Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area Overview

Call it America's answer to the grand Sahara nestled between the Oregon's Coast Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Well, not quite, but when you're wandering the towering mounds of Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area you may feel like you're lost in the African wonder. Though this National Recreation Areas has natural features common in many NRAs, including forests, marshy estuaries, and lakes, it's this NRA's towering dunes of soft sand that draw the crowds.

How did this geological oddity come to be? Millions of years ago most of Oregon was under water and had a thick, sandy sea floor. Part of this sea floor was pushed up and became the Coast Mountain Range, which is sedimentary rock that was uplifted 12 million years ago. The heavy rain and wind of the Pacific Northwest eroded the sandstone, then rivers carried it to the ocean. As the waves and high tides carry the sand onto shore, it is dried by the sun and blown inland. Storms and waves continue to dredge the ocean, bringing sand onto the beach each spring. Years of build-up have left the area with dunes that reach as far as two and a half miles inland.

Though the area's sand dunes make sandboarding an obvious attraction, pounding surf, prolific estuaries, conifer forests and fish-filled lakes make a great backdrop for camping, hiking, fishing, horseback riding and, last but not least, wildlife viewing. The natural diversity of Oregon Dunes NRA makes it a natural home to a wide range of plant and animal species, including the Snowy Plover, an endangered shorebird, osprey, egret, river otters and bald eagles.

Hike the Dunes
For the best views—and, we should add the most difficult to access—of the area's dunes head to the Umpqua and Eel Dunes Trails. Deep, loose sand makes these fairly short treks tough, but the reward is great enough to warrant the work. Begin with 0.75-mile-long Eel, which begins at Campsite 50 in Eel Creek Campground, and work your way up to Umpqua, a 2.5-mile trek.

More on hiking in Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Fish the Surf
The ocean may be an obvious pick for fishing here, but don't let it limit you. Opportunities for freshwater and estuary fishing require a bit of exploration, but they are there. The area's waters are loaded with everything from stocked rainbow trout to yellow perch, largemouth bass and cutthroat. Popular spots include Siltcoos, Alder, Tenmile and Woahink Lakes. Head to Dune Lake for a quieter locale.

More on fishing in Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Bird the Wilds
Grab your field guide and head out for some of the best birding in the United States. The many different environments of the Dunes (shore, estuary, lakes, forest) offer habitat for a dizzying array of birds. Three spots—Horsfal, South Jetty and Sitcoos—are recommended for any time of the year.

More on birding in Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 13 Sep 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

  • Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area Travel Q&A

  • What's your favorite hike? Where's the best campsite? Join the conversation! Ask Your Question

Articles & Advice on Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

park finder
step one
Where are you going?

step one
What do you want to do?

+ More Activities

Receive Gear Reviews, Articles & Advice

Preview this newsletter »


Parks Near Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
GEARZILLA: The Gorp Gear Blog


Ask Questions