Every wilderness has its spring signature ― that one piece of flora whose appearance seems to sum up the flipping of the seasonal switch.
Bright orange poppies blanket Big Sur, California. Yellow balsamroot runs rampant in Washington's Columbia Gorge. And now through May, on Oregon's south coast, it's all about the wild iris: Purple-blue wisps of native Douglas iris blossom, unfurling on stems a foot or two tall.
Wild iris just so happens to bloom in all of the prettiest places along a rugged strip of the Pacific, stretching from Port Orford's rocky, windswept headlands to wooded paths leading to pocket beaches. Come say hello.
ON THE IRIS TRAIL: HIKE, PICNIC, AND STAY OVERNIGHT
Cape Blanco State Park
Home to the oldest operating lighthouse in Oregon, Cape Blanco also hosts plenty of purple iris. Part of the Oregon Coast Trail passes through this area. Follow it from the lighthouse to the crescent of beach 0.25 mile below. Return as you came, or stroll along the sand 1.25 miles north to the Sixes River before meandering back on a trail through a pasture and on to the road. INFO: From U.S. 101, turn west at the sign to Cape Blanco State Park, 4 miles north of Port Orford, and continue 5.5 miles to the lighthouse parking area; 800/551-6949.
Picnic among the irises The Sixes River winds lazily below the flower-strewn hillsides at Cape Blanco; weathered picnic tables are scattered along the river's grassy banks. Choose a sunny spot, or shelter from the wind beneath a tree.
Port Orford Heads State Park
What was once the crew quarters for the Port Orford Lifeboat Station is now a museum. Short trails radiate out from the museum's parking area, with bushels of iris on the Cove Trail. Follow it 0.4 miles to a vista point. For views that seem to stretch to Japan, loop back on trails swinging toward the west and north. INFO: From the center of Port Orford, follow signs 1 mile west to Port Orford Heads State Park; 800/551-6949.
Dine out Stumble into the Surf Shack ( $; closed Sun-Mon; 190 Sixth St./U.S. 101, Port Orford; 541/332-0450) in your hiking boots, if you like, for fish tacos prepared by California culinary school grads, followed by crème brûlée.
Follow the path less than 0.25 mile past ceanothus and iris to the view point at the cape's tip. For a workout, continue down the cape's south side ? a 720-foot drop in 1.5 miles and another mile of beach walking to an access point just north of Myers Creek Wayside. INFO: Turn west off U.S. 101 at the Cape Sebastian State Scenic Corridor sign, 5 miles south of Gold Beach; 800/551-6949.
Stay overnight Sea Crest Motel in Port Orford (from $54; 888/332-3040) is bare-bones, but it's clean, cheap, and boasts ocean views from every room. For a dose of eco-luxury, snuggle into WildSpring Guest Habitat (from $226; 866/333-9453), a small Port Orford resort ringed in iris, with hillside cabins above the ocean ? which you can stare at from an open-air spa tub.