One of the most spectacular pieces of scenery in Oregon and Washington is the Columbia River Gorge, which is where "the largest river of the west" (so says the various propaganda sheets) flows through the Cascade Mountains.
The most scenic part of the Columbia River Gorge has been declared a National Scenic Area. While the area is heavily developed in places (there are several large hydroelectric dams, some very large sawmill complexes, and various other parts of The Gorge that are considerably commercialized) and has been significantly altered from its very scenic original (the water level from the dams has been significantly increased over the natural water level, requiring a number of historic communities to be relocated as the old one is now submerged), the area does remain a natural treasure.
There is a significant problem in trying to write about this area on VirtualTourist: the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area does not exist in the VT database. Therefore, trying to put specific tips about certain locations means scattering them about between dozens of communities and state parks and National Forest Service facilities spread over 100 linear miles and between two states. Many of the attractions exist on trails deep in the National Forests on either side of the river, meaning they really aren't near any city or community in the VirtualTourist database.
This means you could very easily be missing some very good material about the Columbia River Gorge just by failing to look in the right spot for it, and it also means some of the material has been completely misplaced by having it wind up in cities that aren't even in the region, but were written by those unfamiliar with the area.
What I do recommend, however is further reading without the aid of VirtualTourist or any other on-line source. Instead, there are dozens and dozens of books that have been written about the Columbia River Gorge over the years. In addition to those there are trail maps produced for the National Forests that are part of the Columbia River Gorge. National Geographic publishes a trails map of the Columbia Gorge, as do others. There are specific guides for those who are wanting to backback or bike (separate guides for on-road or off-road), and dozens of other speciality publications. Due to the weather difference between the high plateau of eastern Oregon and Washington and the marine climate, the winds come rushing through this narrow gorge and create a natural wind tunnel. Thus, the area has also become one of the most popular anywhere for wind surfing and other wind based water sports.
Therefore, if you are serious in wanting to explore the Columbia River Gorge, I suggest going to Powell's Books ( http://www.powells.com ) and type in Columbia Gorge into their search engine. Powell's Books is a very large Portland based book store, and has a great deal of local information available for purchase, including dozens of books (both new and used), maps, and other guides about the Columbia River Gorge. The limitations of VirtualTourist, unfortunately, only scratches the surface of what is available in the Gorge. A detailed guide featuring detailed professional maps and instructions, and specifically featuring the types of activities that you are interested in doing, are really your best bet in terms of getting the most out of the Columbia Gorge.
Be that as it May I will provide some specific places here for further research, and try to do a good job in introducing the Columbia River Gorge to you:
+ The Cascade Mountains block rain clouds from the ocean. Therefore, the further east you go the more desert-like the landscape becomes. East of Mosier there are few trees and most everything is dry grass.
+ Driving Through the Gorge: Highway 14 on the Washington side is a slower highway with many turns and is fairly narrow in many places. Interstate 84 is a highway that follows the water level route, offers vistas of the surrounding scenery at times, but is limited because most of the scenery is above you.
+ If you are not in a big rush, the Historic Columbia River Highway between Troutdale and Warrendale, Oregon provides scenic viewpoints and access to a number of hiking trails and waterfalls. Only some of this is accessible from Interstate 84. This highway was originally built in 1913, so be prepared for a long, slow trip on a road that isn't at all designed for large vehicles of any sort.
+ The Vista House and several nearby viewpoints offer great views of the Columbia Gorge, but are only available from the Historic Highway.
+ Much of the historic highway was blown up to make way for Interstate 84. However, several sections of it have been restored as much as possible to their 1913 condition, and are available as walking and biking trails. Sections are in Bonneville, in Cascade Locks, in Hood River, and in Mosier. My best introduction to the trail, however, is the Hood River section as that was the section of the trail that was first completed.
+ Multnomah Falls was for many years the most popular single tourist attraction in Oregon, and today is the second most popular after the big casino in Grande Ronde. You should probably visit it at least once during your stay in Oregon, but if it is a peak tourist weekend or even a week day it is probably not going to be possible to find a place to park. I've been there on rainy days in the middle of November and found it impossible to find parking. So, best of luck in trying to get there. There are parking areas that are accessible from both the Interstate 84 and Historic Highway areas.
