Perched on a bluff at the mouth of the Umpqua River in Winchester Bay is the Umpqua River Lighthouse, one of the state’s nine still-standing, historic light stations. It’s also the site of the first lighthouse ever built in the Oregon territory in 1857.

Previously constructed at a lower level, the original light station was swept away by a flood in February of 1864. Reconstructed higher up the shore in 1891 and relit in 1894, this 64-foot-tall structure emits light through a first-order Fresnel lens where it shines a series of red and white beams that can be seen for 21 nautical miles.

Unlike light stations in other parts of the world, which are often identified by their outward colors and/or stripes, lighthouses along the Oregon coast were distinguished from one another by the length, duration, pattern, and, in this case, the color of the beams themselves.

Here at Umpqua, the light shines white twice and red once every 15 seconds, rotating through this distinct pattern. Down the coast at the Coquille River, its light would shine a fixed white beam for 28 seconds with 2 seconds off and accompanied by a fog signal.

These differences helped captains, especially before modern navigation technology, to know which port they were passing or approaching amid Oregon’s classically foggy coast.

For an $8 fee per person, visitors can tour the lighthouse, its lens room and a maritime history museum located on site.

The best part of the tour is being able to look right up into the light itself while learning about the engineering wonders of the Fresnel lens. Be sure to return at night for a light show unlike any other in the state.

Elaine Skylar Neal is a photographer, writer and eternal optimist. Find out more at

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