Need a little post-holiday escape? Head out to the Oregon Coast between December 27-31 for the biannual Whale Watching Week! Large grey whale migrations occur every spring and winter, and provide ample opportunity to spy the huge mammals. Enjoy the sea breeze while challenging your family to spot as many whales as they can. Read on for trip ideas and more!
Whale Tail Rain by OCVA, via Flickr
Whales On the Move
Scientists have estimated that nearly 20,000 grey whales live in our nearby north Pacific area. During the peak of winter migration about 30 whales per hour head south. That’s a lot of whales for your clan to enjoy trying to spot! After they pass Oregon, leaving your little and big family members in awe, the whales continue down to the warm waters of Baja Mexico.
Grey whales can grow to be up to 50 feet long and weigh 40 tons! That means a person is just about as big as one whale flipper. When spotting, keep an eye out for spouting, breaching, and tail fins. A grey whale can live to be 50-70 years old at times, and due to their size, have never been kept in captivity. Spotting from land is the best way to see these huge creatures.
Photo: OCVA, via Flickr
Best Whale Viewing Spots
Eager volunteers will be present at 24 sites up and down the Oregon Coast. They’ll answer questions, help point out whales, and tally the sightings. Last year volunteers counted over 1600 grey whale sightings throughout Whale Watching week! The volunteers are part of the Whale Watching Spoken Here program, created to help visitors spot the animals as they pass and learn more. See all the sites here.
You and your littles can spot whales at any point along the coast, though the designated locations with volunteers usually offer the best views. Ecola State Park or Neahkahnie Mountain (near Manzanita) are the closest from Portland. With locations stretching all the way down to Harris Beach in southern Oregon, you could make a whole week of it and turn it into a true winter family vacation!
Photo: OCVA via Flickr
- Neahkahnie Mountain near Manzanita: Sheltered by the mountain, Manzanita actually sees more sunny weather than many places on the coast! Hike up the 3-mile round trip Neahkahnie Mountain for gorgeous views of the sandy coast and Nehalem Bay–keep an eye out for spouts! Afterwards enjoy the sleepy beach town of Manzanita. Because this hike is quite long, it’s best for children 6 years and older.
- Cape Lookout State Park near Tillamook: This is a beautiful 2.5 mile hike to the tip of the cape, where you can spot whales from all sides. The hike is easy-to-moderate, although there are some steep cliffs, so keep an eye on smaller hikers. After hiking and spotting, visit the Tillamook Cheese Factory for some squeaky cheese curds!
- Don Davis Park near Newport: With a gazebo on a bluff offering 180-degree views of the sea, this makes a great spot to watch, no hike required. Kids can also check out the nearby whale sculpture, and see if they fit inside the partial whale skeleton. Yikes! While you’re in Newport, extend the ocean visit with a trip to the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Consistently ranked as one of the best in the US, the aquarium offers world-class sea-life viewing and educational opportunities. Walk straight through a tunnel in deep waters teeming with stingrays and sharks, chat with the puffins on the rocks outside, or visit the giant Pacific octopus in his cave!
- Umpqua Lighthouse State Park and Oregon Dunes: Located near Reedsport with access to many lakes and rivers, this state park offers yurts and campgrounds. View the whales from the lighthouse, then head north a few miles to visit the Oregon Dunes. Can you spot whales while sliding down the 500 feet tall sandy hills? Off-road vehicles, horseback riding, fishing and more are all available.
What is your favorite whale watching experience? Share it with us in the comment section below!