Originally, travelers of this trail departed in Waldport, where ferries carried them across Alsea Bay. They then walked eight miles of beach, south to the basalt rock bench where Yachats sits, then followed the rugged coastline and up the Yachats River to reach fertile farmland.
In 1890, the road was surveyed and carried stage passengers, horse and buggies, the U.S. mail, and freight. County Road 804 was the main thoroughfare between Yachats and Waldport until 1916.
Before then, the wave-cut rock bench was used as a summer camp site by American Indians for thousands of years (600 BC to 1620 AD). The rocks were replete with shell fish, which were cooked and eaten immediately after harvesting and the shells discarded. During winter, sand and earth would blow in and around the discarded shells and a few plants would take hold. These refuse heaps, called shell middens, are 40 feet deep in some places.
The 804 Trail is a wonderful microcosm of the Oregon Coast. Plants growing right near the trail include salal, shore pine, sitka spruce, pacific willow, beach sweet pea, blue camas, wax myrtle, yarrow, pearly everlasting and several varieties of berries. Shorebirds, such as terns, the black oyster-catchers, sandpipers, plovers, brown pelicans, common murres, geese and cormorants are frequently seen. Occasionally, one will catch sight of a bald eagle. Among the tide pools, one can see starfish, sea anemones, mussels, coastal crabs, ghost shrimp and more. The trail is also an ideal spot to watch whales during their migration south and north.
Fish are plentiful in the surrounding sea – especially perch, rock fish, ling cod and bass. Smelt Sands State Park, at the mid-point of the 804 Trail, commemorates the arrival of the surf smelt fish to its gravelly sands each year. In summer, the smelt ride the waves to shore to deposit their eggs, which hatch after 10 to 11 days with the larvae returning to the ocean. Smelt serves as food for salmon, rock fish, halibut and many diving birds.
The geology, history, plants and animals all make this trail special for Yachats residents and visitors, alike. Any discussion of the 804 would be incomplete without a heart-felt thank you for the dedicated work of the Friends of the 804, who, with help from 1000 Friends of Oregon and the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition, ensured the trail’s preservation and public access.