The Oregon coast is a wild and rugged place that captures the hearts and imagination of many visitors. A few years ago I had the opportunity to drive the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway (Hwy 101) north from California with a friend. The drive was slow but every curve of the road brought new views. We only had a day and a half to explore but we stopped and jumped out of the car at every opportunity. My memories of that trip include the smell of the salt water, the roar of the waves, the views of the eroded rocky shorelines and the feel of the wind trying to blow me inland. I knew I needed to go back.
When our best friends, who live in San Diego, wanted to meet us somewhere for a late-spring adventure, my thoughts immediately jumped to the Oregon Coast. We planned to meet in Portland then drive to Cannon Beach which is located about 25 miles south of the Columbia River. We rented an AirBnB a block from the beach and made plans to hike and explore the area.
Ecola State Park
Our first stop upon reaching the coast was to visit Ecola State Park. The park is nearly 90 years old and protects some beautiful old growth Sitka spruce and western hemlock. We were all a bit weary from our travel day and chose to stay close to the main parking lot. Wandering out from there we could get to viewpoints south, west and north. The southern view was my favourite as it overlooked the mile-long Crescent Beach with Cannon Beach in the distance. To the west was a series of eroded rocks jutting out of the ocean and to the north was a small cove and the tree-covered slopes of a headland.
I vaguely remembered visiting Cannon Beach on a family vacation when I was about ten years old. There are pictures of my sister and I poking around tide pools and riding on three-wheeled beach bikes. My friend and I had also made a super quick stop there on our road trip, enough to make we want to stay longer.
The town of Cannon Beach has a resident population of about 2000, which doubles or more during the summer months. We visited just before Memorial Day weekend allowing us to enjoy the town in near-summer weather before the seasonal crowds.
Nearly all of the residences and hotels in the town of Cannon Beach are a block or two from the beach and our AirBnB was no exception. From our front door it was barely a hundred steps to the sand. I spent some of both days I was there walking part of the four-mile long beach. The first day was incredibly windy so I headed north, keeping the wind at my back. Instead of walking back along the windy beach I returned along the main street in the town, poking into some artsy shops along the way.
The next day the tide was waaaaay out. I convinced Dan to come along to visit the tide pools around the base of the 235-foot Haystack Rock. The rock and intertidal zone around it are protected areas and there was an interpreter on site to remind visitors to step only on sand and refrain from touching any of the sensitive marine life in the tide pools. I really enjoyed spotting tiny crabs, bright green anemones and colorful sea stars. Eventually the tide turned and the ocean reclaimed the pools for another day.
Oswald West State Park
Visitors to the Oregon coast have former governor Oswald West to thank for the hundreds of miles of coastline set aside for public use. This state park, named in his honour, includes four miles of coastline, temperate rainforest, secluded beaches and two prominent headlands.
Our group was split on what to explore. My friends wanted to hike to the 1,631-foot summit of Neah-kah-nie Mountain, but I was recovering from an illness and didn’t think I had enough energy for it. Thankfully the trailhead had a few hike options so while they went up the mountain, Dan and I hiked down to Short Sands Beach, stopping along the way to enjoy the meadows of Elk Flats and the roar of the waves in Devil’s Cauldron.
Short Sands Beach was a beautiful spot. The tide was going out and the sand was almost glassy. We walked to the far end of the beach to enjoy a waterfall and spy in a couple more tide pools.
Nehalem Bay State Park
The last stop on our Oregon Coast visit was to Nehalem Bay State Park. We were headed south and then inland to Oregon’s wine country but I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to the coast.
The park is located on a spit of land between Nehalem Bay and the ocean. It protects about 4 miles of sand dunes and a shore pine forest. It’s also a nesting ground for a threatened seabird species called the Snowy Plover.
We had an hour or two to spare and enjoyed a long walk along the beach. The snowy plovers were really sweet to watch as they ran to and fro with the shallow waves. There was a bit of debris on the beach and in a couple spots it looked vaguely like the eroded husks of wood boats.
Once again the Oregon Coast had caught my imagination. Three days was far too short a time to take it all in. I plan to go back to stay in Cannon Beach and use it as a base camp to explore north to Astoria and south to Pacific City. And I’m definitely adding the Oregon Coast Trail to my long trail to-do list.