Located inside the beautiful Samuel Boardman Scenic Corridor in southwest Oregon, Secret Beach is a non-official stop along Highway 101. It’s the kind of place only locals and adventurous hikers once knew of, but now (thanks to the internet and, ironically, blog posts like this one) the beach is anything but a secret. If you’re in Samuel Boardman and visiting “official” stops like Natural Bridges, House Rock, Whaleshead Beach or others, Secret Beach should absolutely be on your list.
How to get to Secret Beach
There are no signs for Secret Beach, but the trailhead is easy to find on Google Maps. You may park in the small gravel lot on the west side of the road, or if no spaces are available, on the other side of the main road. Note that cars and trucks fly through 101 (it is a highway after all), so be careful when crossing the road.
Once parked, the trailhead to Secret Beach is on the right side of the gravel lot. The trail descends down at a steep angle, and may be slippery in the wetter months. Hike takes about ten minutes. At the bottom of the trail you reach a small headland with a rock face to your left. Scramble down the rock to the sandy beach below (FYI, climbing back up the rock is much easier than going down. Just take your time and you’ll be fine).
When to visit Secret Beach
Secret Beach may be visited any time of day, but the best times are during low tide. There are two low and two high tides each day. The second-lowest tide offers plenty of space on the beach to sit, eat a picnic, or play with kids. The lowest tide greatly expands beach access with two additional coves (and caves) to the south.
To plan your visit around the tide, I recommend downloading the free Tide Charts mobile app for iOS and Android. Armed with this app, you’ll know exactly when to arrive and (most importantly) when to leave the back coves before the tide comes back in.
If you decide to venture into Secret Beach’s southern coves during the lowest tide, descend the rock onto the beach, then keep hiking south until you reach a tide-pool of wet, slippery, seaweed coated rocks. Here you must (slowly) scramble across the rocks to reach the other side. Hiking shoes with sufficient grip are optimal. Would not recommend sandals or flip-flops, for you could easily twist an ankle, fall, or cut your feet on the rocks. Also, keep an eye out for starfish, mussels, and other marine invertebrates. This is their home!
Once across, the rest of the way is sandy and smooth. Just be sure to keep an eye on the tide to ensure you don’t overstay your welcome, for it would then be impossible to return until the next lowest tide.
Photographing Secret Beach
I visited Secret Beach multiple times in July to create landscape images. It was the height of the summer tourist season, so there were always at least 20-30 other people there during the day and just before sunset. Shooting during that time is generally okay, but there aren’t as many compositions to choose from. The absolute best time to photograph Secret Beach, in my opinion, is during the lowest tide of the day.
When I was there in July, the lowest tide was at 5:30am. Two mornings I showed up at 4:30, strapped-on a headlamp, and ventured down the dark trail. Each time the beach was pristine, with no footprints. I had the entire beach and every cove to myself for at least a couple of hours before a handful of other early-risers showed up. The light, atmosphere, and photographic opportunities were dramatically better during this time than any other.
I enjoyed exploring the caves and the southern coves, but my absolute favorite subjects were the tide pools. Here you’ll find rocks covered in aquamarine-colored seaweed, brown and orange aquatic plants, and all manor of sea life. An up-close view into a world normally obscured by crashing waves.
I had great success in these pools shooting both handheld and with a tripod. If you choose to bring a tripod (which you should), its feet will definitely get wet. Sea water is salty and corrosive, so remember to wash your tripod legs and feet soon thereafter with fresh water to remove grit and avoid rust.
Getting around the Oregon Coast
To get to Secret Beach and travel around the Oregon coast, I rented a campervan through Outdoorsy. My van was a fully converted Ford Transit 350 owned by a resident of Portland who lived only twenty minutes away from the airport.
Using a campervan was ideal, for I was able to go wherever I wanted, cook my own meals, charge batteries (via two solar panels on the roof), and be close to photography locations very early in the morning.
If you have similar plans, most Oregon state park parking areas are “day use only”. Meaning, you aren’t allowed to park or camp overnight. You can get creative and boondock on side-streets and/or turn-offs, but I mostly used state campgrounds. They’re cheap, include flushable toilets (and sometimes showers), firepits, etc, but also fill-up months in advance. Every campground was full when I was there. Plan ahead and reserve online well in advance.
Another option is Hipcamp. Through Hipcamp, I booked two nights at Cornerstone Ranch in Gold Beach. The ranch was quiet, serene, and provided free coffee and pastries in the morning! Cornerstone Ranch allows you to park a campervan, RV, or set-up a tent. Plenty of other Hipcamp spots in Oregon to choose from as well.
Video from Secret Beach
I documented my experience photographing Secret Beach in the following video from my YouTube channel.