+ Beacon Rock State Park is the origin of some of the spectacular trails on the Washington side of the river. The trail up the rock is a wonder all its own, but is only one of several trails here.
+ Lyle is the start of the Klickitat River Trail.
+ Horsethief Lake State Park has Native American Artwork on display.
+ Maryhill is the site of an art museum and a replica of Stonehenge. If you don't want to pay to get into the art museum, the outdoor sculpture garden may be worth a stop anyway.
+ The Historic Columbia Gorge Highway is drivable from Troutdale eastward and visits a number of waterfalls and scenic viewpoints.
Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to summarize a vast and varied location such as the Columbia River Gorge in one short VirtualTourist tip. The fact that dozens of books have been written about this geological feature should indicate that. My hope is that this has given you a little bit of a start on further research for your trip to visit.
The web site below is for the Columbia River Gorge Visitor's Association, which is also a source of information about this region. However, for the most part information is limited to those who are members of their organization. While the list is extensive, many natural features that simply exist, and have no reason to be on a commercial list requiring membership, are not listed there.
Constructed over a series of years, starting around 1913, the Columbia Gorge Highway was intended to be a tourist attraction from the very start, and was designed to fit into the landscape as much as possible rather than be in conflict with it. To paraphrase one of the historical markers featuring a quote from one of the early engineers, their directive was to compliment and not compromise what God had already put there.
This included arch tunnels with special viewpoints built into them, huge numbers of small observation decks built into the highway in vast numbers of places, and a scenic bridges designed for those who wanted to view and visit the waterfalls.
However, it didn't stay that way very long.
Even by the 1930s, vehicle size had increased to a vast proportion over those of the 1910s, and into the 1960s the highway was rebuilt to allow larger and larger vehicles, and each time the highway lost scenic elements.
In the 1960s, Interstate 84 was built through the Columbia Gorge, and vast areas of the old Columbia Gorge Highway were simply blown up to make way for the new Interstate.
Several sections remain: areas that were abandoned into the 1990s and have been rebuilt into several state parks and are collectively a state linear trail are covered under several sections of local communities, while two sections may be driven.
One long section of road that remains in service as a road was long called the "Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway" and is now the "Historic Columbia River Highway" or "Crown Point Highway" or various other terms involving the word "Historic".
For those wishing to take the fastest route between Bonneville and Troutdale, this highway is not for you. Even though it was updated a few times before being turned into a secondary road, the fact is it is a narrow road with tight curves and lots of tourist traffic, and not one that you will want to be on if you are in a huge hurry to get somewhere.
There are several good entrance points to this road:
+ Troutdale: Explore downtown Troutdale a little bit, then continue east on main street. After crossing the Sandy River on the narrow old bridge (typical of the bridges you will see on the old highway, but believe it or not this is one of the newer, more modern bridges!), turn right at the end of the bridge and continue on the main road as it winds up the hill and through Corbett.
+ After the Sandy River: Just after the Interstate 84 Troutdale exit, follow the signs to Lewis & Clark state park, and then continue past the park along the Sandy River. Continue straight as the road climbs the hill and enters Corbett.
+ Corbett itself has an entrance / exit from Interstate 84. Follow the signs to the Vista House and then continue east.
+From the east coming west, you will want to exit at exit 35 and continue west. East of Warrendale (where this exit is located) there are no drivable sections of the Columbia Gorge Highway that remain, except scattered small sections, and pieces that have been converted to trail use.
The historic highway not only allows you to access several of the old view points, but it also allows you to access several waterfalls and many trailheads, only one of which (Multnomah Falls) may be accessed from Interstate 84.
VEHICLES LONGER THAN 40 FEET ARE HIGHLY DISCOURAGED FROM USING THIS ROAD, AND ALL VEHICLES LONGER THAN 50 FEET ARE BANNED FROM THE ROAD AS THEY WILL GET STUCK ON THE TIGHT CURVES. The narrow width of autos means that most vehicles of today are too wide for the road, so please remember to make allowances for wide rearview mirrors and other vehicles that stick out into opposing traffic.
