I recently posted this photo on my Facebook page and one of the initial comments was from a photographer wanting to know the location because he was surprised that there were no ATV tracks in my photo.
The federally-designated Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area stretches for many miles along the central Oregon coast. Many visitors just make a brief stop at the Oregon Dunes Day Use Area a little south of Florence. Or they may visit several state and county parks and USFS recreation areas developed primarily for the enjoyment of ATV and OHV users. Those sites can be frustrating for nature photographers and those just interested in enjoying the beauty and quietude of this unique environment.
Fortunately, there is one vast section of Oregon Dunes NRA where motorized recreation is prohibited. Even better, that area includes the tallest and most dramatic of the sand dunes on the Oregon Coast.
This area is covered in my book Photographing Oregon, but here is what you might want to know if you don’t have the book:
The Umpqua Dunes are best accessed via the John Dellenback Dunes Trail. To find the trailhead, travel US Highway 101 on the central Oregon coast and look for the USFS sign near the town of Lakeside. There is a nice picnic and parking area on the west side of the highway.
Alternatively, go to the USFS Eel Creek Campground, and follow the trail connector from the Day Use Area. This is a great option for those who like to travel in RVs or just enjoy camping. It is probably also a bit more secure for leaving your vehicle than in the trailhead parking area.
Starting at the trailhead, you’ll have an easy half-mile hike through coastal forest of shore pines, salal, madrone and manzanita before breaking out into the open sand dunes. At this point, just keep walking west towards the ocean. Depending on recent storms and wind patterns, the best photo ops may found by heading a bit south or north and then west towards the ocean.
Your best photos are going to result from a time when the sun is low on the horizon – sunrise or sunset – and immediately after a day or so of strong winds that will smooth over the footprints of previous visitors.
These conditions can happen at any time of year, but spring and fall are the most reliable. Two considerations for serious photographers: late afternoon through sunset is the best light, but starting the hike a sunrise gives you a better chance at footprint-free dunes and the enjoyment of a quiet, soul-satisfying experience.
For those interested, here’s the data on this photo: Nikon D750, 14mm Rokinon lens at f/11, 1/640″, ISO 400, Induro tripod, RRS BH40 ballhead, remote electronic release, mirror up mode. Processed with Abobe Lightroom CC, with photo merge of five captures for high dynamic range in recognition of the extreme scene contrast.
More of my Oregon Dunes NRA photos
You are welcome to add links to your own Oregon coast sand dunes photos in the Comments below.