We’d been told that the Oregon coast was a pretty place to spend a few days, but I had no idea it was going to just totally blow my mind. The state park system in OR is the best we’ve seen yet. They are extremely pet friendly, the prices are about half that of California’s state park’s, and you can have a virtually unplanned adventure because they have great stops all along the coast.
When taking the 101 south into Oregon, you cross the state line as you take a magnificently long bridge over the Columbia River. Our first stop was not long after that at Fort Stevens, where we spent two nights. There are many miles of trails in the park, of which we explored the vast majority. It was a bit unnerving though, because every time we’d relax and get comfortable being out in tall grasses and magical forests thick with big trees, we’d see postings about active cougars and bears in the area, and immediately start sweating as we picked up the pace to a “casual” jog.
One afternoon, we went to the beach to view part of a shipwreck from 1906. As we walked the beach, we viewed hundreds of oceanic birds lining the shore, and watched in awe as they took turns diving for fish caught in the waves below. While we stopped to snap some wildlife photos, I noticed some tracks on the beach that appeared to have the “M” shaped pad print of a cougar. We followed the tracks for a bit until they made their way back up the sand dune, and into the woods. I knew that we were going to have an anxiety filled couple of miles back through the woods to our campsite. Our fears subsided for a few moments though, when we spied a Bald Eagle above, and watched excitedly as it soared on the ocean winds until it was out of sight.
As we continued to make our way down the 101, we stopped for a little side jaunt to the Tillamook factory. You can take a quick self-guided tour to view the making and packaging of the cheese. Your time there ends with a tasting of a handful of different cheese offerings, and spills you out into a well stocked store while your tongue is still enveloped in their delicious makings. Needless to say we bought some cheese-to-go, and swung by their ice cream counter for some of the best double chocolate on a waffle cone to ever pass these lips.
We had planned on heading further south post factory tour, but that cone was sitting heavy in our tummies, and we were ready to send a few of those calories on their way via an afternoon coastal hike. We followed the map to a road that became more narrow with each turn, and just as we were sure we’d headed the wrong direction, the cape side campsites came into view. Cape Lookout is a special area because when facing west you are treated to an amazing Pacific-side sandy beach, and when facing east, you are greeted by mile after mile of huge old growth trees, that offer sun protection and mystery for hikers and bikers alike. We climbed up switchbacks until we reached a point that required more scrambling than we felt comfortable with, so we stopped at a trailside vista point for a few photos and made our way back down. We had planned to stay for a second night to complete the roundtrip hike to the end of the cape, but we woke up to heavy raindrops on our hood and decided it was a good day for driving. We made our way back to the 101, or as I like to call it, “The Queen’s Road”, by way of the Three Capes Scenic Loop. The loop takes you through some amazing little beach towns and we both agreed that we’d be heading back in the future to explore Pacific City and Cape Kiwanda.
While in Cape Lookout, we reached out to an old friend from high school who lives in the area, and lucky for us, our paths converged at Beachside park. Just as the name implies, there are a row of sites that butt right up against the wide Oregon beach. The sites were all full but one with a “reserved” sign, but a quick talk with the friendly camp host brought news that site 70, the one we were eyeing, had a last-minute cancellation and we were in! Over the next few hours the four of us walked the beach, then settled in over a campfire with a few beers and lots of laughs. They had a lot of knowledge about the area, and some awesome site seeing tips, so they took the lead and we met up the next day for some epic cliff side tide pooling.
If you don’t have the time schedule that those of us taking a year off do, and you’re interested in the Oregon coast, I highly recommend making Cape Perpetua your stop. There are many natural wonders to see in an area where hiking trails allow you to park the car, and view them on foot. I thought I was going to lose my voice that afternoon because I couldn’t stop gleefully cheering at top volume over the magic that is Thor’s Well. This crazy spot is a sinkhole into the ocean where waves violently crash up the inside, then blast out the top. It will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up as you watch the water surge back in, hopefully without you in tow. Just around the corner is the Spouting Horn, where you can watch the waves smash against the volcanic cave, up and out of a hole in the top at mind-blowing heights. We viewed the tide pools that were full of sea cucumbers, anemone, and starfish, then moved on to Devil’s Churn, a chasm where the water is blended up and spit back out in a fashion that makes you take a step back each time another wave rolls towards you.
If a vehicle is more your speed, visit the headland which is over 800 feet high, and provides the highest viewpoint accessible by car on the OR coast. While at the lookout taking in breathtaking views of the coastline, we met an elderly couple who were also cruising down the 101, and we stopped to chat with them for a few minutes. They told us they thought we were doing the exact right thing taking a year off and exploring, because they said, by the time you reach retirement your too tired or sore to do a lot of the things on our year off list. It’s always nice to hear kind words from a stranger, but these made our hearts sing even louder; stepping away from life as you know it is a scary thing, and hearing positive words from voices of experience, made it a little easier to fall asleep that night.
We bid adieu to our buddies that afternoon, and headed off into afternoon sun for Part Two of our Oregon adventure.