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Oregon’s Marine Gardens: Tide Pool Exploration At Your Fingertips

A trip to the coast isn’t complete without the requisite romp through the tide pools with our budding marine biologists. This summer, in between building sand castles and digging holes, you’ll want to visit the Oregon coast’s impressive marine gardens, created solely to get kids thinking about the ocean critters that live in tidepools. Read on to find out how you can explore these intertidal gardens and walk away with some cool new facts about sea stars, crabs, mussels, and more.


The Sea & Me
Created in 1990 to protect and maintain the sea life and coastal environments found here, the Department of Fish & Wildlife maintain these vast areas for families to enjoy and explore together. Seven unique areas were chosen to spotlight the amazing variety of habitats and ecosystems along our coast and interpretive information is provided to help nurture your young mariners’ love of learning.

Prepare to see sea urchins, flora and fauna, sea anemones, sea stars, crabs, snails and sea birds among other critters at these coastal communities. The best viewing is during low tide so follow the charts closely and get your kiddos involved in planning the best time to go.


Children of the Sea
The seven marine gardens are as close as Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, about an hour away, with volunteers from the Haystack Rock Awareness Program on hand in the summer to help families identify marine life. The furthest marine garden from Portland is just south of Brookings and rocks a three-mile stretch of intertidal awesomeness and several interpretive walks.  This fab stretch is known as Harris Beach State Park and is home to Bird Island –the largest island off of the Oregon Coast. It’s a National Wildlife Sanctuary and a breeding ground for tufted puffins and other rare birds. Well worth the trip.

Each marine garden is unique; ranging in size and scope, just like our coast itself. At Otter Rock (just south of Lincoln City) you may encounter seabird habitats, Harbor Seals hanging out and all the intertidal community fun you can handle.  Located down a gravel path from Devil’s Punchbowl State Natural Area there is a ton to uncover. And with a name like Devils’ Punchbowl – don’t you need to find out what this spot is all about? The theory is that this punchbowl (wild and tumultuous in winter storms) was likely created when a roof collapsed over two sea caves. Surfers and surf watchers will be your companions and a scenic picnic area is the perfect spot for lunch and snacks, or waiting for low tide, up on the cliffs above the churning foam.

museels and sea star

From Sea to Shining Sea
Cape Kiawanda in Pacific City rocks one hundred foot sandstone cliffs, cliff-nesting birds, volunteers from KELP (Kiawanda Environmental Learning Program) and if you’re really, really lucky – touch tanks! Their tide pools boast multi-hued mussels, sea stars in orange, brown AND purple, plus hermit crabs, sea slugs, snails, anemones and sponges galore.

Yaquina Head Marina Gardens Rocky Shore is an epic spot for bird-watching – peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and seabirds aplenty – and whale watching. Their 1.8 mile coastal marine garden is about five miles north of Newport. There is a $5 entry fee here and the Bureau of Land Management staff is on hand at low tide most of the year. They’ll make sure no one is disturbing the intertidal wonders and answer any questions.

tide pools lincoln city

Plenty of Fish in the Sea
Yachats State Park boasts a new viewpoint and recently erected signage to help visitors make the most of their time. Look for Harbor Seals, sea bird nesting, and tons of shellfish. This area is very popular for mussel harvesting. Sport fishing, too.

Cape Perpetua may have the most intriguing name of the bunch AND you follow the Captain Cook trail to the marine garden located there. History buffs unite! The visitor center is run by the USDA and Forest Service, has an amazing view, and offers a bevy of information and ideas for outdoor learning. They have even held tide pool days in years past, so be sure to give them a call or check out their web site for recommendations on best times and things to see and do. Part of the Suislaw National Forest, there may just be days of adventure and play for your family here.

depoe bay tide pool

Get Your Sea Legs: Tide Pool Etiquette
All seven of these amazing marine gardens are extremely delicate. It is imperative to stress to your young mariners the mega importance of being careful and kind. A list of tide pooling etiquette is a groovy option to review before you head out.  As for what to know before you go, it is really about dressing for the elements. Boots are a must. Plus extra clothes to change into as our ocean water is always chilly. Pack sunscreen, towels, snacks, sun hats, a camera, binoculars and anything else you can think of to help your team have an amazing day of sea life discovery.

The Marine Garden designation means these seven coastal habitats are protected and therefore extra special to all of us. Go forth and explore! And watch where you step, sandpipers.

Where is your favorite coastal tide pool to explore?

–Liz Overson

Thanks for the photos, and Liz Overson

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