winter pursuits as steelhead fishing, hiking and beachcombing. Forget shopping malls and theme parks; this relaxed town on Oregon's south coast focuses on its natural assets — a scalloped coastline of beaches and promontories, the mouth of the Rogue River and the Coast Range.
Average winter temperatures at Gold Beach hover around 50 degrees, and winter storms bring horizontal rains and tumultuous seas. In between the storms, the weather warms, the breezes shift and the sun shines on long, lonely beaches that harbor driftwood, agates and an occasional Japanese glass float. Tide pools teem with sea life at Agate Beach and Rocky Point to the north and Myers Creek to the south.
One of the most rewarding ways to penetrate the landscape surrounding Gold Beach is to hike in it. Below are descriptions of three trails that embrace some of the area's most endearing features.
Cape Sebastian (moderate)
A two-mile trail that starts on top of 700-foot Cape Sebastian, six miles south of Gold Beach, dips from wind-sculpted shore pines into a forest of tall Sitka spruce, Douglas fir and grand fir. The trail begins as a wheelchair-accessible path, then drops gradually as it curves around the edge of the cape. Views stretch north to Humbug Mountain, west into the waves and south to the sea stacks at Pistol River. The last third of the trail drops sharply toward Myers Beach. A new trail segment will improve beach access.
Humbug Mountain (strenuous)
The climb to the top of 1,750-foot Humbug Mountain (six miles round-trip) is a heart throb for its strenuous ascent, its ocean views and its ancient forest — the last grove of uncut rainforest on the Southern Oregon coast. The conical peak broke loose from Southern California millions of years ago and lodged against the coastline 20 miles north of Gold Beach. The trail climbs from large maples and myrtlewood into stately Port Orford cedar, Douglas fir and western hemlock. Tan oaks and madrones dominate the higher elevations. At one mile, the trail divides to form a loop around the mountain. On a clear day, you can see to Cape Blanco on the loop's steep northern side. Dense forest cuts into a view of the Gold Beach coast from a clearing at the summit.
Shrader old-growth loop trail (easy)
Turn your back on the ocean light and travel 10 miles up the Rogue on Jerry's Flat Road to a turnoff for the Francis Shrader Memorial Trail, a one-mile gravel path that loops gently through a forest of 200-foot trees with 4-foot-diameter trunks. Pick up an interpretive pamphlet and pack a lunch to enjoy at a trailside bench or picnic table. A nearby path leads .3 mile to the world's largest myrtle tree.
For more information, read "100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Oregon Coast & Coast Range" by William Sullivan.
Book a guided fishing trip at the Port of Gold Beach, rent a crab ring from Rogue Outdoor Store or make a reservation for a guided horseback ride at Hawk's Nest Ranch. Bicyclists can tour the back roads of rural Squaw Valley near the nine-hole Cedar Bend Golf Course or cruise along short stretches of the Old Coast Road.
Walkers and runners fan out on beaches north and south of the Rogue. To access an obscure piece of the Coast Trail, look for a gravel pullout three miles north of Gold Beach on the Old Coast Road. Walk north on the beach .6 mile to the base of Otter Point, where a .4-mile trail climbs through coastal shrubbery to the top of the headland. Look for otters in the surf or gray whales spouting on the horizon.
Waterfront accommodations are common, and winter rates can make a riverside room with a woodstove or a spa with an ocean view particularly attractive. Most folks stay on Ellensburg Avenue (Highway 101) in a string of motels, cottages, RV parks and vacation condominiums that share ocean frontage with the town's municipal airport, high school and fairgrounds. With lodgings like these, you don't have to decide between a walk on the beach and a stroll to Highway 101 shops because one well-planned loop will link both experiences. With a little planning, you can use the inland walk to avoid a head wind on the shore.
Stop by the Rogue River Myrtlewood Shop where an on-site factory fashions wildly patterned Oregon myrtle into miniature lighthouses and hand-turned bowls. Sink into a cushy chair next to a second-story window at Gold Beach Books to page through some of the store's 50,000 new and used volumes. Espresso, snacks, local artwork and live music add reasons to linger at this five-year-old locals' hangout.
For the luxury of fresh steelhead or lingcod — foods high in essential fatty acids — visit the fish market at the Port of Gold Beach or leave the cooking to a family-friendly restaurant with a river or ocean view. Be sure to call ahead for winter hours.
Check weather and road conditions at www.tripcheck.com.
For further information, visit www.goldbeach.org or call the Gold Beach Visitor's Center at 800-525-2334.