Awe-inspiring vistas abound along Oregon’s coastal drives and trails, but a visit to one of Oregon’s capes ups the ante when it comes to a spectacular view.
The Oregon Coast has 11 capes — land masses that protrude out from the coastline into the ocean. When conditions are clear, standing atop a cape gives you a unique perspective of looking back toward the coast and the shoreline. Here are a few favorites to check out.
Lighthouses and Sea Lions on the South Coast
Cape Blanco State Park is home to the oldest lighthouse on the Oregon Coast. When lighted, its beacon is visible to ships 22 miles out to sea. Visitors to Cape Blanco can also see the historic Hughes House, a Victorian built in 1898 for Irish immigrants who developed a dairy farm on the site. Along the beach, tall and narrow Needle Rock is a popular photo opp.
Cape Blanco has several short trails, but hikers hungering for a climb should head farther south. The Humbug Mountain Loop Trail in Humbug Mountain State Park is a 5.6-mile climb (with a 1,800-foot elevation gain) and an epic view of the Southern Oregon Coast at its highest point. On your descent, breathe deep to experience the fragrant myrtlewood trees that only grow on this southern part of the Coast.
Cape Arago State Park is one of three state parks (along with Shore Acres State Park and Sunset Bay State Park) along the Cape Arago Beach Loop west of Charleston. Its rocky coastline and coves offer excellent opportunities for tide pooling, fishing, and spotting seals and sea lions at nearby Shell Island, part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
Sea Birds and Crashing Waves on the Central Coast
Two miles south of Yachats, the rocky headland of Cape Perpetua Scenic Area is a favorite among hikers looking for longer trail options among the towering, fog-loving Sitka spruce trees of the Siuslaw National Forest.
The Cape Perpetua Overlook Day Use Area is the highest viewpoint accessible by car on the Oregon Coast. Though fog is a frequent feature, on a clear day you might see up to 70 miles of coastline and about half that far out to sea. Even on overcast days, surf-watching enthusiasts will delight in seeing nearby Thor’s Well, where the ocean seems to drain away (into an underwater cave), and Devils Churn, an inlet where waves crash against the volcanic rock and send spray high into the air. (Be sure to stay well back from the edge and heed all safety signage.)
Heading north, stop at Yaquina Bay. The lighthouse site is an important home for common murres, seabirds that are sometimes confused with penguins because of their black backs and white bibs. In the spring breeding season, the murre population in the area swells into the tens of thousands. Next along the coastline to the north is Cape Foulweather. Rising 500 feet above the ocean, it’s an ideal spot for whale watching.
Sand Dunes and Giant Trees on the North Coast
The northern section of the Oregon Coast, from Lincoln City to Astoria, is loaded with cape overlooks. A trio of them — Cape Kiwanda, Cape Meares and Cape Lookout — make up the iconic Three Capes Scenic Loop.
Hike up the sandy dune to experience ocean views from Cape Kiwanda, or sip a beer from the beachside taphouse location of Pelican Brewing Company in Pacific City — no hiking necessary. From there you’ll get ideal views of Haystack Rock and the cape’s sandstone-striped facade, itself an impressive view.
Not far from Tillamook, Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint is home to Oregon’s shortest lighthouse and to one of its most iconic trees. A Sitka spruce with fantastically shaped branch arms, it’s known as the Octopus Tree and is estimated to be around 250 years old. Extensive hiking options lead to great views, including those of Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge, the only pupping site of Steller sea lions on the North Oregon Coast. You might be able to spot them sunning on the offshore rocks or hear their low-pitched roar.
Cape Lookout State Park, located just south of Netarts Bay, may be the most prominent of Oregon’s capes, jutting out more than a mile into the ocean. It offers fantastic land and sea views from the hiking trails, and the day-use area has beach access as well. Although the North Trail is closed due to windstorm damage, the Cape Trail and South Trail are open.