“…the grandest and most pleasing prospects which my eyes ever surveyed, in front of a boundless ocean…” -William Clark
Where can you find rugged coastlines, secluded beaches, and stunning vistas, all in one area? If your answer involved the Oregon coast, you’re correct! The Oregon coast has long been known as one of America’s most beautiful and scenic coastlines, and it’s easy to see why. Around every bend, there is seemingly one beautiful vista after another. Add to this the fact that the majority of the Oregon coast is comprised of small coastal villages scattered amidst miles of beaches, and you have the perfect recipe for a seaside vacation.
Begin your tour in Oregon’s northern neighbor, Washington. Just across the border from Astoria, Oregon, lies Cape Disappointment State Park, part of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. Though not technically in Oregon, the park offers a good introduction to the coastline, and some equally gorgeous views. There are two lighthouses to visit while at Cape Disappointment. The North Head Lighthouse is located on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and the lighthouse is open to visitors during posted hours. Also in the park is the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, which is at the mouth of the Columbia River. While it is possible to hike to the lighthouse, a better view is afforded from Waikiki Beach, where you can see the lighthouse perched high above on a cliff.
Heading back to Oregon, be sure to visit the Astoria Column (where ambitious visitors can climb the column’s 164 steps for a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean, Columbia River, and surrounding area) and Fort Clatsop, where the Corps of Discovery had their winter encampment from 1805-1806. Continuing south, you’ll pass through Seaside (worth a visit, with its many souvenir shops and restaurants) before arriving in Cannon Beach.
If you’re only planning to stay in one place along the northern Oregon coast, make it Cannon Beach. This quaint beach town is much quieter than Seaside, but has plenty of restaurants and shops to keep you occupied when you’re not at the beach. For one of the most beautiful views of the Oregon coast, head to Ecola State Park, at the north end of Cannon Beach, and make your way to the main overlook, just past the gatehouse. Take the short walk out to the tip of Ecola Point, and you’ll understand what makes this area so special. From here, you have a gorgeous view all the way down Cannon Beach, including the iconic Haystack Rock. Also at Ecola State Park, driving another 2 miles beyond the viewpoint will bring you to Indian Beach. The beach is reached via a short trail and is a popular spot for surfers. Make sure you plan your visit to Cannon Beach to include a stop at Haystack Rock for sunset. This is the spot to be. And if you’re staying on the beach, you can take part in the Cannon Beach tradition of making a bonfire on the beach and roasting marshmallows at sunset.
Continuing south from Cannon Beach on Hwy. 101, you’ll pass several state parks. The 15 minute walk to the beach at Oswald West State Park is well worth the effort. The trail traverses through dense forest, and opens onto a beautiful beach, with a waterfall cascading into the ocean on the north end. In this same area are Arcadia and Hug Point state parks, both easily accessed from Hwy. 101. The largest town you’ll pass through as you head south is the city of Tillamook, home to both the Tillamook Cheese Factory and Blue Heron French Cheese Company. Though very different, both offer samples of their cheeses and small cafes to have a bite to eat. Tillamook also offers their famous ice cream and fudge, while Blue Heron has a wine tasting room.
Leaving Tillamook and heading south, your best option for beautiful scenery is to take the Three Capes Scenic Loop. The route is well-marked leaving Tillamook, and takes you around Cape Meares, Cape Lookout, and Cape Kiwanda. Be sure to stop in Oceanside and make your way to the beach. As you face the ocean on the main beach, look to your right and notice a small cut-out in the rocky ledge at the north end of the beach. As you get closer, you’ll see that this is actually a small tunnel which takes you to a secluded section of the beach. If you’re looking for a quiet spot, this is it! Further south, you will come to Cape Lookout. It is well worth the 2.4 mile (one way) hike to the tip of the cape. You will be rewarded with what seems like an endless view of ocean, and whales can often be spotted just off the cape from this spot. The final cape on the Three Capes Loop is Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City. The draw here is the famous fleet of dory boats which call Cape Kiwanda home. It is the only place in the country where you can see dory fishing boats being launched directly from the beach into the open ocean. Boats generally leave in the morning and return in the afternoon, but the schedule is mostly tide and current dependent. Cape Kiwanda also has its own Haystack Rock (actually taller than Cannon Beach), and the northern end of the beach is great for exploring tide pools at low tide or climbing the tall sand dunes which make up the cape. As a bonus, Cape Kiwanda is one of the few places along the Oregon coast where it is possible to drive your vehicle right onto the beach!
Few places in the country can compete with the beauty of the Oregon coast. From the busy towns of Seaside and Tillamook to the more secluded Manzanita and Pacific City, a visit to the northern Oregon coast is one you’ll not soon forget!