Travel Tales: The Oregon Coast
For an extended summer, May through September, I was lucky enough to call Oregon home, and I’ve yet to find a place that matches the Pacific Northwest state’s majestic coastline.
The Oregon coast snuck up on me. In the waning afternoon hours of a day trip to Portland, with the sun high in the sky and a pleasant breeze through the city’s omnipresent trees, an 80-mile road trip to the coast sounded irresistible. So, my spontaneous copilot and I scratched our plans, climbed back into the car and headed for the water.
As we motored along Route 26 West, the landscape slowly made a dramatic change. Trees grew bigger and greener, and somehow more tropical, with beach-style bungalows intermittently tucked into hilly groves of foliage. En route we passed the largest Sitka Spruce tree in the country. Sadly, in December 2007, the tree toppled in a storm.
Less than two hours later, I finally caught my first peek of the Pacific from the passenger seat. Minutes later, we were strolling across the sands of Cannon Beach, one of several Oregon locales featured in the 1985 film, “The Goonies.”
Cannon Beach’s most stunning feature is Haystack Rock, an enormous boulder that sticks up out of the water not far from shore. We’d arrived at the perfect time, as the light of the setting sun and the glow of several campfires flickering along the beach gave the 235-foot protected marine garden, home to various birds and sea life, an even more imposing presence.
The only hiccup came when we tried to find a place to stay for the night. Cannon Beach accommodations tend to be full all summer long, so it may be wise to plan ahead. Travel Oregon links to places to stay along the coast, including hotels, RV parks and campsites. The site also has thorough information on coastal events and attractions, arts and dining opportunities, and a “Trips We Love” section with a mountain biking option.
Over the course of that evening, and the next morning’s drive along roads winding high above the ocean, we realized why Oregonians called it “the coast.” Too majestic to simply be called “the beach,” there’s something about Oregon’s coastline that’s otherworldly. Two years later, I found myself at the New Jersey Shore, surprised at how little everything looked, particularly the tiny dunes bedecked with flimsy blades of grass.
The Oregon Dunes put most others to shame. The 40-mile stretch from Florence (about 150 miles south on Highway 101 from Cannon Beach) to Coos Bay is “the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America.” From the highway, sand peeks through the forest intermittently. At some points, the sand has spread two miles inland from the shore.
The dunes display a mix of geological features, such as quicksand and oblique dunes, which can grow up to 180 feet high and a mile long. Because the dunes are so extensive, many visitors ride off-highway vehicles over the rolling mounds of sand. The dunes area is also perfect for napping, with nooks carved out and hidden by thick tufts of European grasses.
About 25 miles north of Florence, the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area sits among spruce and temperate rain forests, offering a great day trip opportunity. Near the shore, stand on the basalt ledge and gaze down at Devil’s Churn, a deep crevice in which huge waves smack surrounding rocks, churning dramatically upward in the middle. There are also 26 miles of hiking trails through the Siuslaw National Forest. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer recommends a few favorite routes, or you can just stay on the simple path to Cook’s Chasm, a quiet cove where I found a few tide pools and hopped from rock to rock.
A few miles south, past Cape Perpetua, is a place called Strawberry Hill. It’s my favorite spot on the coast, and also a favorite of the Eugene Register-Guard, which spotlights Strawberry’s Hill’s spectacular (and free) wildlife. I saw harbor seals lounging on the rocks, and tide pools teeming with purple and orange starfish—most visible at low tide in the early evening. Once you’ve had your fill of exploration, relax on the quiet beach, which you’re likely to have all to yourself.
If you choose to continue south on Highway 101, there are plenty of worthy stopping points along the way, but I most enjoyed the stretch from Cannon Beach to Florence, and taking in the vista of coastline from inside the car. The Fodor’s Compass American Guide to Oregon was a great help, offering practical information like maps and directions, as well as descriptive narrative and photographs. The book is available in the Dulcinea Media Store.
The Oregonian also recommends 10 of what it considers the most beautiful hikes on the Oregon Coast, perfect opportunities to get out of the car and stretch your legs.