Whale watching has become one of our favorite ways to spend time while RV camping on the Oregon Coast. Once you’ve seen giant gray whales ‘spy hopping’ and ‘breaching’ their way through the water, you’ll become as addicted as we are to scanning the horizon for those tell-tale vapor spouts.
On our first whale watching RV vacation, we did a little research before choosing our camping dates. Here’s what we learned: the migration south to breeding and nursery lagoons off Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula occurs from December to January and the migration north to Alaskan waters runs from March to June. That’s the basic travel pattern of Pacific gray whales, and during those months you have the best chance of seeing large numbers of the giant mammals (as many as 20,000 each migration).
Oregon whale watchers are also blessed with sightings of ‘resident’ whales that stay until late fall along the Central Coast (think Depoe Bay, Lincoln City and Newport).
To start our RV trek to find gray whales in Oregon, we chose the town of Tillamook. Just south of town is an excellent RV resort right on the bay, Netarts Bay Garden RV Resort. From there, it’s a short drive to Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint. We enjoyed hiking this rocky headland to the Cape Meares lighthouse, as well as the stunning views of three separate capes where whales and sea lions were frequently visible.
Another highly recommended spot by our RV camping friends was Ecola State Park, just north of Cannon Beach. Between snapping photos of Haystack Rock, hiking the rocky trails and watching for whale spouts from this windswept promontory, the experience was unforgettable.
Camping near Cannon Beach is easy, with a trio of RV resorts right in town, but we chose to drive a little farther south and camp at Nehalem Bay State Park. We’re glad we did: it’s another photo-worthy location that reminds us why we come to the Oregon Coast.
Before leaving for home, we decided to stretch our trip to find one more memorable whale watching location. There were plenty of choices, as overlooks, capes and bays dot the landscape all along the Oregon coastline, but we’d heard a lot about the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay, so we headed south along the Coast to the charming harbor town.
The trip down Oregon Coast Highway (Hwy 101) was made at a leisurely pace, as we stopped frequently to scan the ocean for whale spouts at picturesque spots like Roads End State Recreation Site, just north of Lincoln City. We also found several private RV resorts along Hwy 101 between Tillamook and Depoe Bay. We suggest making reservations in advance if you’re coming during peak whale watching weeks.
The Whale Watching Center sits on the town of Depoe Bay’s seawall, allowing wide open views of the small bay as well as the Pacific Ocean. Because there is an ample year-round food supply for gray whales, several hundred tend to stay near Depoe Bay until it’s time for winter migration, making this a 12-month whale watching paradise. Volunteers are stationed at the center during these peak whale-watching season to help you identify whales and other marine life. We didn’t opt to take the local whale-watching boat tour, but Dockside Charters comes highly recommended.
A few tips for those planning to visit the Oregon Coast to camp and watch for gray whales:
- During the week between Christmas and New Year’s and also the last week of March, the Whale Watching Spoken Here program posts volunteers up and down the coastline to help you with whale sightings.
- Bring your wet weather gear! Places like Tillamook get most of their rain in winter, so come prepared for muddy trails and watch the local forecast as you plan your excursions.
The Oregon Coast offers abundant reasons for visiting by RV, and one of our favorites is the gray whale migration. We give this area five stars as an RV camping and whale watching destination!