Whale Watching at Depoe Bay
I longed a long time for a short whale watching vacation at Depoe Bay, “The Whale Watching Capitol of the Oregon Coast”. A powerful enticement was that Hwy 101 (which also serves as the main street through town) goes right along the ocean, at sea level. As a gift to myself, I planned to go the end of March, and made the hotel reservations the previous fall—knowing rooms probably go fast.
Reservations for the whale watching tour can’t be made so far in advance, because they don’t know what the weather will be. They said to call the week of. I was pleased to find it would only cost about $20/person for an hour boat ride, and I just had myself and helper to pay for. I figured an hour was long enough for non-mariners like ourselves.
Friday night stay in Depoe Bay
Traveling to Depoe Bay
It's about 99 miles from Portland metro area to Depoe Bay: 2 hours when traffic is amenable. Avoid going through Portland between 2:30-6:30pm, if you can. But that's not a guarantee, as there is an accident pretty much every day, road work, sometimes foul weather, and events going on all over, all times of the day. Accept it and enjoy the scenery, noting venues along the way you will want to come back to.
Google directed us to travel Highway 18, adjusting for traffic, so we went a little more scenic route, as we were told by the Google voice. It's not the diagonal line with a little waviness that it looks on the map; it's tedious travel of what seems a tortuous route: feels like forever to leave the Portland metro area. But at last you make it to Highway 101 (Pacific Coast Highway), and Lincoln City; from there go south on Hwy 101 about 20 min to Depoe Bay.
We were so fortunate, for this time of year (end of March), the weather can be your friend or foe. It was so nice as we traveled. As we headed for the coastal range, it looked like rain clouds ahead. They turned out to be south of us, and we had fine weather all the way.
Below: photos of and from our room in Depoe Bay, OR
Friday Night Stay
I wanted to stay in Depoe Bay, at least this once, as our whale watching would be centered there. Besides, I wanted to explore the Whale Watching Center. Whales migrate south to Baja, CA about the end of the year, to calve in the warm winter. Then in the spring they migrate north, some going as far as the arctic, but some hanging about Depoe Bay all summer.
Well, it's very hard to get a room for something close to my budget in Depoe Bay during spring break (and various school districts have different spring breaks, so it spreads the mad rush out at least a bit). The one I got was Travelodge. Another time I would just stay in Lincoln City—get a nicer room for the price, and it’s closer than you think.
Just as we arrived, the handicapped room on the parking lot level (parking in rear) became available, and she showed us that one first. It was dismal . . . I was feeling very bad. Then I had her show us to the one I had reserved on the top floor. Not only a much better view, but more recent paint (though somewhat haphazard). The room was hot, and we couldn't find a way to cool it but for the ineffectual ceiling fan, and my helper felt uncomfortable leaving the slider open at night. Beds were comfortable. Appliances all worked well, plenty hot water. The desk person showing us the rooms said the handicapped and regular rooms were just alike, except for taller toilet and a few handrails (not helpful for me). Rooms all non-smoking, but the entry to the office reeked. No pool, spa not available.
Below: pictures of Saturday adventures around Depoe Bay
Next morn we were anxious to find parking convenient to our whale watching outfit: Tradewinds Charters. Parking is at a premium. Thankfully we were stopped by a guy directing traffic so a car could get out . . . and it was perfect for us--handicapped parking within half a block of Tradewinds. We had a few hours, so we went to see the Whale Watching Center. It has 3 levels; only the main one is accessible. They do have a wheelchair port-a-potty outside the center. Great displays, a ranger with a camera tracking on whales showed on a big screen. Binoculars to use while there, kid activities, about a 6' whale jawbone, and skeletons of dolphin, seal, sea lion ...
