Length of stay: 2 days
Visited: April 2023
The Oregon coast showcases breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean including dramatic scenery of the rugged shoreline and windswept sandy beaches. There’s a paved highway that spans nearly 585 kilometers along the coastline, creating perfect conditions for a road trip with plenty of opportunities to explore.
Day 1: North Oregon Coast
We flew into Seattle a few days ago and after exploring Olympic National Park in Washington, we headed south for the Oregon coastline. Our first stop was at Fort Stevens State Park where we spent the night in a yurt. The yurts were similar to the ones we’ve stayed at in Ontario in terms of its circular structure. It also came equipped with electricity, heating and furniture that can accommodate up to five people.
We woke up as soon as it started to get light outside thanks to the skylight in the middle of the ceiling. There were some blue skies poking out through the clouds, so after making a cup of coffee and tea, we were eager to start exploring. We first went to the Wreck of the Peter Iredale, located on the sandy shores of the beach. This English sailing ship ran aground during a storm in 1906. No people were lost, but the ship was beyond saving.
We then drove to the northern section of the park to check out the South Jetty where there’s a wooden observation tower that provides a panoramic view of the ocean. A bit further down the road there’s also an access point to the Columbia River and a wildlife viewing bunker.
While the state park is most famous for its historic shipwreck on the beach, it also contains a few other attractions and a lot of history. This area was once an active military base used to guard the mouth of the Columbia River. After World War II, the military base was considered obsolete and was designated a state park. Many of the batteries and other buildings remain intact and visitors are free to explore. There are other pieces of military equipment scattered around the grounds. There’s a short trail that connects many of the buildings and artifacts to learn more about the history of the area. There’s also a museum at the visitor’s center, but it was still closed for the morning.
After eating a late breakfast, we packed up and hit the road. Our next stop was at Ecola State Park. There’s a network of trails along the coastline, along with access to a couple of beaches. We hiked the Clatsop Loop Trail (4.5km loop, rated moderate), which starts at Indian Beach. There’s a staircase that provides access to the beach, but we figured we’d get enough steps along the trail and got straight to it.
We hiked counter clockwise, starting with the portion along the Oregon Coast Trail. The trail is narrow and winds through the forest, providing a few glimpses of the rugged coastline below. The path is pretty much straight uphill and has nearly 245 meters (or 800 feet) of elevation gain. The trail leads to a Hiker’s Camp where there are three cabins available for those hiking the entire Oregon Coast Trail. We peaked inside one of the cabins to take a look. It’s quite rustic inside with four wooden bunks and that’s pretty much it. There isn’t even a door. There is a vault toilet nearby, along with a sheltered picnic area and fire pit.
From Hiker’s Camp there’s a short detour that leads to a viewpoint of the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, which is Oregon’s only offshore lighthouse. The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was built in 1881 and was the most expensive lighthouse to be built on the West Coast at the time. Due to terrible weather conditions in the area, the lighthouse became known as “Terrible Tilly”. Over the years, the lighthouse has sustained damage from storms and the elements. It was eventually decommissioned in 1957. You can’t really see the lighthouse from my picture below, but it’s there.
At this point the clouds had mostly cleared and the sun was out. We then hiked along the actual part of the Clatsop Trail. It was a real treat as the path is wide and mostly gravel. It’s also entirely downhill, which was a nice change of pace. The path leads through the forest and follows along the route of William Clark who traveled here with an exploration party from Fort Clatsop in 1806.
Once we looped back to the trailhead, we hopped in our car and headed to Cannon Beach, which is probably the most famous beach in Oregon. It’s known for its impressive sea stacks, most notably Haystack Rock, and its beautiful sandy shoreline. We parked in town and walked down to the beach to check it out.
We continued along the highway, stopping at Cape Lookout State Park where we planned to hike the Cape Lookout Trail (7.6km round trip, rated moderate). The trail weaves along a ridge through the forest to a viewpoint of the Pacific Ocean. There was a warning sign at the trailhead that indicated that due to recent rainfalls, the trail beyond the midway point is very muddy and to please use caution. We decided to give it a whirl because we’re no strangers to dealing with muddy conditions. The first half of the trail was rather scenic. It weaves through the forest, providing some sneak peaks of the coastal views.
But then we passed a pair of hikers who had mud covering their boots and bottom parts of their pants. And then we passed another hiker with even more mud on his clothes (it looked like he fell into it). Once we reached the midway point, there was another warning sign and a preview of what the mud situation was like. It was a hard pass for us so we turned around. Even though we didn’t complete the entire trail, the views to the midway point still made it all worthwhile.
We hit the road again, stopping at a few more spots before reaching our destination for the night. This included a brief visit to Neskowin Beach State Recreational Site, which features a beautiful sandy beach.
Next up was the Devil’s Punchbowl State Natural Area for a view of a large hollow rock that partially opens to the ocean, creating a natural bowl.
