3 surprising facts about Yaquina Head Lighthouse (plus how to photograph it)

1. Yaquina Head Lighthouse is the Tallest Lighthouse in Oregon!

Sitting at the end of a basalt rock headland is the iconic Yaquina Head Lighthouse. It braves the winds that can whip wildly around this scenic headland, warns ships of the danger of rocks, and welcomes many thousands of visitors to Newport, Oregon’s outstanding natural area every year.

Since 1873 the lighthouse has been helping to guide passing ships but it isn’t only the flashing lights that make it so visible. At an impressive 93 feet tall, the Yaquina Head lighthouse is the tallest in the state.

2. And It’s Haunted

Or so they say. The lighthouse – like any worth its salt – has a few ghost stories.

The first tale tells of a construction worker that fell to his death and was lodged between the walls. His body was never retrieved and thus he and his ghost have occupied the lighthouse ever since. The second story is more involved and… believable? It is said that Keeper Herbert Higgens left Assistant Keeper Frank Story in charge of the light. Story drank himself into a stupor and passed out, leaving the light unlit. When Higgens saw this, he rushed to the lighthouse to light the lantern. But he collapsed and died before he could light it. Story spent his days wracked with guilt, and Higgens haunts Yaquina Head Lighthouse to this day.

Something to ponder next time you look up at the now-automated flashing of the lighthouse.

Landscape of Yaquina Head Lighthouse at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, Newport, Oregon
Landscape of Yaquina Head Lighthouse at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, Newport, Oregon

3. Yaquina Head Lighthouse Overlooks One of the Largest Common Murre Colonies on the Oregon Coast

If you love seabirds, you’ll definitely want to visit in the summer! The large rocks scattered on the outskirts of the headland are home to nesting seabirds every summer starting around late May. Brandt’s and pelagic cormorants, western gulls, and black oystercatchers are a few who nest here.

But the real stars are the common murres, who gather in numbers reaching more than 60,000 birds.

The black and white birds nest within range of easy viewing, so you can follow the saga of incubating, dodging predatory bald eagles, feeding fluff-ball chicks and watching the young chicks fledge, taking a leap from the rock to the water below as they join their fathers for another month or two of care on the open ocean.

It is exciting, entertaining, and an amazing way to experience the drama of summer on the coast.

tips for photographing yaquina head outstanding natural area

WHAT TO BRING

Weather is an important factor when visiting the headland. The wind can really pick up in the afternoons, and it can be foggy at the point even when it is relatively clear in the rest of Newport. So, be sure to bring layers including a quality windbreaker. If you plan to visit the tide pools, waterproof shoes or rain boots are a bonus. A hat, gloves and sunscreen are also highly advised. 

For photographers, there is opportunity for landscapes and wildlife photos of flora large and tiny. I recommend bringing a zoom lens that can go from wide to telephoto, or several lens options for capturing wide-angle landscapes, macro photos of tide pool inhabitants, and a telephoto that can give you enough reach to capture portraits of the birds on the rocks just off shore. 

A tripod is also helpful, especially on those highly windy afternoons. The additional stability will help you maximize the number of sharp shots you have when you head home. 

Here is a full article about How to Pack for a Photography Trip to the Oregon Coast that delves into more detail. 

Western trillium (Trillium ovatum), photographed wild, in situ,

LANDSCAPES

There is an incredible range of locations from which to get gorgeous landscapes all along the headland. From the moment you begin walking out to the lighthouse, you’ll see opportunities for unique frames, from vistas looking south down the length of Newport all the way to the jetty, to moody scenes of rugged cliff sides. 

If the lighthouse itself is your focus, be sure to try different vistas. From the northeast end of the lighthouse parking lot (near the restrooms), walk up the hillside trail to capture frames overlooking the lighthouse from above. Then from the south end of the lot, take the staircase down to Cobble Beach for views of the lighthouse from tide pool level. Both locations are excellent for early morning and sunset shots. 

Another strategy I love is to use a 24mm or 50mm lens and to frame the lighthouse within the flowers and grasses that bloom all around it during spring and summer. Fireweed, cow parsnip and other beautiful blossoms make an extra interesting foreground for the lighthouse. 

There are many, many excellent landscape opportunities from Cobble Beach, whether you’re focusing on the water rushing in over the rocks or the amazing texture of the unique basalt cobble beach stones. But this beach is particularly beautiful during sunset in summer months when you can capture the sun dipping behind the rocks and into the ocean.  

BIRD SPECIES

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area is a bird lover’s delight. Bring a telephoto lens of 400mm or longer, and a birding list. Species you’re likely to see include: 

  • Peregrine falcon
  • Bald eagle
  • Osprey
  • Brown pelican
  • Turkey vulture
  • Brants, pelagic and double crested cormorants
  • Western gull
  • Black oystercatcher
  • Harlequin duck

And in the trees, ferns, scrub brush and grasses heading from the mainland to the lighthouse are wrens, warblers, thrushes, sparrows, goldfinches, kinglets and hummingbirds, to name just a few. 

Summer offers the highest diversity of bird species, and plenty of action from nesting season, but this is an excellent location for bird photographers all year. 

ochre sea star, seal rock, oregon

TIDE POOLS

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area is a beloved location on the Oregon Coast for tide pool enthusiasts. There are two incredible locations for admiring the inhabitants of rocky shore tide pool ecosystems. 

The first is Quarry Cove, a man-made beach and tide pool area that is still coming into its own as a home for diverse species, but a must-stop location none the less.

The second is Cobble Beach, which sits on the south end of the point below the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. Follow a long wooden staircase down to the beach to explore. Because this is a protected area, please be sure to heed all the yellow warning signs that inform you where you can and cannot explore. The signs are moved depending on tide level and wildlife activity. This extra level of protection keeps the wildlife safe and secure, and maintains the area as an amazing place to visit. 

If tide pooling is a goal for your visit, then be sure to check the tide charts and arrive during a negative tide. This will give you the best viewing opportunities and the largest window in which to play among the pools. 

For photographing the tide pools, I’ve created an extensive how-to guide for you to read through!

MARINE MAMMALS

Harbor seals use Yaquina Head as a haul out area, and a place to birth and raise their pups. So if you love to watch seals smiling in the sun, then this is a great place to hang out with a pair of binoculars and a telephoto lens.

Harbor seals are skittish creatures (and are a legally protected species) so providing them with plenty of space is essential to ensuring they continue to use this area regularly. Happy seals will stick around, which means endless opportunities for photographs!

Another beloved marine mammal that is frequently sighted from the headland are our resident and migrating gray whales! Gray whales feed close to the headland and are often sighted very close to shore – easily within range of a telephoto lens. Bring your zooms and practice the challenge of capturing fluke photos as the whales take a deep dive. 

Harbor seal, Phoca vitulina, at rest in the rocky intertidal at low tide. Newport, Oregon


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