But this year, given that we’re spending a good chunk of fall and winter in Ashland and living in our trailer (which feels a bit strange, given that we still have a home here), we’ve had the opportunity for some cold-weather close-to-home adventures. Had we known just how enchanting Shore Acres is during the Holiday Lights festival, I think we would have made the effort to get there years ago.
From Thanksgiving until New Year’s, the always-beautiful gardens at Shore Acres State Park are transformed by community volunteers into a wonderland of sparkling lights. Almost every inch of the five acres of gardens is festooned with more than 300,000 sparkling LED lights in a coastal holiday theme that includes herons, puffins, salmon, sea horses, and whales. It is spectacular, festive, and magical—as our friend Katherine commented, “If you’re not in the holiday spirit when you get here, you will be by the time you leave.”
Shore Acres State Park is worth visiting at any time of year. Once the grand estate of Louis Simpson (the heir to the fortunes of a timber baron and shipping magnate), the gardens are filled with trees, shrubs, and flowers from the far corners of the world. Sadly, the opulent mansion fell prey to fire and financial ruin decades ago; fortunately the gardens and the picturesque gardener’s cottage remain.
There’s more to Shore Acres than the luxurious gardens and quaint cottage. Stroll down a trail to a stunning view of the ocean from a glassed-in observation building—the spot once occupied by Simpson’s mansion. A longer trail meanders down to Simpson Beach, a secluded secret cove.
One mile north of Shore Acres—part of the former Simpson estate—Sunset Bay State Park offers camping facilities. We’ve always enjoyed our stays there, but if you have a big rig, choose your site carefully because the roads are narrow and many of the sites are awkwardly angled. This time, we made it a day trip from Bandon, a mere 25 miles away. Oh, and if you go, be sure to stop in Coos Bay at Chuck’s Seafood and pick up something smoked from their vast array of seafood. The smoked teriyaki albacore is seriously addictive.
And there’s more! One mile to the south—again part of the former Simpson estate—Cape Arago State Park has hiking trails and an observation point for viewing Simpson Reef and Shell Island. It’s part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and a spectacular location for viewing scores of marine animals, including seals and sea lions. If you’re motivated, an 8.5-mile (round-trip) hiking trail connects the three parks. We’ve hiked it on past camping trips to Sunset Bay, but this time our goal was to be at Shore Acres in the dark—not so fun for hiking, but really fun for getting into the holiday spirit.[portfolio_slideshow]