If enter Oregon at Brookings, you may want to make Harris Beach State Park your first stop, especially if you are there during low tide. Harris Beach is one of Oregon’s seven Marine Gardens that are protected intertidal areas. There are also interesting rock formations and this is a good marine life and bird-watching area. In any case, you will want to save some time for exploring the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, a 12-mile stretch of coast beginning just north of Brookings. There are several great stops. The easiest ones with great scenic bang for the buck include Whaleshead Beach, Natural Bridges and the Arch Rock Viewpoint. If you have time for a short hike, there may be none better than Thunder Rock Cove made a little longer by continuing to Secret Beach.
The drive north to Port Orford is scenic and you will be tempted to stop, but my favorite stops for photography include the Otter Point State Recreation Site just north of Gold Beach and the Cape Blanco Lighthouse. I would take at least a full day in the Bandon area. The beach at Bandon is one of the best for photography with dramatic rocky spires and other rock formations along the shoreline and just offshore. Seals are frequently seen below Coquille Point at Elephant Rock. The Coquille River Lighthouse is just north of town and is worth a visit. North of Bandon, you can follow the Bandon to Charleston Tour Route to Cape Arago – a must stop for photographers. You’ll find it hard to pull yourself away from the amazing views along the paved walkways and hiking trails at Shore Acres State Park. The short hike from Shore Acres to Simpson Reef is one of my favorites. Simpson Reef is one of the best places on the Oregon Coast to observe seals and sea lions. Bring your longest lens for amazing shots. You can also drive to Simpson Reef and then the end of the Cape at Cape Arago State Park for more great views. If it’s low tide, the South Cove is a remarkable tidepool area.
The Oregon Dunes is the next amazing natural area as you travel north. Much of the easily accessed areas are set aside for ATVs, so as a photographer, I prefer places like the Oregon Dunes Day Use Overlook (with dune access) and Honeyman State Park for shooting. The best dunes photography I’ve enjoyed requires hiking the John Dellenback Dunes Trail near the Eel Lake Campground,
I’d reserve another full day for the Heceta Head Lighthouse, Cape Perpetua and Yachats area. There are highway viewpoints of the Heceta Head Lighthouse just past Sea Lion Caves, but it is worth the half-mile hike up to the beautiful lighthouse from the State Park. You could spend days within the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, but not to miss are Spouting Horn and Thor’s Well at Cooks Chasm and Devils Churn just to the north. These are best a mid-to-high tides for the most exciting ocean action, but this is great tidepool area too. On cloudy or overcast days, the rainforest trails make a nice option.
As you continue north, I like to check out Seal Rock State Recreation Site. There are scenic overlooks and the beach can be quite interesting especially at low tide. I would save a majority of my time on this leg of your journey for the natural areas near Newport. The Yaquina Bay State Recreation Site offer good views of the beautiful Yaquina Bay Bridge and Oregon’s only wooden lighthouse. Just north of town is the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, great for scenic photography including a pretty lighthouse and marine life and bird watching. If you can plan your visit for low tide, a stairway leads to another of Oregon’s Marine Gardens, a great place to photograph purple sea urchins. Just north of Newport is the Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area, another must stop. You’ll also want to check out the view from the Cape Foulweather lookout.
If you have time, follow the Three Capes Scenic Route turning off at Pacific City for views of Cape Kiwanda and Cape Lookout, though the easiest stop for lots of scenic opportunity is Cape Meares with its lighthouse. For the rest of the North Oregon Coast, I would reserve most of my time for the area near Cannon Beach. There’s an amazing viewpoint as you travel north of Manzanita and the highway climbs the edge of Neahkahnie Mountain. Potential stops as you continue include Short Sand Beach, a short walk away in Oswald West State Park and Hug Point – a must stop if its low tide where a picturesque waterfall flows onto the beach just around the point north of the parking area. Cannon Beach itself is home to Haystack Rock, great for tidepools or for framing as a foreground at sunset, along with the rocky spires known as The Needles nearby. Watch the grassy flanks of Haystack Rock for Tufted Puffins. It’s one of the best places to see the colorful birds in the Northwest. Ecola State Park would be my other don’t miss stop. The main viewpoint is fabulous and the Indian Beach area is also amazing.
Lastly, you probably won’t want to miss photographing the remains of the 1906 shipwreck Peter Iredale in Fort Steven State Park as you approach Astoria.