Oregon’s forests are among the most diverse and productive ecosystems in the world, ranging from dry juniper and pine forests on the east side of the Cascades to lush old-growth Douglas fir forests on the west side. The fog belt region, also called the Coast Ecological Province, which is the smallest and narrowest forested region in the state, stretches north to south across the entire state along the coast.

Shore Pine. Source.

What differentiates the fog belt zone from the rest of the forested zones in Oregon is the summer climate. While the rest of the state experiences high  temperatures and little moisture, the fog belt experiences lower temperatures and increased moisture and humidity. Topographically, the fog belt sits at relatively low elevation, rising up from sea level to four or five hundred feet.

This climatically and topographically unique region supports highly diverse fauna and flora, and some common trees one will see when visiting the fog belt include Shorepine, Sitka Spruce, Western Cedar, and Douglas Fir.

Shorepine (Pinus contorta) is the only species of pine that grows in the fog belt.

They grow within a few miles of the coast and are typically bushy and distorted. The species has specially adapted to grow in rocky sites and sandy soil, such as sand dunes, and surviving powerful salty winds. These trees bare their round, twisted needles in clusters of twos.

Sitka Spruce. Source. 

Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) trees were once called the tideland spruce because they like the cool, foggy environment of the coast.

This species is the largest species of spruce, growing to almost 100 meters tall, and the largest Sitka tree in Oregon is found in Clatsop County with a diameter of more than 5 meters. These trees bare flat needles and thin, light grey bark that easily peels off. The trunk of the Sitka Spruce is buttressed and does not go straight into the ground like lodgepole pines. Sitka Spruce is named after Sitka Island, now called Baranof Island, off the coast of Alaska. Sitka Spruce is Alaska’s state tree.

Western Redcedar (Thuja plicata) trees are the only “cedars” with cones turned up and bent backwards on the branch (this species is not a true cedar species).

Western Redcedar. Source.

Another method of identifying Western Red Cedar trees is by looking at the underside of the foliage, where you will see a tiny shape outlined in white; some say this shape looks like a bowtie or a butterfly.

Western redcedar’s frondlike branches are so dense that some Northwest Native Americans called this tree “shabalup,” which means “dry underneath,” because the branches look like they could shed rain. These trees were the main trees used by the Northwest Native Americans to make canoes.

Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is Oregon’s most common tree and the state tree.

Douglas fir. Source.

The coast variety of this tree grows in the fog belt. The cone of a Douglas fir is very easily identifiable. Only cones from this tree have three-pointed bracts sticking out between the cone scales. These are said to look like the hind feet and tail of a mouse diving into a hole. The largest Douglas fir, the Doerner Fir, is located in Coos County and stands at 327 feet tall.

There are many other trees that can be found along the fog belt, as well as many common understory plants. To learn more, pick up a copy of Oregon State University Extension Service’s field guide, Trees to Know in Oregon.

Reedsport, OR, a city of approximately 4,154 people, is situated on the estuary of the Umpqua River and is named after a local settler who founded the city in 1912, Alfred W. Reed.

Reedsport, OR. Image Source.

At that time, the Southern Pacific Railroad lines extending south to Coos Bay led to the development of Reedsport, which was originally a camp for railroad construction workers before the post office was established that same year.

Like many communities on the coast of Oregon, Reedsport historically was economically dependent on Oregon’s timber industry and has been subsequently impacted by the industry’s decline. In the past two decades, however, Reedsport has experienced an increase in tourism due to various nearby points of interest and the large amount of outdoor recreational opportunities available. The Umpqua River supports one of the largest recreational fishing ports on the coast of Oregon and is the largest river between Sacramento and the Columbia.

The Umpqua River Bridge, Reedsport, OR. Image Source.

Reedsport also sits in the heart of the Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area; therefore there are many opportunities to explore, hike, ATV, and more on the Dunes.

Reedsport is arguably most notably known for the famous Dean Creek Elk Viewing area, which is just three miles east of town on Highway 38. The Dean Creek Elk Viewing area is owned and managed by the Bureau of Land Management and is a popular stop for tourists along the highway. Throughout the year, visitors are treated to up-close views of Roosevelt elk grazing and resting in their resident meadow. Roosevelt elk are the largest of the four North American elk subspecies.

Roosevelt elk at the Dean Creek Wildlife Area, Reedsport, OR. Image source.

The herd at the Dean Creek Elk Viewing area sometimes reaches as many as 120 elk, and other wildlife that visitors often see include beavers, muskrat, mallards, Canada geese, and great blue heron. To learn more about the Dean Creek Viewing area, visit the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s visitor guide.

Florence, OR is a coastal city located at the mouth of the Siuslaw River about midway between Newport and Coos Bay. With a population of approximately 8,466 people, Florence is a historic riverfront town that provides a diverse array of activities for locals and visitors.

Heceta Head Lighthouse. Image Source.

While the logging, commercial fishing, and agricultural industries have served as the historical pillars of Florence’s economy, tourism is becoming increasingly significant. There are a variety of businesses, points of interests, and parks in and around Florence that offer unique experiences and outdoor recreation. One can enjoy headliner entertainment at the Florence Events Center or Three Rivers Casino Resort after exploring the Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint and the Heceta Head Assistant Keeper’s House. The park features a seven mile network of hiking paths that join the short hike to the lighthouse. The Keeper’s House functions as both an interpretive center and a bed and breakfast. Guided tours are offered by knowledgeable docents during the summer to educate visitor’s about the iconic lighthouse and its rich history.

The Sea Lion Caves. Image Source.

A must see attraction located fifteen minutes from the Florence city center is North America’s largest sea cave, which is a privately owned wildlife preserve and bird sanctuary, and is inhabited throughout the year by as many as 200 Stellar sea lions. Visitors can take an elevator ride descending 200 feet down into the Sea Lion Caves, which is as tall as a 12-story building and as wide as a football field. As the Sea Lion Caves are part of the Oregon/Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve, the Caves are not a zoo; the wild animals are protected and come and go as they please and follow their natural . During the summer, the sea lions can be found lounging in the rookery areas (along the rock ledges outside) with their young. In the fall and winter, they can be found inside the cave’s natural amphitheater. This sea cave is the only known mainland home of wild sea lions in the world and is a must see for visitors of Florence.