The other segment of road that is open to traffic, though it has lost a few of its historic elements, is the segment from Mosier to The Dalles. It is still a fairly narrow road and features only one significant public viewpoint.
We visited the Oregon Coast Aquarium in July 2013 during our stay at the Oregon Coast. There is lots too see with very interesting displays as well as interactive displays that are educational. There are several areas indoor with fish tanks full of different kinds of fish from all over the world including "Sandy Shores", "Rocky Shores", "Coastal Water" and the "Giant Pacific Octopus". The outside area includes the beautiful tufted puffin in the "Seabird Aviary", "Sea Otter", "Seals & Sea Lions", "Passage of the Deep", Turkey Vulture Habitat" and the "Aquarium Gardens". Of course there are some gift shops as well.
The coral reef area is so colourful with pretty fish and plants, so beautiful to see. The tufted puffins are fun to watch and we also enjoyed the seals swimming in the water as you can see them underwater and above the water.
We really thought the Passage of the Deep was amazing as you wonder through a glass tunnel to see sharks, bat rays, anchovy, mackerel and so much more. This is really something not to miss when you visit the aquarium, make sure you find it on your little map as we almost missed it! It's behind the seal & sea lions area.
It's not a cheap place to visit, but we thought it was well worth the money...especially if you have a good half a day to visit.
I've spent a little bit of time in Portland and throughout Oregon.
First, since Oregon has no sales tax, you'll likely want to hit up some of the outlet malls. Well, that's for sure something my wife would like to do ;-)
Portland is a fantastic town. If you're into microbreweries or gastro pubs, you'll have no shortage of places to check out.
Cannon Beach is great. Absolutely love it there when it's not raining.
Sand dunes. Hire a driver to take you on a 30-minute ride. Don't drive yourself. It's a blast and something not to be missed.
During our trip along the Oregon Coast in 2011 we ended our trip with 2 nights in the area of Portland. On one of our full days in Portland we drove to the beautiful Multnomah Falls along the gorgeous Columbia River Gorge. Finally the weather was decent as we didn't have much sunshine on the coast. What a beautiful place!
Try and get here early enough because it can get fairly busy. We got there around 10.00am and it was pretty busy already. This might be especially helpful if you like to take photos, this way there is still enough room to place your tripod and not have too many people around you that might bump you.
There are some trails in the area to other waterfalls and to walk to the bridge at the Multnomah Falls. There is also a lodge with a giftshop, restaurant and more.
This waterfall is on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, located east of Troutdale, between Corbett and Dodson, along the Historic Columbia River Highway. The falls drops in two major steps, split into an upper falls of 542 feet (165 m) and a lower falls of 69 feet (21 m), with a gradual 9 foot (3 m) drop in elevation between the two, so the total height of the waterfall is conventionally given as 620 feet (189 m). Multnomah Falls is the tallest waterfall in the State of Oregon. It is credited by a sign at the site of the falls as the second tallest year-round waterfall in the United States (info from Wikipedia)
When you are driving the Three Capes Scenic Route you will pass along Cape Kiwanda as well, the smallest of the three. But it is a beautiful place, especially to experience some spectacular wave action. When we were there it was pretty cloudy and it started to rain, so we didn't stay very long. From what we could see it looks like a beautiful beach with a great view and I think if the tide comes in again, the waves would splash spectacularly up against the cliffs at Cape Kiwanda. Close to Cape Kiwanda are a few cute little stores with some nice souvenirs and other stuff. There were also many hotels/motels and restaurants in that area.
We just enjoyed a walk on the beach to enjoy the beautiful views at Cape Kiwanda. But the following things can all be enjoyed in this area: trail walking, hike up the sand dunes and run down, try sand boarding, watch the dory boats launch to sea, rent a surfboard, explore mazes of tide pools, etc...