From Tradewinds ticket booth there is a long steep stair down to the dock where the boat takes you out. Handicapped folks are directed to drive around the block to the parking by the dock (be sure you tell them you are handicapped when you make reservations; they can’t take electric chairs). Parking again at a premium. We happened to get there just when a handicapped spot was open. From the parking lot it’s a rather steep ramp down to the dock to load. One of the crew is happy to help the wheelchair down, there are good railings on the sides, and though it might be a bit unnerving for some, you can make it safely down. The boat has a little door to load you onto the boat, and they'll help you with that, too.
It was a glorious sunny day, Sat. Mar. 30, 2019! Couldn't have asked for a better. They do tell you to dress warmly, which we did, and the cool breeze will make you glad to have a jacket or sweatshirt. But we even got just a slight sunburn, the first really sunny day of the year.
No whales stood up and waved to us, but we did see some backs and spouts . . . well, perhaps of the same whale the boats followed as much as they could for our sakes. I wondered if the whale was annoyed. We brought binoculars, but found that eyes can scan the water better, and by the time you get the binoculars out, there's nothing to see. Well, you can get a view of the land, which our eyes and brains can drink in more than little phone cameras.
Nevertheless, it was so fun to be on a boat out on the water . . . see the white caps and deep blue water up closer than I can do otherwise. It was just a gorgeous day in the bay.
After the boat ride we shopped a bit. Plenty of tourist shops and eateries. Up to this point we ate sandwiches, fruit cups, and soups from home, other than the complimentary breakfast. Cost of eating out is pretty high in Depoe Bay, but we indulged once. And we bought a few keepsakes.
My intention was to look for glass floats on the beach at Lincoln City, but I was tired, and we reasoned that by this time of day, we were not likely to find any. For more info, see https://www.oregoncoast.org/glass-floats/
Instead, we decided to visit Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint a mile and a half up the road (north). It's a nice park with a great view, some paved trails, and picnic tables. The restrooms are disappointing if you need one and you're in a wheelchair.
I had reservations for Best Western Plus Landmark Inn in Lincoln City, for Sat night. Disappointed that it has no ocean view, but delighted the pool has a lift for handicapped persons, I could swim away my sorrows. The room was clean with a pleasant decor, and an ADA bathroom. We utilized the laundry room. Our room had a door to the parking lot, so it was easy to unload and load the luggage. The complimentary breakfast was superb.
Below; Best Western Lincoln City, and the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area near Reedsport
Sunday praise God
Church goers in Lincoln City were friendly and welcoming. Then traveling south on Hwy 101 beautifully provided scenes of God’s glorious nature. We passed lots of things to see and do on later trips: sand dunes to buggy, horse riding, kayaking, lighthouses, aquarium, tide pools, crafts persons (such as glass blowers), museums . . . promise of fun trips for years to come.
Monday weather wet, we took a rest
Monday I intended to watch whales from the viewpoints near Bandon, OR. They have volunteers who impart informative commentary. But Monday was rainy, and it was just as well, because I was so tired and hurting, that I needed the day abed (in fact another would have been good).
Tuesday tired, traveled home
Tuesday we headed back up Hwy 101 to Reedsport. Reedsport has a Safeway on the west side of the road, easy access going south, McKay's Market on the east side of Hwy 101, easy access going north. We went to McKay's, and they were clean, produce and meats looked good. Found a good price on whole frozen chicken, so I got that to keep our lunch food cold in the cooler. If we had been there on Thursday, we could have got a great price on ground beef (great for the Pacific Northwest).
Just east of Reedsport is an elk viewing area, but the elk were all in the field where there was no safe turn-out. The viewing area has paved trails, benches, displays, and accessible restrooms (I didn't get out to see how accessible--we were tired and anxious to get home). Note: I have since checked them out, and they were fine.
From Reedsport we traveled east on Hwy 38 for about 60 miles along the Umpqua river through hills, farms, and forests. We connected with I-5, then drove north to Portland. Rush hour was again fully developed, so it was an extra hour getting home.
It's so great to go on a vacation, but it's good to be home again.
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I've been in a wheelchair for 30+ years. It poses some challenges for traveling. Maybe others can benefit from my experiences.