Have Disabilities, Will Travel: Oregon Coast

Oregon Coast
Oregon Coast

I have to admit — I have a certain fondness for the rugged Oregon coast. Indeed, it’s where I go to relax, enjoy nature, kick back and just plain get away from it all. But can a place that is rugged also be accessible? Surprisingly, it can.

The crown jewel of Oregon’s coastal accessibility is located in the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, just three miles north of Newport. Congress established this 100-acre coastal headland area in 1980. Several years later, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) reclaimed the Yaquina Head rock quarry and converted it to a rocky inter-tidal area. Over the years this area, known as Quarry Cove, evolved naturally. Today, Quarry Cove supports a wide variety of marine life.

Be sure to stop at the Yaquina Head Interpretive Center. This gated parking area is reserved for visitors who are disabled, and a ranger must open the gate. The interpretive center has numerous exhibits, which depict the history of the area.

A must-see attraction is the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. This historic lighthouse dates back to 1873 and has been called one of the most beautiful lighthouses in America. As the tallest lighthouse on the Oregon Coast, this white, conical, brick tower is strategically located on narrow point of land, which juts out into the Pacific Ocean. While the lighthouse is only accessible by stairs, you can catch a good view of it from the adjacent asphalt trail. There is also an accessible boardwalk and ocean viewing platform behind the lighthouse, where you can spot seals, puffins, murres, cormorants and (sometimes) whales in the surf.

For a look at marine life from a different perspective, visit the Oregon Coast Aquarium, located on Yaquina Bay in Newport. This 39-acre site showcases seabirds, marine mammals, fishes, invertebrates and plants native to the Oregon coast. The aquarium features accessible parking and restrooms, level pathways and barrier-free access to all exhibits.

Exhibits here range from an aviary filled with puffins, to killer sharks in Passages of the Deep. Don’t miss the twice-daily “keeper-talks” which focus on fascinating details about the care and feeding of the resident animals. And, for a look at some truly unique ocean gems, visit the Enchanted Seas rotating exhibit, where you’ll find seahorses, pipefish, cuttlefish or other endangered species. Don’t miss the sea dragons, as they are truly beautiful and a rare find in captivity.

Newport’s Nye Beach area is certainly worth a visit while in the area. It’s a typical, funky beach town with shops and restaurants and tons of ambiance. Parking is located near Third Street and Coast Drive, and there is a ramp down to the sandy beach area. Some of the old shops are not wheelchair accessible, but it’s a nice place to just sit and watch the ocean.

There are a number of accessible lodging options in Newport, including the Beach House Bed & Breakfast, which is located in the heart of Nye Beach. The Coast Street Room is a good choice for slow walkers and part-time wheelchair-users, as it features level access and plenty of room to maneuver. The bathroom has a pedestal sink and a standard shower and toilet. It’s best suited for someone who can walk at least a few steps, and it’s a bargain at only US$70 a night (including a continental breakfast).

And, if you enjoy the great outdoors, but cringe at the thought of pitching a tent, consider staying in an accessible yurt at one of Oregon’s state parks. These permanent domed structures are furnished with the basics and can sleep up to five people and include plywood floors, framed doors, furniture/beds, electricity and skylights. You must bring your camping items like bedding, dishes and food – everything but the tent. They rent for as little as US$27 a night. The two closest accessible yurts to Newport are at Beachside (between Waldport and Yachats) and Beverly Beach (north of Newport). Advance reservations are a must, as the accessible yurts go fast.

So make plans to visit the Oregon Coast soon. The crowds are down, the prices are low, and the weather is relatively mild during the first half of the year. Best of all, it’s very accessible.