The Beauty & The Mystery of the Pacific Northwest Dunes

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Photos by:  John Camacho
Story by:  Josh Potter

Anyone who’s been to the Pacific Northwest can hardly deny its unique beauty, boasting a variety of ecosystems in such a dense area. Within this expanse of beauty is the Siuslaw National Forest. Again, a variety of ecosystems inhabit this national forest, including coastal land, mountains, forests.

Of the coastal land, perhaps the most impressive and eerily breath-taking is the Oregon Dunes. The largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in the USA (eat your heart out, Pismo Beach), these dunes contain all an explorer could wish for.

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

The dunes began their formation many a year ago – like 12 million or so – and are a by-product of the creation of the coastal mountain range. Uplifted sedimentary rock was pushed down the rivers and turned into sand which rested along the shore and in the ocean. The current coastline, which stabilised around 6000 years ago, provided the solid setting and the wind provided the driving force. Years of wind pushing the 12-million-year-old rock – now sand – turned the surrounding landscape into an ever-changing sea of rolling sand dunes.

To top it all off, the ocean currents are such that they continuously sweep sand from coasts elsewhere and bring it to this area to be deposited, providing a never-ending supply of sand for the artwork. The geography of the area is also unique in that the land lying next to the beach slopes up slowly, thus allowing the push of sand up inland. The beaches of most surrounding regions don’t have this luxury and instead showcase massive cliffs and hills. Still impressive, they’re no 31,000 acres of dunes.

If this hasn’t tickled your geological taste buds then maybe the study of rock formation isn’t for you. And if it isn’t, don’t fear, for there are other joys to experience in the Oregon Dunes. ATV riding, bird watching, tidepool exploring, horse-back riding, hiking, paddling, camping, relaxing, do I need to continue? Who doesn’t like a peaceful relaxation? And don’t worry, you can relax far away from the ATV riders and their thrill-seeking.

The dunes provide a unique habitat for many animals too, so there’s that. In fact, according to the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service website, in 2014, the Siuslaw National Forest met with stakeholders to discuss the growing threat to the dunes one-of-a-time ecosystem from the spread of invasive species. Through this, the Oregon Dunes Restoration Collaborative was founded to restore the dunes and keep the natural environment the way it is. If you want to learn more about what they do, the Collaborative released a coffee-table book version of their strategy. You can find it on Anyone interested in nature and its preservation – and let’s be honest, if you’ve read this far and you aren’t interested in nature or its preservation what are you doing? – should get this book and learn more about what can be done.

If you plan to visit between March 15th and September 15th you might run into a nesting Snowy Plover. Don’t, whatever you do, disturb them during this vital time of year for their continuation as a species. In fact, the Oregon State Parks have set up systems so visitors and beach-goers can continue to enjoy the fantastic scenery and experience without upsetting the birds. It’s just another way the park is looking to ensure continued enjoyment of the park by all – except invasive species – for as long as it is there.

So what else is around?

An interested explorer could spend a whole week or two just near the dunes and be perfectly content, always finding something to do or see. But here at Culture Honey we get the constant urge to explore more, to see more of this beautiful world.

For that, look no further than the rest of Siuslaw National Park.

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

It may take a while, given that the whole forest is around 630,000 acres (all the more reason to book a longer holiday). The dunes are a small part of this beautiful national park. The rest consists of areas such as Mary’s Peak and Cape Perpetua. Mary’s Peak, the highest point in the national park, gives visitors the opportunity to look out one way at the vast expanse of ocean and feel like they’ve reached the edge of the world, as well as look out the other way at the Cascade Peaks and feel the immensity, magnitude, and magnanimity of planet earth.

Cape Perpetua, while still giving the viewer incredible views, is a little more accessible and allows the visitor time for relaxing, picnicking. Here explorers can take in the crashing waves on the coastal cliffs not found near the dunes and experience the dense forest where the sounds of wildlife echo through the trees. A historical site, Cape Perpetua has been visited by the famous Captain Cook and was designated by President FDR Jr. to be a base camp for the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The whole of the Siuslaw National Park boasts incredible scenery and is bound to be an unforgettable experience for all. It is, without a doubt, one of the most impressive treasures of the Pacific Northwest.

If you want to find out more, check out the video embedded in this article and have a look at the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service site on the park. Do it for the nature nerd in you. Do it for the explore in you.

Happy exploring!