When you are in the Tillamook area you will see a sign that reads "Three Capes Scenic Route" If you follow this route it will take you to Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint. This place is located on a headland about 200 feet above the ocean. Cape Meares has about 3 miles of hiking trails. From here you can enjoy beautiful views of the rocks in the water. This place also has one of the largest colonies of nesting common murres. Bald eagles and a peregrine falcon have also been known to nest near here. There are also other uncommon birds found here, there was a park ranger who had set up some type of telescope to view one of these uncommon birds...but I forgot the name of it. It was really cool to see! You will also see the 1890's lighthouse which features a little gift shop.
There are also picnic grounds here which makes it a gorgeous place for a quiet picnic. If you continue to drive the Three Capes you also pass Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda.
Oswald West was an early Governor of Oregon, the man who set the stage for most of the coast of Oregon being saved as State Parkland. Amazing how about every 5-10 miles is another Park open for free to the public to use and enjoy. Every state should have such a conscience overseeing the natural resources for its people.
There are dozens of State Parks along the Oregon Coast. These are mostly not too difficult to find as they are well signed, but you do have to be looking for the sign. On the average, you will run across one of these about every 8 miles or so as you are driving along the coast. However, these are not regularly spaced at all. You will run across clusters of them in some places, and then in others there will be a significant distance between them.
Due to the sheer size of my Oregon Coast tip and my Oregon State Parks tip, I have decided to specifically highlight a few of the state parks along the Oregon Coast to give a few examples of what you will find here. The parks are as varied as the coast upon which they sit, and due to the sheer number of them it is hard to try to recommend one particular park over another, as it really depends on the features that someone is looking for in a park. Furthermore, we locals prefer certain coast state parks based on a few very specific things that are special to us, and due to the sheer number of parks these may or may not be relevant to any other person's desire for travel features.
Here are Some examples of Oregon Coast State Parks (so that you can see the variety). This is a far from extensive list, but these are only some examples of what state parks are along our coast. Also, keep in mind that there are also county and city parks along the coast as well. So, your choice of recreation spots along the coast are very extensive. If you do want a complete list of state parks along the coast, take a look at the state parks web site at the bottom of the page:
Ecola State Park is just south of Seaside and north of Cannon Beach. It has a view south to Haystack Rock and thus provides one of the most famous views in Oregon.
Arcadia Beach - this is a tiny state park with little more than a gravel parking lot and beach access. There is a pit toilet, and other than the beach access there isn't anything of interest here. Here, the beach is reasonably walkable, especially at low tide.
Hug Point is another location where the only attraction is beach access. It also has only a bit toilet, and it is located very close to Arcadia Beach. While it is hemmed in by rocky peninsulas on the north and south, it also has a small cave carved into one of the peninsulas that is a unique feature.
Cape Lookout - This one is fairly varied. In the north there is a peninsula which forms a bay, and on which there are beaches and camping facilities and other purposes. The south side of the park is located on a rocky cliff of a peninsula with a hiking trail that goes to its very end. There is also a beach on the south side of this rocky peninsula, but to get to it requires a long walk on a switchback trail down the side of the cliff, which descends several hundred feet in elevation. Remember at the end of the day when you are tired you will have to climb all the way back up!
Cape Meares - This is day use only, and has a lighthouse and a unique tree. It has very good views of Three Arch Rocks.
Nehalem Bay - Located just south of the town of Manzanita, this state park is located somewhat off of Highway 101. It is also located on a sandy peninsula between the bay and the ocean. There are camping facilities including RV facilities and yurts. The day use area has several trails, and in the peak tourist season a concessionaire is present in the horse camping area that rents out horses for beach horse riding. If you are camping and realize you forgot something, there are several ways in which you can walk or drive to Manzanita to their small collection of stores and restaurants.
Oswald West - Located just north of Manzanita, it is not possible to get to Manzanita from this park on foot. The highway is crammed into a narrow ledge along the cliffs of the coast, and for some distance there isn't a beach at all - just a steep cliff. At the north end of the park, there is some beach access, but getting there from the highway requires a bit of a walk from the parking lot. It has some spectacular views, especially from the narrow pull-outs on highway 101.
