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Exploring Boardman State Park 

Day-hiking a stretch of the Oregon Coast Trail

Photo by Brian Jennings

Photo by Brian Jennings

In 1967 Oregon passed landmark legislation ensuring that the public would have access to its 362 miles of ocean beaches from the Columbia River to the California border. A small 18-mile stretch of those beaches is found in the isolated southern part of the state between Gold Beach and Brookings. The Samuel H. Boardman State Park is named after the state's first parks superintendent. Within this stretch of highway that hugs the Pacific there are 27 miles of coastal trails offering ocean vistas from high bluffs and cliffs, old-growth Sitka Spruce, wildflowers, wildlife, and ocean beaches. The trails are part of the Oregon Coast Trail that was completed in the 1970s and '80s. However, its roots trace back thousands of years when Native Americans established trail routes for hunting, fishing, and trading here and along the entire Oregon coast. The corridor is also part of the Pacific Flyway where birds migrate to Siberia from as far south as Patagonia.

Samuel Boardman, who served as Parks Superintendent from 1929 to 1950, conceived the idea of establishing a major park in the area. At one point, he approached the U.S. Department of Interior to promote the formation of a national park. Although that idea did not germinate, he was relentless in his pursuit of acquiring the present park lands of over 1.4 million acres. Beginning with just over 300 acres provided by Borax Consolidated LTD of London, England, most of the land acquisition occurred between 1949 and 1957. The State Park was named after Boardman at the time of his retirement and officially dedicated with a monument on Aug. 7, 1970.

The city of Gold Beach, Oregon, provides a perfect starting point to launch an exploration of Boardman State Park and many other state parks found in the area. Gold Beach, originally named Ellensburg, is located at the mouth of the famous Rogue River where gold was found. The town, which eventually took on the name of the precious metal, is just minutes from the park corridor of trails, bluffs, and beaches. Where one begins is up to the individual, but numerous parking areas along Highway 101 link to trailheads leading to the countless treasures found there. A popular starting point is south of Gold Beach at Cape Sebastian State Park which is located just to the north of Boardman State Park. Cape Sebastian, named after Saint Sebastian, provides breathtaking ocean views north to south from a 200-foot elevation along a 1.5-mile trail.

At Boardman there are several places to begin exploration. Cape Ferrelo offers a one-mile loop that features spring wildflowers and many ocean views. It also provides an excellent viewpoint for whale watching in spring and fall. Cape Ferrelo is named after a Spanish explorer who was believed to have passed through the area in 1542. Whaleshead Beach, a large off-shore rock that looks like a beached whale, is an easy hike that leads to a convenient picnic area. Indian Sands to China Beach offers a longer 7-mile hike through rolling dunes high above the ocean. Natural Bridges features a short trail to seven beautiful arched rocks and blowholes, which is one of the more popular sights. Secret Beach and Thunder Rock Cove, is another popular destination offering great photo opportunities in Boardman State Park. Arch Rock, a short walk that provides views of a series of sea stacks and islands, is another option. Boardman begins about 13 miles south of Gold Beach and stretches to within two miles of the city of Brookings.

There are safety precautions to keep in mind while hiking the area. Cliffs can be unstable, so it's best to enjoy the views from behind guardrails and fences. At beach level, large, unexpected waves are common, and tides can roll in quickly. There are strong ocean currents. Hikers are encouraged to leave only footprints. Park officials urge users not to carve or dig anywhere and to pack out what they pack in.

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