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Yachats' 804 Trail Full of Drama - and a Rousing, Tense History on Oregon Coast

Published 03/22/22 at 12:45 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Yachats' 804 Trail Full of Drama - and a Rousing, Tense History on Oregon Coast

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(Yachats, Oregon) – These days, it's about 1.3 miles of ecstatic views, wave drama and even pure accessibility along the central Oregon coast. Yachats' 804 Trail is one tumultuous surf moment after another, as a paved trail (and even a bridge or two) meanders past jagged, black basalt rock ledges and finger-like structures that create areas where the sea gets compressed. That excess energy has to go somewhere, and that usually means splashy times in anything but the absolute calmest of seas.

Basically, you're almost guaranteed some raucous wave action while here.

This central Oregon coast wonder – that's largely handicapped accessible – all starts at the Yachats State Park and its sizable parking lot. Keep walking north and you'll soon connect to the walkway next to the shoreline, and from there the wild sights begin. At one point you're skirting the grassy edges of a motel's oceanfront space, and soon you'll find a comely bench from which to watch the spectacular waves. Next to that there's a smooth bridge, perfect for wheelchairs.

From there, the walk on the wilder side begins. You're now next to the black, rocky chunks of Yachats, interspersed by the occasional bench or pocket beach of large, harsh and coarse grains of sand. These helped give Smelt Sands its name (a park right along here) because they form the perfect place for smelt to lay their eggs. It was just about 100 years ago this place was teeming with them, with major numbers of fishermen along the shore here, until they netted the waters dry of the smelt. Before that, for thousands of years, native tribes used this as a fishing ground.

Even the pathway here of the 804 Trail goes back that far, used by native folk until they were displaced in the 1800s.

Yachats' 804 Trail Full of Drama - and a Rousing, Tense History on Oregon Coast

Just past Smelt Sands, you'll find the famed spouting horn here: one of those striking, wowing discoveries along the Oregon coast where sea water gets compressed so much it fires into the air in a dramatic woosh, sometimes 30 feet high or more. It's both elegant and frightening.

Things here are truly ancient: this part of the Oregon coast is largely made of lava flows about 30 million years old or so, from underwater or above water volcanoes at the time.

Yet at the northern edges of the 804 Trail all that suddenly changes. According to UofO geologist Marli Miller, this section of rock is grayer and much younger – and it's also softer. That's why you'll find weird holes bored into the rocks in honeycombed patterns at several points.

Finally, rock turns to sand at the end of the trail, and it all becomes the type of sandy beach you find closer to Waldport. This access point at the northern edge of the 804 Trail, where the boundary sits, is truly unique.

The most dramatic history of the 804 Trail goes back to before its official designation, when it was just a county road / pathway called 804. In the early '70s, just after the Oregon coast's seminal Beach Bill was signed (leaving all beaches here public), a small group of landowners along the 804 road decided they wanted the shoreline for themselves. A fight quickly ensued, creating the Friends of the 804 Trail.

The county road itself had disappeared from many official maps, and this pathway – which some archaeologists say could be around 3,000 years old and thus the oldest pathway in the states – was in danger of truly disappearing.

Since the county road had not been maintained for awhile, some locals had decided to fence it off. That didn't last too long, with some new fencing going up that allowed people to walk in, but no longer cars. This was in some cases many people's way of getting to Yachats' extraordinary beach. At one point, a sign on the fence touting the area remaining public had gunshot holes on it. Things were getting tense here.

In court, land owners argued that since the road had essentially been abandoned by the county, it should no longer exist. This way, it would open the area up to expensive condo development, and land owners would make a killing. The developments could go right up to the vegetation line, which some opponents argued violated the basic rules of public beach access.

A long legal battle took place throughout the '70s and '80s, with Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition in the background helping, and most of it ended in '86 with a Supreme Court Ruling in favor of public access. The 804 Trail came close to not being at all.

Another court battle raged in the late '90s and was eventually won, but with intervention on Governor Kitzhaber's part. Thanks to those local warriors, the Oregon coast has this remarkable place.

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