South Beach - This is a popular location for surfing and it is one of the beaches in Oregon that has been growing in recent years. The construction of the breakwaters for the entrance to the harbor resulted in the ocean current depositing large amounts of silt here, and thus over the years this beach has grown from almost no beach at all to a fairly significant beach with dunes.
Oceanside Beach State Park - This state park does not appear to have a location of its own in the VirtualTourist system, but it is located right in downtown Oceanside. It is one of several beach state parks located inside coastal cities themselves.
Fort Stevens - when the military decided that the mouth of the Columbia River no longer required heavy fortifications, this land became a state park. There are remains of the old fortifications, a military museum, beaches, a campground that includes several types of accomodation, and the Wreck of the Peter Iredale inside the state park. There are paved bike paths that are well constructed to not conflict with road traffic.
Ecola State Park is one of the most beautiful places along the Oregon Coast from what I have seen. You have a great view over Cannon Beach with Haystack Rock, Indian Beach with its many sea stacks and the Tillamook Lighthouse a ways off shore. There are several miles of trails in the park for those who have lots of time. If you don't have much time, the main area is definitely worth the few dollars you have to pay for this park. If you do have a bit more time, it's also worth going down to Indian Beach which is a bit of a secluded beach.
One of Ecola State Park's first attractions was a beached whale. In 1806, Capt. William Clark and twelve members of the Corps of Discovery climbed over rocky headlands and fought their way through thick shrubs and trees to get to the whale in what is now Ecola State Park. Today, a paved road from Cannon Beach makes your trek to the park much easier. Winding your way through towering Sitka spruce, you suddenly emerge upon a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean.
Ecola State Park offers year-round recreation for all types of modern day explorers. Stop for a picnic to feed your hungry adventurers before taking to the many miles of trails. At Indian Beach you can begin your own expedition on The Clatsop Loop Trail, a new interpretive trail you that gives you the chance to walk in the footsteps of Capt. Clark and his men.
There's more to the park than this rich history. Surfers ride the waves at Indian Beach and tide pools await your discovery. Keep a watchful eye open for the many species of wildlife and birds that call Ecola home. Spot migrating gray whales during winter and spring.
On the day of arrival at the house we rented in Gearhart we decided to walk down to the beach as it was only about 10-15 minute walk. Sunset Beach is a big sandy beach which allows cars on the beach as well. Kind of different to see and experience as this is not always common in other countries.
Sunset Beach is a small unincorporated community located between the cities of Seaside and Warrenton in Clatsop County, Oregon, United States. Sunset Beach is located between U.S. Route 101, Neacoxie Lake and the Pacific Ocean. It serves as the northernmost access to the resort community of Surf Pines, and provides motor vehicle beach access. The "Fort to Sea Trail", which follows the route used by the Lewis and Clark Expedition when hiking from Fort Clatsop to the Pacific Ocean, ends at the beach access.
About an hour east of Portland is a natural parkwith the spectaccular Multnomah Falls. It is 1.2 miles to the top and only the lowest portion has guard rails or any kind of safety features. It is also at a very steep incline, made all the harder if you have children because you might have to carry them. Only the physically fit should climb to the top, but once there, you have a wonderful panorama of the Columbia River Valley. The river that flows over the rim is pure and sweet after the long climb.
Oregon State Parks include a diverse group of parks. Sites range from historical buildings to small wayside points of interest to undeveloped lots inside the city of Portland to parks that have been leased to cities and fairly large wilderness spots with significant tourist appeal and value in being preserved.
Some of the state parks are entrance fee based parks. Naturally those are the best parks in the Oregon State Parks system. Entrance fees are fairly reasonable (was $3 for a standard automobile, but have been increased to $5 in 2010. Current plans are for more frequent fee increases with less jumps in price.), but an even better bargain, if you will be visiting multiple state parks that are fee parks, is to purchase an annual pass. This gives you an unlimited number of entries to the day use area of all fee state parks. (Overnight camping is still an extra fee.)
