Pistol River State Park is set in the dunes of the southern Oregon coast. The river supposedly got its name when a militia soldier lost his pistol in the river during the infamous Rogue River Indian War. In March of 1856, a decisive battle was fought here.
The dunes and the river system that feeds them are what make this area unique. During the spring and summer months, the dunes actually grow. The river has changed its course numerous times in recent history and pothole ponds attract waterfowl and shorebirds making this is an excellent birding locale. Ocean windsurfing is so good here it has become the location for several national championships.
The majority of the land was acquired between 1962 and 1969 by purchase and litigation from various owners. One tract was given to the state in 1964 by Maytor H. and Vari McKinley of Los Angeles, Calif. In 1969 a small tract was transferred from Highway to Parks use. According to tradition, James Mace lost a pistol in the area in 1853 and the river has been called Pistol River since that time.