The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
For nearly 50 miles south of Florence, US-101 has an extensive panorama of oceanfront dunes. Though the dunes are often obscured from view by forests, roadside signs indicate access roads to numerous dunescapes on both sides of the highway. Coming from the north, the first of these access points is Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park, three miles south of Florence, where rhododendrons line a trail leading to a 150-foot-high dune overlooking a mirage-like lake.
Giant rhododendrons and tumble-down shacks that rent out dune buggies and ATVs line US-101 between Florence and Coos Bay. Dune buggy tours ranging from peaceful to exhilarating are offered by Sandland Adventures (85366 US-101, 541/997-8087), less than a mile south of Florence’s Siuslaw River Bridge.
Before setting out on any extended exploration, your first stop should be the USFS-run Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area Visitors Center (855 US-101, 541/271-6000) at the junction of US-101 and Hwy-38 in Reedsport, along the Umpqua River midway between Florence and Coos Bay at the heart of the dunes. The helpful rangers can provide detailed information on hiking and camping throughout the park. Reedsport itself has a line of motels and burger joints—Don’s Main Street Family Restaurant (2115 Winchester Ave., 541/271-2032), on US-101, has legions of fans for its hearty, inexpensive food and excellent home-made pies.
Perhaps the best introduction to the bewildering geography of the dunes region is Umpqua Dunes, nine miles south of the Reedsport visitors center. Another popular walk starts from Eel Creek Campground, heading for just under three miles across small marshes and conifer groves en route to the sea, negotiating lunar-like dunes soaring 300-500 feet—some of the tallest in the world. Another nice trek leaves from Tahkenitch Lake, a popular largemouth bass fishing spot north of Gardiner, and gives a more in-depth look at the dunes’ diverse flora and fauna, including swans and (very rarely!) black bears.