Most fee state parks have a toll booth and staff member on hand during busy days and peak periods during the summer. Most parks switch to self-service machines (see photo 1 of such a machine at the Columbia River Highway State Park) for low traffic periods. Simply follow the instructions on the stand to pay the fee and put the receipt in your car to show that you paid.
In the past, a short form had to be filled out to get an annual pass, and the annual pass could only be applied to one vehicle. In 2010, they have changed the system a little bit, and it is now possible to move the annual pass from one vehicle to another. I've never seen a self-service fee machine, or even a staffed pay booth, sell the annual passes. State parks such as Champoeg or Silver Falls or Stubb Stewart or Fort Clatsop that are busy enough to have a regularly staffed ranger office and/or state park store are the type of places you need to go to obtain an annual pass. Willamette Mission and others don't receive enough tourists to justify having a retail store and extensive visitor relations staff, so those types of parks do not offer the types of services you need to get the whole package that comes with the annual pass.
A book is also available in these state parks with retail stores that lists all of the state parks, the facilities available in each, and a summary of what makes each place special. Generally this is given to anyone who purchases an annual pass.
Many of the signs leading to state parks from roads are good, but sometimes they only feature the state parks emblem and an arrow pointing in the direction you need to go to get to the park. Therefore, it is helpful to recognize the state parks emblem, so see photo 3 so that you will recognize these types of road signs when you come across them.
The Oregon State Parks web site given below is also an excellent source of information on each state park. The current system, both in the guide and the web site, breaks the state into regions to search so that you are able to break down your search for a park based on the region of the state you will be visiting.
Many of the larger state parks offer overnight camping facilities of some sort or another - some of these include both tent sites and Recreational Vehicle sites with full hookup. All of the parks that I know of that have RV sites also have a dump station for the RV. A few of the larger parks also offer yurts and cabins. See my Champoeg State Park Camping Facilities Tip for some typical examples of cabins, yurts, and camping areas. Each park is a little different in how it is set up and the era in which its facilities were built, so it is best to check on the specifics of each location. You will find maps of the camping sites for a number of the parks on the park web site.
Most of the Oregon State Parks are in the VirtualTourist database as locations, so it may be helpful to see what VirtualTourist members have written about the parks.
A Special Note About the Coastal Parks:
There are some 40 state parks along the Oregon Coast, and there is a public beaches law that makes beaches state public land as well. There are a huge variety of parks all along the coast, each with its own unique beauty. Therefore, it is quite difficult to give good suggestions on these. If the place didn't have some unique beauty or other feature to make it special, it wouldn't have been incorporated into the state parks system. So, for those who want specific advice on which of the state parks along the coast are the best, it is very difficult to offer advice, as all of them are good in some way or another.
However, I have created an Oregon State Parks on the Coast tip to demonstrate a few of the parks and show the huge variance of what is available in the various parks along the Oregon Coast.
Some Special Parks
If you are traveling through the Willamette Valley, don't miss Silver Falls State Park. It is Oregon's largest state park, the most popular state park (and therefore crowded on peak weekends), and it is a real treasure if you like natural areas.
There are several state parks running through the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area (an area running east from Portland between Troutdale and The Dalles). This includes efforts to convert parts of the historic Columbia River Highway to a linear park, which are scattered between several cities that are located in the VirtualTourist database:
+ Cascades Locks Section westward to a tunnel under Interstate 84, which then connects to the Bonneville section of the trail.
+ Hood River section going eastward to the Mosier section of the trail. Towards the Mosier end of the trail is the site of the once-famous "Twin Tunnels".
Oregon State Parks I have on VT: (other than the ones mentioned above)
Willamette Mission State Park and Champoeg State Park both have some historical significance, but there isn't too much in either to attract a huge number of tourists from a long distance away. Both are Willamette Valley parks. They are nice parks, don't get me wrong. They just don't have that much to offer most tourists who are looking for something special, though Champoeg does have some special history programs and several small museums that are of interest to some history hunters, and is significant for it being the start of Oregon statehood. Champoeg also has a staffed ranger station and state parks store, and as it is reasonably close to Interstate 5 (not right next to the highway, but close) it may be a good place to get state parks information or an annual pass if you are traveling on that highway.
