Exploring the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Directly along Oregon’s stretch of coastal Highway 101 lie the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area: miles of sandy hills and valleys awaiting exploration!┬áNever heard of it? I’m not surprised…many don’t realize these mammoth mountains of sand are so close at-hand for Northwest visitors!


The biggest of these dunes are about 10 miles south of Reedsport near the town of Lakeside in Eel Creek Campground. Off road vehicles are not allowed along this stretch of “seafront Sahara”. There are picnic tables and restrooms, and a $5 parking fee. It is only .05 mile walk (you cut through the campground) to the open dunes, which makes this a great pit stop for families traveling further as well as a destination. It’s possible to make a longer loop of it by following the trail from the campground to the beach and back (2.5 miles). We took snow sleds to try our hand at sand sledding, but they didn’t work as well as you might think! Instead, our kids had more fun just running up and down the dunes.

sand boarding

Families can also rent sand boards (like snowboards) nearby in the town of Florence. These rentals are about $20/day, and are a great activity for families with older kids who like skateboarding or snowboarding. They can be used wherever you like!

We opted for the day hike and hiked out to the ocean. Then we played at the beach for about an hour before walking back. Most of the hike we did barefoot, as the trail is sandy. The kids loved the wide expanse and played all kinds of games along the way; you could see them from miles away!

Another fun hike is Tahkenitch Creek, located north of Reedsport about nine miles. Due to the expanse of the Oregon Dunes Recreation Area, this area is still within its limits. It is well marked along Highway 101 and at one point, the trail crosses a creek that our kids ended up swimming in. The hike is two miles round trip to the ocean, but we got a bit lost on the trails and ended up hiking closer to three miles! The best part of this hike: finding dozens and dozens of sand dollars! (The weather can change quickly on the coast!)


Tip: About three miles east of Reedsport is Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area. It is right along the highway and well worth the stop in case there are elk. There is telescope viewer there to find out! We did not see any this time, but we have before. Families can picnic there, but there are no tables, just benches and large information panels. (No bathrooms!) Also nearby is the Umpqua Discovery Center, in Reedsport, which is a great way to acquaint yourself with the dune area.


Date last visited: November 2014

Distance from the interstate: All attractions located right along Highway 101.

Overnight options: We stayed at Eel Creek Campground. Want to overnight in a yurt? Try Sunset Bay State Park (a family favorite) or William Tugman State Park. The latter is closest, but in summer, does get quite loud with motorized sports on the nearby lake.

Dining options: Nearby Reedsport offers the usual restaurant fare: we ate at a pizza place with a nice salad bar, and there is also a Safeway and McDonalds. In the small harbor town of Winchester, try the fish and chips place floating at the T dock. It’s delicious!


Rates and reservations: Start at the Eel Creek Campground site!

Directions: Eel Creek Campground (gateway to the dunes) is located at 72044 Highway 101 in
Lakeside OR, 10 miles south of Reedsport.