Your Road to Some of the Country’s Most Beautiful Places
There are few places in the country that are as scenic as the western Oregon coast. From Astoria and the northern Oregon coast area to Brookings on the southern Oregon coast, there is a wealth of beautiful vistas, historic sites, state parks and wildlife areas, stunning beaches and other attractions waiting to be enjoyed. And connecting it all is the Oregon Coast Highway.
Stretching nearly 400 miles along the Pacific coastline, Hwy 101, also known as the Oregon Coast Highway, connects with several major highways and side loops to help you thoroughly explore the entire Oregon coast along with the nearby towns and cities. Although it’s possible to drive the route in one day, there is so much to explore that it’s best to allow several days at the least. A week or two is more reasonable, and many people stay at an area campground for the summer and really get to know the area.
The Northern Oregon Coast
From the north, scenic Oregon coastal drive begins in Astoria, located in the northwest corner of the state. Here the Columbia River tumbles toward the Pacific, and this area of the northern Oregon coast also offers river rafting and fishing, rock climbing and the Columbia River Maritime Museum.
Continuing south on the Coast Highway south, you will find the towns of Warrenton and Fort Stevens. From there, follow Old Hwy 101 to Fort Clatsop National Memorial where the Lewis & Clark Expedition sought shelter during the winter of 1805-06.
The northern Oregon coast is home to resort communities such as Gearhart and Seaside, which has a two-mile promenade along the shore. Also in this area are the Tillamook Lighthouse, Ecola State Park and the town of Cannon Beach, which is known for artists, festivals, and fantastic views of rock formations.
From Cannon Beach, Hwy 101 travels south through numerous parks and scenic areas before reaching Arch Cape and the resort community of Manzanita. Located approximately 40 miles from Astoria, Manzanita is often a first day exploration point for southbound travelers. A short distance south from Manzanita is Nehalem Bay State Park where visitors can get out and stretch a bit and soak up some sun and sea breezes.
Nearly 70 miles down the Oregon coast is Tillamook, home of Oregon’s largest cheese factory. South of Tillamook are Cape Lookout, Cape Kiwanda and Pacific City. As an alternative route, some travelers prefer to take nearby Three Capes Scenic Loop, which passes through Cape Meares, Oceanside and Netarts Bay before rejoining Hwy 101 south of Pacific City and heading to Lincoln City, a resort community known for its kite displays and art galleries.
Siuslaw National Forest, Oregon Dunes and
Other Attractions of the Central Oregon Coast
Geographically, Lincoln City is approximately one third of the way down the Coast Highway, and many consider this area the beginning of the central Oregon coast area. A major feature of the central coast region is the Siuslaw National Forest, which begins near Tillamook and extends down the entire central Oregon coast. The forest encompasses over 630,000 acres of unique and varying ecosystems. With beautiful scenery, old growth forests, and dozens of park areas along the beach, Siuslaw is a vacation destination in and of itself.
Also in this area is Cascade Head, a headland that juts out into the ocean and is named for the waterfalls that drop over 150 feet to the ocean below. Cascade Head Nature Preserve, managed by the Nature Conservancy, is home to unique plants and animals as well as trails with spectacular views.
A bit further along Hwy 101 in the central Oregon coast area are Depoe Bay, the world’s smallest navigable harbor and home to a whale-watching center with viewing areas and information. A short drive south from there you enter a 40-mile stretch of the highway that travels through more than a dozen parks and wayside stops. Many travelers choose to find a campground or lodging in this area and spend a day exploring before continuing on their journey.
On the north end of Newport, located approximately 140 miles down the Oregon Coast Highway from Astoria, sits the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. Newport also is home to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, Hatfield Marine Science Center, and other interesting attractions. It also has a quaint Old Town bayfront area with restaurants and shopping.
South from Newport are the towns of South Beach, Seal Rock, Waldport and Yachats, each with their own charm, scenery, and attractions. Continuing south on Hwy 101, you will find Cape Perpetua Scenic Area and Visitors Center and Devils Elbow State Park with views of the Heceta Head Lighthouse. Animal lovers will enjoy a stop at Sea Lion Caves. Located approximately 10 miles north of Florence, this massive cavern and seashore are home to hundreds of wild sea lions as well as seals, birds and other wildlife.
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area also begins near Florence. Stretching over 40 miles along the coast with nearly 14,000 acres of sand dunes, this area is a top destination for campers, nature lovers, and those who enjoy riding off-highway vehicles. Nearby Honeyman State Park also offers camping and dunes access, and a few miles south is Reedsport, home of The National Recreation Area Headquarters. Also in this area are the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area and Umpqua Lighthouse in Winchester Bay.
Approximately 230 miles down the coast from Astoria is Coos Bay. It is the hub of the Bay Area, which also includes North Bend and Charleston. Here you will find museums, shopping, theaters, and restaurants, as well as practical needs such as repair shops, groceries, and medical services. Several state parks and hundreds of other attractions make the Bay Area a favorite with visitors to the Oregon coast.
The Southern Oregon Coast
The southern Oregon coast area includes the towns of Bandon, a coastal center with art galleries, theaters and shopping, Langlois with its numerous antique shops, Denmark and Sixes, where a side road leads to Cape Blanco State Park and lighthouse.
From there, continue on to Port Orford before heading to Wedderburn and Gold Beach, which straddle the Rogue River as it meets the Pacific. In this area you’ll find Cape Sebastian State Park, located high on a bluff where you can see for miles, and Pistol River State Park featuring a unique combination of sand dunes and river system.
The last stretch of the Oregon Coast Highway is one of the area’s most scenic drives with viewpoints and breathtaking sites all along the way. Loeb State Park is home to Oregon’s largest stand of coastal redwoods, and Samuel H. Boardman State Park encompasses 11 miles of Oregon’s most spectacular and scenic coastline.
At the end of the route, approximately five miles north of California, you reach Brookings-Harbor, which straddles the Chetco River. Known as Oregon’s “Banana Belt,” because of its year-round temperate climate, this area of the state produces nearly 90% of America’s Easter lilies. In the early summer, the countryside around Brookings-Harbor is covered with blooming lilies. All of these attractions and many more make a visit to the southern Oregon coast a memorable trip.
From famous rivers to towering forests to shifting sand dunes or breathtaking seashore, the Oregon Coast has something for everyone. Whether you travel the entire Oregon Coast Highway, or focus on just one area, you are sure to find unique adventures and some of the most beautiful places in the United States.