South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve: Charleston

Sign at the South Slough EstuaryI have been eying the South Slough Estuary in Charleston, Oregon for quite some time now. It always looks like a great place to take a nice walk, do some birding, or maybe launch our canoe and enjoy a quiet paddle. However, since Charleston is a two hour drive from Cottage Grove, I figured it might always be on my “maybe” list. Two hours often feels like too far away for a day trip but not far enough for an over-nighter. That was, until we got the “tuna bug” and I found us planning a trip to Charleston to buy fresh tuna off the docks. Suddenly it seemed like exploring the South Slough Estuary might really happen. And it did.

South Slough Estuary outside Charleston Oregon

South Slough Estuary

Labor Day weekend, after purchasing our tuna at the Charleston Marina and packing it in our cooler with lots of ice, we set out in search of Seven Devils Road and the South Slough Estuary. An estuary is a place where a river meets the ocean and fresh water mixes with salty sea water. It is impacted by the tide and often supports an abundance of wildlife. South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve consists of 5,000 acres and is part of the larger Coos Bay estuary. It turned 40 years old this year and is one of 28 research reserves around the country.

For us, the slough’s maze of walking paths provided a great place to enjoy a coastal forest environment, stretch our legs while walking our dogs, and catch sight of some birds as we walked – notably on this trip a large flock of egrets. The rhododendrons were the size of trees and are probably beautiful in the spring.

South Slough Estuary walking paths

Exploring the South Slough Estuary.

Like our trip to Finley National Wildlife Refuge last winter, I feel like we just scratched the surface with this visit. Our time there definitely felt exploratory as we wandered the walking paths just to see what we could see. Another trip at another time to explore further and hopefully launch our canoe for a good paddle would be a treat.

If you have been able to enjoy the South Slough Estuary, I’d love to know what you experienced and what your favorite parts are.

Currin's Bridge
Frog for lunch, anyone?


  1. A favorite Winter rainy day place! It gets drippy wet with paths that are mush, but avoiding those for the trails well being, it’s a wonderful place to feel like your Lewis and Clark that first drippy Oregon seaside estuary winter, even if I wear my Leo rain boots. Rain boots and gear is a must. But you probably get the place all to yourself and the volunteer(s) is thrilled to see you. Plus a get a chance to warm up after a good rain jaunt. But my favorite is seeing the old train and dock pilings. It had me so fascinated my first visit that I got the old Coos area train history bug, again. Guess it’s 104* fever. Causing more hikes and walks. Gotta love…. some of those old trestle finds, the rails no longer reach, etc. I am always looking out for wild flowers and even in late Winter- early Spring, a few sweet treats of blossoms are there for between bird sightings. But look close for the tiny flowers too. Of course I like a big skunk cabbage, the coast always seems to provide….

    *the train No. 104 now on the Coos Bay water front near The Mill casino, formerly located at the North Bend Museum; not a medical condition, more of a happy thing

    • Yes, seeing some of the old train tracks and the dock piling was fun. The signs about the history of the area really helped to bring it together. Interesting about Trail No. 104, I’ll have to look for it next time we are there.

  2. I’ve always wondered what this area was like. Your photos give a nice glimpse. If I can tear myself away from Shore Acres, Simpson Reef, Sunset Bay, and Cape Arago next time I camp at Sunset Bay State Park, I may actually manage to visit. 😉

  3. We visit South Slough fairly regularly even though it is a two hour drive for us too. In the summer we enjoy photographing insects, a hike is always good, and a variety of birds, especially down at Hinch Bridge. Be sure and visit the Visitor Center too.

    • Thanks Elva! “Photographing insects” makes me think that bug spray might be necessary if we visit here in the summer! And good point about the Visitor Center. We wanted to stop there but just ran out of time. Next time, though, as I do want to explore here more in the future.

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