Tryon Creek State Park is not in the VT database, but it is located in the far southwest part of Portland. It has a nice dense forest, but is really more of local recreational interest. They do have a staffed ranger desk that is open on most days, so this may be a good place to get additional state park information if your trip starts in Portland.
Mary S. Young state park falls into the same category as Tryon Creek, and most of the management of it is now done by a local city.
Erratic Rock State Park is one of the smallest state parks and doesn't have too much in it, but there is a nice view of the surrounding scenery, plus a large rock left behind by a glacier.
A Few Examples of Oregon Coast State Parks that I have here on VirtualTourist (so that you can see the variety):
The Oregon Coast in itself is one fairly long tourist attraction. There are some 40+ state parks running the length of the coast, and that doesn't include the state law that makes the ocean beaches public lands. Traveling along Highway 101 and its branch roads, you will run across one of these state parks about once every 5 to 8 miles or so. The web site listed at the bottom of this tip goes to the Oregon State Parks web site.
It isn't easy to recommend exact spots there because many of the basics in all those locations are all the same, but certain specifics are a bit different. Those few specifics mean that everyone has their own favorite spot on the coast, and each of those are different for very slight reasons that may or may not make any sense to anyone else.
Driving the Oregon Coast itself is about a two day trip. It is faster on highway 101, but the fact is that even though highway 101 is a much slower way to go than Interstate 5, 101 is still not directly along the coast in many locations. There are a number of local roads that provide a true all-coast route, but they are even slower than Highway 101. As an example of one of many, many locations, take a look at Tillamook on the map: Highway 101 is about 10 miles (16 km) from the coast. To get along the coast and really see the scenery here, you need to take a series of local roads that lead in a loop around Cape Meares (the geographic feature and state park), and there is the dead-end road that goes to the odd little community of Cape Meares that only has residences in it.
Small towns dot the Oregon Coast from north to south, and most of them have at least one small hotel or set of guest houses. During the peak tourist season many of them will be booked up. Peak season in many places is April 1st to October 1st, after which lodging is easier to find and prices are somewhat reduced in many facilities. Naturally, places right on the beach are more expensive than those inland. If you get really desperate for a place to stay, keep in mind that places in the western Willamette Valley really are not that far away, and Corvallis, Philomath, McMinnville, Grande Ronde, or similar places may wind up being your best alternative.
Warnings and Dangers
Weather along the coast can be unpredictable and highly dependent on location (photo 2 shows what a difference in a short distance of elevation makes), but is far colder in the summer months than further inland. There is always a cool wind blowing in off the ocean. The good news is that in the winter it isn't as cold as further inland, but clouds to get stuck in the coast range and provide the coast with a lot more rain than even the Willamette Valley gets. The weather also depends a great deal on your location: a matter of a few hundred feet or a few hundred meters can mean the difference between sunlight and rain.
Tides come in quick here, and keep this in mind if you visit rocks off the beach at low tide or otherwise explore isolated areas at low tide: you may not be able to get back to where you came from after the tide comes in (this is a regular problem on our coast, and happens all to frequently).
Watch the edge of the rocks as it is usually a long way down.
Waves contain driftwood that is sometimes the size of a bus, and these logs in the waves have killed people from time to time. Watch for floating objects.
Many of the coast roads and roads from and too the coast are small, narrow, and involve people who have tried to cram too much into too short a day, and are driving tired, and are in a big rush to get where they want to go. Collisions and deaths are far too frequent, especially on highway 18 between McMinnville westward.
Suggested Specific Locations and Attractions
Myrtlewood (Umbellularia californica ) is a beautiful wood when worked correctly, and only grows in a small section of the Pacific coast. A number of different galleries and showrooms and tourist shops along the Oregon coast have myrtlewood articles, housewares, furniture and other items. Generally, these appear with greater frequency the closer you get to Coos Bay, but they appear seemingly at random in many shops along the coast, and even well outside the coast.
