The Three Capes Scenic Loop, a 35-mile byway off of U.S. 101, begins just west of downtown Tillamook and leads south along the coast past Cape Meares, Cape Lookout, and Cape Kiwanda to end near Pacific City. Together these capes offer some of the most spectacular scenery on the northern Oregon coast. All three are state parks, and all make great whale-watching spots in the spring.
Bob Straub State Park: the best beach walk on the Oregon Coast
There isn’t that much to do in Pacific City—except walk on one of the greatest white-sand beaches along the entire Oregon coast. I’m talking about the miles-long stretch of beach at Bob Straub State Park. To reach it, turn west towards the ocean at the one intersection in Pacific City, cross the Nestucca River, and turn left along a residential road that skirts along between the river and the dunes until you come to the parking lot (no charge). This is my favorite place for a barefoot beach walk (from June through September) in all of Oregon because it’s just enough out of the way to keep it relatively undiscovered, and long enough so that even on “busy” summer weekends you may not encounter more than a dozen people and maybe some riders on horseback (I also saw a herd of llamas enjoying the beach on one of my last visits). From the parking lot, you have to climb up and over a dune (any reasonably fit person can do this) to reach the beach with its spectacular views north to Cape Kiwanda and south to Cascade Head. If you walk south along the shoreline for about 2 miles, you’ll come to the mouth of the Nestucca River. It’s not unusual to see seals sunbathing on the sand spit or hunting fish in the estuary. The winds can be ferocious (bring a hoodie) but I have also enjoyed many warm, sunny days here. If you visit this remarkable beach and fall in love with it, as I did many years ago, promise me you’ll tell only your closest friends about it. It’s one of those special Oregon coast places that we want to keep secret.
Heading up Cascade Head
Rising 1,770 feet above sea level, Cascade Head is one of the highest headlands on the coast. The headland—with lush coastal rainforest of Sitka spruce and Douglas fir covering its lower flanks and treeless, windswept meadows above—juts out into the sea between the small community of Neskowin (10 miles south of Pacific City on U.S. 101) and the larger town of Lincoln City. On its south side, this rare example of a maritime prairie rises above the Salmon River estuary, and the entire headland is home to native grasses and wildflowers as well as elk, deer, bald eagles, falcons, and great horned owls. The area around Cascade Head is so unique that it has been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. From a trail head on its south side, the 6-mile Nature Conservancy Cascade Head Trail climbs up the side and over the top of this magnificent headland all the way to Neskowin. The trail provides spectacular vistas of the Salmon River, the Coast Range, and the Pacific. To reach the trail head, turn west from U.S. 101 onto Three Rocks Road (just north of the Salmon River) and follow it about 2[bf]1/2 miles to Knight County Park at the end. Park there and walk back to Savage Road, where you’ll find a half-mile boardwalk trail that takes you to the trail head. There’s an initial 1,000-foot elevation gain, after which the trail becomes relatively easy. This is a fragile ecosystem, so stay on the trail. Note: No dogs or bikes are allowed. The Nature Conservancy’s preserve has been set aside primarily to protect the habitat of the rare Oregon silverspot butterfly. Tip: The trail has become popular, so arrive early on summer weekends to avoid the crowds.