FLORENCE — We've stopped to take photos at Heceta Head Lighthouse many times over the years. Until recently, though, we had never explored the beautiful trails from Heceta Head to Carl E. Washburne State Park a few miles to the north.
On two sunny mornings in August, while we were camped at Honeyman State Park near Florence, we drove north of Heceta Head to hike those trails.
Starting point for the first hike was Washburne State Park, nestled in the woods on the east side of Highway 101. My wife, Nancy, daughter, Anna, and I hiked the Valley Trail through a forest of fir, hemlock and cedar.
About midway, we stopped by a wetland and chatted with a Seattle family — Eric Rasmussen and Laura Phillips and their kids, Clara, 11, and Yari, 6. Laura echoed our thoughts.
"We're having a fabulous time," she said. "It's a great trail."
The trail leads to a parking area along 101, where we crossed the highway and followed the switchback Hobbit Trail down to the beach. We stood there a few minutes just soaking up the warm morning sun and gazing at the dark green mass to the south, Heceta Head.
We took the same trails back to the state park, a round trip of about four miles, and I talked with more hikers along the way.
Among them was Mary Hawkins of Prescott, Ariz., who was walking back to her bike, which she had parked off the trail. Tree roots and rocks on the trail presented too many obstacles for further progress on the bike, she said. Hawkins' partner, Dennis Vantor, was a couple of minutes ahead of her on his bike. They were heading back to their campsite at Washburne.
"It's gorgeous here," she said. "I'm originally from North Carolina, and this reminds me of the Blue Ridge Mountains — the trees and the green. Arizona's not very green."
I also encountered Bob and Denise Turney, a retired couple from Florence.
"We like to come up here because it's such a nice walk," Bob said. "We pick mushrooms every year."
They displayed handfuls of chanterelles, and I asked what they planned to do with them.
"Cream of mushroom soup," Denise said.
Noncommercial mushroom picking along these trails does not require a permit.
The next morning we drove back to the parking area along Highway 101, a short distance north of Heceta Head.
Instead of taking the Hobbit Trail, we went south along the Heceta Head Trail, where we saw an abundance of ferns. As we hiked the switchbacks toward the top of Heceta Head, we stopped frequently to take in the spectacular views of the coastline to the north, framed by Sitka spruce.
The trail comes out on the road by the historic 118-year-old Heceta Head Lighthouse, one of the most photographed lighthouses on the West Coast. Unfortunately, this was not the summer for scenic photos there. The lighthouse is wrapped in a protective netting for a major $1.3 million renovation project that will be completed sometime in 2013.
Both the Valley and Heceta Head trails are part of the Oregon Coast Trail, a 425-mile network of trails — many of them on beaches — from Astoria to the California border.
The trails are popular year round, said Barbara Miranda, a volunteer with the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce.
Barbara, now 82, said she hiked the trails at least a dozen times when she was younger.
"It's changed over the years," she said. "It's wider and better maintained. They're easy trails."
With the moss and rain in the winter, however, it can be slippery, she warned. "If you're a true Oregonian, you won't let the rain stop you."
Over a 15-year-period, Barbara and her husband, the late Rudi Miranda, served as volunteer hosts at Washburne and all but two of Oregon's state parks.
Washburne, she said, "is beautiful and beach-accessible."
Keep your food well protected if you camp there. Bear warning signs are posted.
Elk, deer and an occasional cougar have also been spotted in the area, said Kevin Beck, Washburne park ranger.