Named in 1792 after George, Earl of Orford, Port Orford had been a quiet Pacific coastal area that was home to the Tututni tribe of the Lower Rogue Athabascan tribes in what would become southwestern Oregon.
As part of a well-known series of events, European explorers encountered the tribe in the eighteenth century and wiped out the majority of Native American populations with small pox and measles. Not long after, white settlers came to town on the Oregon Trail and made land claims under the premise of Manifest Destiny.
Another claim to new statehood came in 1941 from Port Orford mayor Gilbert Gable, a tireless attention seeker who complained of the lack and quality of roads and threatened to secede from Oregon to join California, founding the elusive State of Jefferson movement. The small fishing town with the westernmost port in the lower forty-eight was officially on the map.
Today, Port Orford is known for its austere coastal beauty and its warmth from the southern Oregon Coast’s so-called Brookings effect, where warmer air from east of the Cascades is pushed over the Oregon Coast Range and up along the coast from Brookings to Port Orford. Under these conditions, we begin our trip.
Pack binoculars and head first to Port Orford Heads State Park for a 1.2-mile hike that will set the foundation for the weekend. On the cliffs above the Pacific, you begin the lollipop-shaped hike at the parking lot and work your way up to the lifeboat station. The lifeboat station is now a museum that honors the brave lifeboat rescue teams that once watched over the raging sea below. Here you’ll see one of the original self-righting lifeboats from which rescuers would pluck sailors and soldiers from the perilous waters.
Hike onward to the Port Orford Lookout Tower, where spotters would spy signs of distress. This is a good place to get out the binoculars and hunt for whale spouts. Then head back on the Headland Trail while getting views of Cape Blanco, which you’ll see closer later in this visit. For the budding botanists, ferns, salal thickets, irises and coast lilies to name a few are among the natural sights along the trail.
Natural experiences are what Port Orford promises. One of the best ways to immerse yourself in coastal nature is with an ocean wildlife kayak tour through South Coast Tours. A 4-mile paddle brings oyster catchers, cormorants, harbor seals and, depending upon the season, the sight of grey whales.
Finish the day with another mandatory experience at The Crazy Norwegian’s Fish & Chips, where halibut and chips and the house-made clam chowder are required eating. You’re not done until you’ve ordered the house-made pie for dessert.
Start your day with a great cup of coffee and a pastry at One Lump or Two in a tiny cottage on 6th Street. Fill your water bottles and lycra up before saddling up.
No trip to Port Orford should be undertaken without a road or gravel bike on the car. In 2009, Travel Oregon and local partners began plotting bike routes that highlight the most beautiful views around the state. One of the finest of these rides is the Wild Rivers Coast Scenic Bikeway. Two routes begin in Port Orford with one pointing north and west to Cape Blanco State Park (20 miles roundtrip), and another trailing south and east along the placid Elk River to Butler Bar Campground (45 miles roundtrip).
After you’ve put in an Olympic effort on your bike, schedule a massage in your cabin at WildSpring Guest Habitat, an eco-friendly luxury resort with electric-vehicle power stations. Or just hit the open-air slate hot tub with views of the ocean before tonight’s dinner.
Make reservations at Redfish, where the menu celebrates local fish sans that Oregon Coast hallmark, breading. With seared scallops, sauteed mussels, local fish tacos and cioppino on the menu, Redfish is a welcome culinary alternative to the breaded-or-die aficionados along the coast. Astute observers surmise that breading, itself, may have slowed the State of Jefferson movement to a crawl. Redfish also offers the rare creative cocktail menu along the nearly 400 miles of the Oregon Coast.
Morning breaks along with anticipation of breakfast at Tasty Kate’s Cafe & Bakery. The cedar-shingled cottage on Highway 101 is hard to miss, dressed in purple, orange, turquoise and yellow. Inside, hippiedom as well as foodie nirvana are refreshing surprises for the former State-of-Jefferson aspiring town. House-made fruited cheese danish, fruit turnovers, muffins and croissants are all sweet complements to your morning coffee drink.
Pack one of Tasty Kate’s chicken pot pies for lunch and push off for Cape Blanco State Park for history and photography. Cape Blanco Lighthouse was first lit December 20, 1870 and is now the oldest standing lighthouse on the Oregon Coast. There, above the treacherous waters on the most western point of the contiguous states, a series of longtime lighthouse keepers lived. Their names were James Langlois and James Hughes, each serving approximately forty years through unruly winter storms and inhospitable conditions.
When conditions are favorable, this is also one of the state’s most coveted spots for photos and selfies, with the Cape Blanco Lighthouse in the background and its history at the top of mind.
The Crazy Norwegian’s Fish & Chips
One Lump or Two
Tasty Kate’s Cafe & Bakery
Castaway by the Sea
Floras Lake House by the Sea
WildSpring Guest Habitat
Cape Blanco State Park
Rogue River Jetboats
South Coast Tours
Wild Rivers Coast Scenic Bikeway