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Travel to Oregon's Shangri-La by the sea

Around Cape Arago and up the Glenn Creek watershed lie some of Oregon's best-kept secrets, especially during the fall season.

COOS BAY, Ore. — If travel is a state of mind, Oregon sure makes you wonder how one region can offer such varied scenery and recreation. Even for the seasoned traveler, there's endless supply of secret places ripe for exploring.

Along the Cape Arago Highway, discover a collection of sights and sounds that will inspire, excite and motivate your travels along the south coast near Charleston, Ore.

Our home on the road is a perfect fit at a campground that takes the breath away: Sunset Bay State Park.

"Sunset Bay is a beautiful bay – framed by rock cliffs that’s protected,” said Preson Phillips, district manager with Oregon State Parks. “It’s scenic and a good place for some light beachcombing, exploring tide pools, maybe surfing or paddle boarding or just dipping your toes in the pretty chilly Pacific Ocean.”

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The nearby Sunset Bay State Park Campground offers nearly 140 campsites during a fall season that Philips said is often overlooked.

“It’s kind of that period when the weather is still good for camping; we’re not in the heart of winter weather at a quiet campground with very mature trees," Phillips said. "We also have yurts for folks who want to go camping light and even a hiker-biker camp for folks just passing through on a journey.”

Just two miles to the south, Oregon’s only botanical state park is gorgeous any time of year, but even more inviting during the fall season when something special gets underway.

Shore Acres State Park’s "Holiday Lights" offers the very best in community service and a wonderful holiday gift for you to enjoy. It’s safe to say that most holiday lights don’t hold a candle to the ones the Friends of Shore Acres State Park put up each year.

The folks who show up each weekend beginning in late October and go the extra mile to light Oregon’s only botanical garden state park.

If you’re quick enough to keep up with the woman who started it all, Shirley Bridgham can tell you how it all began more than three decades ago.

“We started with 6,000 lights – just 6,000 lights and one Christmas tree. And then we doubled that each year until we got up to 150,000 lights,” said Bridgham. With a chuckle, she added, “Then we started going up by 50,000 lights at a time.”

The Holiday Lights have been a community fixture for 30 years, and now those 6,00 lights have grown to more than 325,000. Shirley boasts that one time she logged more than eight miles of walking across Shore Acres' sprawling 7-acre garden – directing, advising and motivating her volunteer troops.

RELATED: Fall for Oregon's autumn foliage along a Nehalem River backroad

Like holiday elves, 1,500 volunteers now follow Bridgham’s lead. A small, dedicated group of 25 or so will spend their free time on weekends putting up the park lights and displays in time for opening night on Thanksgiving Day.

David Bridgham said that that by giving so much of their time and energy to make the Holiday Lights come to life each year, local folks get even more back in return.

“This event is a touchstone! This place is where the community comes together and it’s a tradition. People know it’s going to be here every year and they can be a part of it,” David said.

Shirley Bridgham agreed, adding, “It’s magic — for 36 nights each year, it is magic come true. Especially if you are here as the sun drops out of sight across the ocean out there. The magic that begins at dusk is amazing.”

24 miles east of Coos Bay begins a part of the Glenn Creek watershed where a protected old growth myrtlewood forest towers overhead. It’s a state park property you may have missed called Golden Falls State Park.

“It is at the end of a long road that is fairly narrow and winding but it is passable,” said Preson Phillips. “It’s an unassuming parking lot with a restroom and some trail signs. The trail is flat and an easy hike for a third of a mile until: you hear the roar! Those are the falls.”

At 254 feet, Golden Falls is among the tallest waterfalls west of the Willamette River. Its spray and sound leave you breathless, just like everything you’ll experience at this Shangri-La near the sea.

“There’s just a big variety of things to do in this part of Coos County," Phillips said. "Everyone can find something to do here or not feel that they have to do something — perhaps just be!”

Be sure to watch the weekly half hour program of Grant’s Getaways. The show airs each Saturday and Sunday on KGW.

For something different, you can follow my Oregon adventures via the Grant’s Getaways Podcast. Each segment is a story-telling session where I relate behind the scenes stories from four decades of travel and television reporting.

You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including:

The book collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promises to engage a kid of any age.

You can reach me: Gmcomie@kgw.com

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