We then headed to South Beach State Park where we planned to stay in another yurt for the night. It was very similar to the yurt we stayed in at Fort Stevens State Park the day before and came equipped with electricity, heating and furniture. It was surprisingly quite spacious.
Day 2: South Oregon Coast
After eating breakfast we went for a walk along the Interpretive Boardwalk (800m round trip, rated easy) at South Beach State Park. From our yurt, we walked through part of the campground and found an access point to the trail between Loop A and Loop B. We followed the paved path that then turns into a boardwalk. The path crosses through some sand dunes and leads to an overlook of the beach. We walked down to the sandy shore for a closer look.
We headed back to our yurt to pack up and head out to the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. The park features a network of trails and viewpoints. We could have easily spent the entire day here, but instead had to settle for a couple of hours. So we hit up the highlights, starting with the Whispering Spruce Trail (0.6km loop, rated easy). The trailhead is located in the day-use area. The path weaves through the forest and provides sweeping views of the coastline and ocean. It also passes the West Shelter. It was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, who also developed other areas in the park and planted trees between the coast and the Willamette Valley.
Afterwards we went to check out the Devil’s Churn, a narrow inlet along the shoreline. There’s a short paved path that loops through the forest and along the coastline. There’s also a short detour that provides access to the rocky shore to go tide pooling and see the water and waves up close. As the tide comes in, the waves in this inlet can get pretty fierce. But since we were here during low tide, the risk of getting splashed by a sneak wave was pretty low, so we walked along the rocks to take a closer look. We joined up with the main path again and completed the rest of the loop. This portion of the trail provided a nice view of Cape Cove Beach. There was another staircase here that provided access to the rocky shore.
We then hiked the Captain Cook Trail to Thor’s Well (1km loop, rated easy). There’s a paved path that provides access to the rocky shore where there’s an ocean geyser that erupts through a narrow hole during high tide and storms. Since we were here during low tide, we’ll just have to use our imagination.
We hopped back in the car and headed to the Heceta Head Lighthouse State Park. From the parking lot there’s a wide gravel trail that steadily ascends through the forest to a lighthouse perched atop the edge of the cliff. Heceta Head Lighthouse was built in 1894 and contains the strongest light on the Oregon coast. The trail continues up a steep switchback. After the first turn there’s an overlook of the lighthouse from up above for a different view.
We hit the road again and made a spontaneous detour when we came across a turn-off for the Umpqua River Lighthouse. It was the first lighthouse built on the Oregon coast. It was initially constructed near the mouth of the Umpqua River in 1857, but was destroyed by a flood and later rebuilt. While you can climb to the top of the lighthouse in the summer, it was closed when we were visiting during the off-season.
Our next stop was at Sunset Bay State Park to check out a few viewpoints, including of another lighthouse that was located on a small island and to admire the views of the coastline.
Shore Acres Garden State Park is located nearby so we decided to check it out as we liked the name of it. The park contains a botanical garden that is open to the public. The gardens were originally developed in the early 1900s by businessman Louis J. Simpson. He bought the land and built a mansion on the bluff north of here. Naturally a rich guy like that had a landscape gardener who designed an English style garden. Simpson later sold the land to the State of Oregon for use as a park in 1942.
From there we headed to Bullards Beach State Park to check out the Coquille River Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1896. It was abandoned in 1939 and replaced by an automatic light on the South Jetty. In 1963, the Oregon State Parks Division leased the lighthouse for park purposes and helped restore the lighthouse. It was super blustery outside, so we didn’t stay long. Plus it was getting late in the day and we still had a few more spots that we wanted to visit.
Along the drive we stopped at Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, which provided a lovely view of the ocean and a series of sea stacks in the water, which are thought to resemble human faces according to Native American legend.
In order to get to our accommodations in Brookings, we had to drive through Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, which is nearly a 20 kilometre (or 12 mile) scenic drive. Naturally we had to stop at a few of the scenic viewpoints. First up was Arch Rock. There’s a short paved path that loops through the forest and passes an overlook of a natural arch that’s been carved in the rocks. There were a few other overlooks that provided more breathtaking views of the ocean.
We then drove to the Natural Bridges Viewpoint where there’s a short trail that is reputed to lead to one of the best viewpoints in the park. As the name suggests, the viewpoint provides sweeping views of the Oregon coast with a couple of natural arches that have formed in the rocks below.
There was one last stop we wanted to make at Whaleshead Beach. The beach can be accessed via a steep trail from the Whaleshead Viewpoint or from the Whaleshead Beach Picnic Area, which is located down a gravel road. We opted for the easier option that didn’t require a strenuous hike. There was a sign on the road to indicate that four wheel drive is recommended, but the road looked like it was in good shape so we gave it a whirl. And it wasn’t that bad. From the parking lot there’s a short trail that leads to the sandy beach.
It was then time to head to our hotel and have some dinner. Tomorrow we planned to sleep in as we didn’t have much driving to get to the Redwoods in northern California.