Reedsport and Winchester Bay
If you’re going fishing or are coming back from a dunes hike, you’ll appreciate a hot meal and a clean low-priced motel room in Reedsport. Otherwise, this town of 5,000 people might seem like a strange mirage of cut-rate motels, taverns, and burger joints in the midst of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.
Reedsport is not a tourist town, to put it politely. But there’s lots of fascinating recreation available in the Oregon Dunes NRA that encircles the town, and the Umpqua River is itself a destination for anglers.
Jedediah Smith explored this country in 1828 after the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Peter Skene Ogden theorized that the Umpqua River—the largest river between San Francisco Bay and the Columbia—might be the fabled Northwest Passage. It wasn’t, of course, but this river is still one of the great fishing streams of the state. Zane Grey avoided writing about it, lavishing the publicity instead on the Rogue to divert people from his favorite steelhead spots.
Cargo ships from Scottsburg, a hamlet some 17 miles upriver from Reedsport, supplied San Francisco markets with meat, milk, and produce between 1856 and the early 20th century. In its 1850s heyday, Scottsburg was larger than Portland, with some 5,000 residents, before an 1861 flood destroyed much of the town.
Two miles north of Reedsport, the little burg of Gardiner was created in the wake of a shipwreck. The Bostonian (owned by a Mr. Gardiner) was dashed against the rocks at the mouth of the Umpqua in 1856, and from its remnants the first wood-frame structure in this area was built.
It was soon joined by other white-painted homes and facilities for a port on the Umpqua. Although this “white city by the sea” declined in importance when the highway elevated Reedsport to regional hub status, the homes still bear the same color scheme from the earlier era.
Three miles southwest of Reedsport, Salmon Harbor Marina in Winchester Bay (pop. 1,000), a busy port for commercial sport fishing at the mouth of the Umpqua, has given the whole area new life in recent years, following hard times precipitated by the decline in timber revenues. In many ways, Winchester Bay is the more interesting destination of the two side-by-side towns, with its busy harbor and collage of waterfront bars and restaurants.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel