The name Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area may be a mouthful, but the location more than lives up to the outstanding title. YHONA is located in Newport, Oregon, and juts a mile out into the Pacific Ocean. A stroll to the westernmost point will bring you to Oregon’s tallest lighthouse, a naturally formed black cobblestone beach, tide pools teaming with life and a sea stack that’s home to one of the state’s largest common murre nesting colonies.
The headland is a spectacular place to witness the natural drama that happens when ocean meets land, and it’s a jackpot for nature photographers. In a single location, one can capture the spirit of the Pacific Northwest coastline. Bald eagles are known to prey on the nesting murres, creating opportunities for thrilling action shots. Meanwhile, migrating gray whales will often swim right up next to the rocky cliffs to feed. Oystercatchers, great blue herons and harlequin ducks are just a few of the charismatic birds commonly viewed in the tide pools, feeding near the harbor seals who raise their pups here starting in early May.
A walk down the wooden staircase to the water can yield macro shots of colorful nudibranchs, sea stars, urchins and many other species, as well as gorgeous landscapes of waves crashing against cliffs or pouring over the unique black palm-sized cobblestones at your feet.
Oregon is famous for its shifting weather, and this location is no exception. Predicting if your morning shoot will be filled with thick fog or golden light can be difficult, and there can be sunshine and pouring rain within the same hour. Afternoons usually bring strong winds, but it’s worth enduring them for the light that comes as the sun sets behind the headland.
Watching the tide chart as carefully as the weather will give you the best results if you want to explore the tide pools. But even with a low tide, it’s crucial to keep one eye on the ocean and watch for sneaker waves.
Photo Experience At Yaquina Head
While the location is gorgeous for landscape photography, I visit for the wildlife. I’m always excited to see what’s around when I arrive early in the morning. Usually there are harbor seals hauled out on the rocks, ready to greet the sun. Such was the case the morning I took this photograph.
With an incoming tide, the seals are more likely to be splashed. So, they tend to be alert and brace themselves for particularly big waves. Waiting for these moments provides more interesting images that show a seal’s form rather than just sleeping silver sausages.
While there’s the practical reality that this seal was ready for a saltwater splash, it’s much too fun to anthropomorphize and see a joyful pinniped waving at the rising sun.
Low tide is usually the best time to visit, so there’s opportunity to explore the tide pools and to watch the diversity of bird species feeding. Seals are usually present during low tide as well.
Long summer days provide the best chances for low tides during daylight hours. But winter has its plus side, with impressive swells and colorful sunrises and sunsets for dramatic landscape photographs—that is, as long as you’re willing to handle the cold rains that come down almost daily during winter months.
A trip timed during spring and fall migration for birds and whales, or during early summer when seabirds are raising chicks and seals are raising pups, will yield the best opportunities for great wildlife behavior images.
Contact: Bureau of Land Management, blm.gov/learn/interpretive-centers/yaquina.
See more of Jaymi Heimbuch’s photography at jaymiheimbuch.com.