Some of the lowest tides of the year are the mornings of July 3rd, 4th, and 5th with the lowest occurring on Thursday the 4th. A low tide of -2.14 occurs on the 3rd at 7:59am, the lowest is -2.24 at 8:44am on the holiday, July 4th, and another -2.09 occurs at 9:29am on the 5th. These are all based on the Garibaldi Tide Tables from NOAA and will vary a little up and down the coast.
During these extra low tide events the Oregon Beaches can have extra attractions, even in Tillamook County. For example, in Neskowin, the “Ghost Forest” usually becomes exposed. This is a group of Sitka spruce stumps that became buried when the coastline dropped after an earthquake several thousand years ago.
If you do go exploring these low tide treasures anywhere on the coast, there are some safety rules you need to be aware of, from Tillamook County Emergency Manager Gordon McCraw:
#1. It is best to arrive as the tide is going out – which means AT LEAST one hour before low tide. This way you don’t get trapped out somewhere as the tide comes in and surrounds you, making a rescue necessary. Arrive early to give yourself lots of time to look around.
#2. Use extreme caution while walking out in rocky areas as these will likely be very slippery. Falling in and on these rocks can cause cuts and broken bones.
#3. Always be aware of the ocean conditions. Never turn your back on the ocean, and even during low tides, “rogue” (or sneaker) waves can still occur.
Exact tide levels and times vary depending on where on the coast you’re exploring, so it’s helpful to be able to check tide tables and have a general understanding of how tide pools work.
It’s also important to know basic tide pool safety and etiquette. Walking through an intertidal area is a lot trickier than taking a stroll down the beach. These areas are more hospitable for ocean life than for land-based creatures like us. Here are 10 ways to stay safe and respectful as you explore the wonderous low-tide coastline.
1. Check the tide tablestide tablestide tables
Tide tables are fairly simple to read but can be a little confusing if you don’t know what to look for. Whether you find tide tables at park sites, local businesses or online from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, they’ll almost always show the time and the height of each day’s two highest and lowest tides.
The lower the number, the lower the tide, and minus numbers are what you’re looking for when exploring intertidal areas. When we talk about “extreme low tide” we’re usually talking about tides that approach or go below -2 feet.
2. Wear a good pair of shoes
Intertidal areas are wet, slippery and rocky, so it helps to bring along a good pair of shoes – ideally waterproof boots. The surfaces you walk on will be extremely slippery with kelp and sea moss, but also rough and jagged. Odds are that you’ll step in ankle (at minimum) or knee-deep water. Sneakers will cut it if you’re careful but avoid wearing flip-flops or loose sandals.
3. Don’t mess with the creatures
There are lots of beautiful and fascinating creatures that live in tide pools. There are green anemones, purple sea urchins, orange sea stars, black chitons, white barnacles and tiny red-clawed crabs. You can touch them gently with your finger, but do not poke, prod or pick up any of them. Intertidal creatures can easily die if they’re disrupted or removed from their environment. Visit Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach for guidance from the Haystack Rock Awareness Program volunteers – they’ll assist you with identifying and being careful with all the colorful creatures in the tide pool areas.
4. Especially the sea stars
The rule above especially applies to sea stars (commonly known as starfish), which are still recovering from a devastating wasting disease that killed 90 percent of their population on the Pacific coast. In 2018, researchers said the juvenile sea stars looked to be healthy, but that it could take three to five years for populations to recover. It’s best just to leave them alone.
5. Watch where you step
Navigating tide pools requires precision as you walk, both for your safety and the safety of intertidal life. Try to step only on patches of bare rock, avoiding crunching over top of barnacles and mussels. Also be careful walking over slick seaweed or sea moss – basically anything green. Keep your hands free and don’t be afraid to use them for balance and stability as you explore.
6. Respect protected wildlife areas
Our beaches may be public, but many rocky areas just offshore are not. Low tide can offer access to areas that are usually inaccessible, but some are protected for the sake of wildlife, including many different National Wildlife Refuges along the coastline. Look for signs and respect areas that are off-limits.
7. Keep an eye on the ocean
Just as the tide goes out, it will naturally come back in. As you explore, keep an eye on the surf and start heading inland when it begins to rise. Also be aware that waves can surge suddenly and sweep over areas that the tide has exposed. Low tide is no excuse not to heed the old axiom, “never turn your back on the ocean.”
Yes, we will say it again and again …
8. Keep an eye on the time
It can be easy to get caught up in poking around tide pools or exploring exposed sea caves, so it’s smart to keep an eye on the time. Set a timer on your phone or watch if you don’t trust your instinct to kick in, and make sure to head inland before the tide rolls back in and cuts off your path to safety.
9. Take only memories and pictures
There’s no need to take anything from tide pools with you. This should go without saying when it comes to animals like sea stars, anemone and crabs, but it also applies to shells you might find in shallow pools. Not all of those shells are actually empty, and even the ones that are can be used by the creatures who live there. Take pictures, take memories and leave the rest alone.
10. Bring out your inner child – and enjoy it SAFELY!
Intertidal areas are places of pure wonder, and as such they make perfect escape hatches into your inner child. Clambering over rocks, crouching down to peer into tide pools and discovering strange, colorful life in hidden places can instantly transport you back to childhood. Allow it to happen and you’ll find the true magic of low tide on the Oregon coast.