Tillamook has a regionally well known cheese factory which offers tours. My understanding is that it has gotten to be a lot more aimed at children in recent years but I haven't been out there for quite a long time. They also have an aviation museum in the old blimp hanger, which at one time was the largest wooden building in the world (there were two such hangers here, but one of them burned in the 1980s).
If you have an interest in history, you might want to take a look at some of the Lewis & Clark material in the Astoria area, or across the river from Astoria in the Cape Disappointment State Park area. Astoria also has a maritime museum, and isn't far from the old Fort Clatsop military remains, or the Wreck of the Peter Iredale.
The Newport Aquarium is reasonably good, and may be worth a visit.
The Sea Lion Caves have been called by some the world's largest ocean facing cave, or the largest in North America, or a number of other things depending on what you read. I consider them to be a bit of a tourist trap, as you take the elevator down to the cave and there isn't much there other than a fairly small observation platform. It is also fairly expensive.
Brookings is of interest as it has a rather unique microclimate that makes it a bit warmer most of the time than most other places on the Oregon Coast.
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area near Coos Bay offers sand dunes.
Lincoln City has the Chinook Winds Casino, but I have never been inside it.
A number of lighthouses dot the Oregon Coast. Some are in service, while others are out of service and used for other purposes now. Heceta Head Lighthouse (near Florence) is a working light house, but the keeper's house is a bed and breakfast now. The Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast in Bandon is actually across the street from the actual light house.
The Cape Meares Lighthouse is the smallest of those on the Oregon Coast, and its surrounding state park is an example of what many of the state parks on the coast will look like.
You will find a host of communities with various small attractions and small museums, several wildlife refuges and similar preserved lands, a number of hiking trails, and a number of small beaches that are pounded by some pretty rough weather a lot of the time. Scattered up and down the coast there are a few art galleries and artist's studios, with each community having its own small selection of unique personalities.
Apart from the Oregon Coast Aquarium, a number of small towns have their own small ocean oriented attractions of some type or another. As a general rule, they aren't as good as Newport. Generally, these places also predate the construction of the Newport aquarium by several decades, and show their age.
It's a pretty huge area (some 300 miles in length) and isn't so very easy to give specific tips about. From north to south it is a narrow strip of land between the coast range and the ocean, and therefore the entire thing has pretty good scenery, except in places that have become overdeveloped for tourists (Seaside used to be a pretty little ocean beach community, but has become quite a trendy touristy sinkhole in recent years, and not a place I would recommend unless there is something there that catches your eye. It does have a walkway along the beach that many other coast communities lack.). Much of it is really more of a "Hey that looks interesting let's stop" type of thing rather than specific single points of interest.
Everyone who lives here has their one or two favorite spots on the coast, and not a single one of them will be the same spot. Almost all locations along the coast are good, but just slightly different in one way or the other. Some places will appeal to you, while others will not, and it is really hard to say ahead of time which those will be, as it all depends on personality and tastes.
Camping sites get reserved early in all locations along the coast, as do summer months in the hotels, guest cabins, and all other locations. You'll want to reserve your accomodations, even if it is only a camp site, as early as you can.
Oregon State Parks along the Oregon Coast
There are so many state parks along the Oregon Coast that it would be very difficult to try to feature all of them in an Oregon coast overview such as this. However, I have instead created a Oregon Coast State Parks tip to show you some of the varied locations that constitute the state parks system along the Oregon Coast.
Perched high above the surf on a spot whittled from a cliff the Queen Anne style lightkeepers house at Heceta Head is as picturesque as they come. There is an interpretive center on the ground floor that was closed when we arrived. The top floors offer a bed and breakfast lodging with a reportedly sumptuous breakfast. It would be wonderful for a romantic getaway. During the Christmas holidays special tours are offered for a Victorian Christmas.
Lightkeepers here were very isolated until the 1930's when the coast highway was completed and keeping them was a challenge. Now the visitors who come to stay never want to leave.
The Hotel Monaco is a terrific hotel. Located in the downtown area of Portland, it is within walking...more
AVOID THIS PLACE! My family and I decided to stay here for the college football season for home...more
170 Highway 101, Florence, Oregon, United States
Good for: Solo