Just 18 miles from Bandon is one of the most beautiful spots on the South Coast. The South Slough National Estuarian Reserve stretches north, roughly paralleling Seven Devils Road, to the ocean and encompasses 5,000 acres of open water channels, tidal and freshwater wetlands, riparian areas, and forested uplands. Its also a great place to take a friend or yourself, along with a camera, for a day hike.
The South Slough is an estuary, a place where a river meets the ocean and the fresh and salt waters mix. It creates an ecosystem where hundreds of species, including Dungeness crab, salmon, herring, oysters and other shellfish, and it gives migrating waterfowl a resting place with plenty of food. Other vertebrates such as river otters, raccoons and porcupines also find their homes in the estuary.
Your first stop at the South Slough Reserve should probably be the Interpretive Center. There you can find a friendly helper or two, hiking and paddling guides, art inspired by the scenery and life, and a wealth of information about the estuary: the history of the area, the plants and animals that thrive there, and human interaction with the ecosystem. Be sure to notice the vast array of solar panels on the roof powering the building.
The best way to experience the estuary in all its greatness is to hike along its many trails. There are many options for distance and views; ambitious hikers who want to explore each trail will be able to log over 5 miles and will see forests; home to elk, black bear and bobcats; salt marshes with views of unique plants and what look like water trails through the marsh, mudflats exposed at low tide teeming with millions of invertebrates and the vertebrates who fed on them, and tidal channels which provide habitat for birds, river otter, fish, and marine mammals.
Not only are there stunning views from the trails, but the trails themselves are interesting. Part of the North Creek trail is a boardwalk that seems to skim the top of a marshy area, above one viewpoint is a viewing area that looks like a treehouse, and a bridge over Rhodes Marsh allows hikers to get up close and personal with some wetland birds. The Tunnel Trail goes through a tunnel created by trees on either side of the trail arching toward each other and lends itself to photos.
Another way to enjoy the South Slough is in a kayak or canoe. There may be no better way to see the flora and fauna and truly experience the marshes and channels. Launching sites are at Hinch Bride and Charleston; be sure to check tides and weather. For more information, see the paddling guide found online or at the Interpretive Center.
At the end of your outdoor time, stop back in at the Interpretive Center and head to the bookstore. There you can find a variety of books to teach you more about what you just saw as well as souvenirs of your time on the hiking or water trails.
The details: South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve 61907 Seven Devils Road 541-888-5558 southsloughestuary.org Interpretive Center hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. Trails are open daily from dawn until dusk.