Driving down the Oregon coast has been on my travel bucket list for some time now – and for good reason. With a number of beaches and state parks not too far from one another, this beautiful stretch of coastline is filled with incredible scenic vistas, wide stretches of beach and an array of sea stacks (large rocks jutting out of the ocean!).
However, if I am honest, another major inspiration for this trip was to visit and spend time with my dear friend, Ekaterina Walter, who lives near Portland, Oregon. Ekaterina and I co-wrote our book, The Power of Visual Storytelling, together. We are also dear friends with a shared passion for travel and try to meet up for a few trips annually.
For this trip, we decided to take one day on a Thursday in late July and start in early in the morning (arriving around 10-10:30 am?) at Ecola State Park with stops in Cannon Beach, Haystack Rock, Arcadia Beach State Recreation Site and the Neahkahnie Viewpoint in Oswald West State Park, before heading inland through Tillamook State Forest and then back towards Portland.
Ecola State Park
Our first stop of the roadtrip was Ecola State Park, which is a 1.5 hour drive from Portland and stretches across 9 miles of coastline between Seaside and Cannon Beach. As we pulled in, we were treated to a winding road that snakes through a beautiful forest, with the occasional teaser glimpse of the bright blue ocean below.
We proceeded to drive up to the Ecola State Park Parking Lot. There is a five dollar fee per car to enter the park, but you are free to drive around the park and use the various parking lots with that fee. The Ecola State Park Parking Lot was a great first stop. We were treated with stunning views of Crescent beach below. Amazed that few people were there, we took our time to enjoy the moment, take photos and a few videos too (see my vlog at the end of this post!).
While there are a few trails that you can hike from this parking lot, we knew that we had a long day ahead of us and decided to drive up to the parking lot for Indian beach. However, if you did want to hike, Ecola State Park has a number of hiking options, including an 8-mile stretch of the famous Oregon Trail and a two and a half mile historical interpretive route called the Clatsop Loop Trail. For a full map of the park, grab one here on the Cannon Beach website.
It’s worth noting that you should pack sensible footwear for the walk to Indian Beach. This trail is pretty mild in comparison to some of the others that we encountered later in the day, so keep that in mind if you are planning a trip. You can always bring flip flops or water shoes in a tote bag for the beach!
As for the weather, it is much chillier by the beach, so dress in layers. Indian Beach was much cooler than other beaches that we visited later in the day, so my tank top, cardigan, scarf combination was perfect, but we also had coats in the car juuuuust in case.
Before you step out onto a beach in Oregon, an important call out that Ekaterina shared with me is that travelers and locals need to be careful on Oregon beaches. You should never turn your back to the water, as Oregon beaches can have rogue waves – also called sneaker waves. According to The Oregonian, since 2000, sneaker waves have killed at least 17 people along the Oregon coast, all swept up into the ocean. So, a little PSA here, but have fun on the beach – but be careful too!
We found Indian Beach to be incredibly beautiful. As the photos show, the light here casts this magical blue hue onto the wide expanses of sand. I personally was captivated by the contrast between the beach, the cliffs above and the jagged sea stacks emerging from the water – all were unlike any other beach that I had seen before.
The Town of Cannon Beach
While it’s tempting to keep powering through your roadtrip, do not, I repeat, do not, skip the adorable town of Cannon Beach. With its nearby beaches and state parks, plus a multitude of charming restaurants, microbreweries and shops, it’s no surprise that Cannon Beach is one of the top vacation destinations in the Northwest.
As we arrived in Cannon Beach, I was immediately smitten. It’s clear that there was so much joy taken in decorating the town. My personal favorite was the variety of colorful, fresh flowers artfully placed around the store windows, public spaces, and more. It’s worth wandering through as much of the town as possible to take in its full beauty.
For a decadent array of candy, check out Bruce’s Candy Kitchen, a family-run business which has been located in Cannon Beach since 1963. Bruce’s Candy Kitchen also allows customers to watch them make salt water taffy live – with free samples of the flavor they are making that day!
The appropriately named sculpture above simply goes by Whale and commemorates the visit by members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition’s Corps of Discovery in January 1806, including William Clark and Sacagawea, who explored the area to investigate reports of a beached whale.
With our stomachs rumbling in hunger, we decided to keep lunch simple with a visit to Bill’s Tavern & Brewhouse. Ekaterina went for the clam chowder and I opted for a burger, both of which were good. I wouldn’t say that it was the best burger I have ever had, but it absolutely hit the spot and was reasonably priced. For more reviews, check out the Bill’s Tavern & Brewhouse listing on TripAdvisor here.
With our bellies full and spirits high, we hopped back in the car and drove a few miles down to Haystack Rock. Dubbed one of Oregon’s most recognizable landmarks, Haystack Rock is 235 feet tall from the edge of the shoreline.
Haystack Rock and its adjacent rock formations called “The Needles” were formed by lava flows emanating from the Blue Mountains and Columbia basin about 15-16 million years ago.
We didn’t realize this at the time, but apparently, you can walk up to Haystack Rock at low tide and check out sea creatures like starfish in the tidepools.
With regard to parking, we didn’t do our research in advance and ended up hovering in a random “no parking” neighborhood and a second public beach south of Haystack Rock to capture the above photos.
However, if you truly want to spend the time and potentially walk to Haystack Rock, OregonCoastTravel.net recommends following these directions via Seaside, “Take Highway 101 south and take the 2nd Street exit, proceed to Hemlock Street, turn south and use the public parking lot on the corner of Hemlock and Gower streets. A public walkway across from the parking area leads to the shoreline and Haystack Rock.”
Arcadia Beach State Recreation Site
After a quick stop at Haystack Rock, we hit the road again for a 15-minute drive to the Arcadia Beach State Recreation Site. There is a free parking lot, but take caution with this stop, as the walk down to the beach is more of a mini hike on a steep trail and could be tough for some.
However, as you can see below, the short hike down is more than worth it. In comparison to other beaches in the area, travelers unanimously seem to recommend Arcadia Beach State Recreation Site as a less crowded beach to visit. On the day we visited, we saw this as well.
Neahkahnie Viewpoint in Oswald State Park
After taking in Arcadia Beach State Recreation Site, we drove another ten minutes down the road to the Neahkahnie Viewpoint in Oswald State Park. I must confess that we discovered this roadside viewpoint by accident, but with these epic views, what a happy accident it was.
Parking at the Neahkahnie Viewpoint is free. There are also a few other viewpoints right after the one we stopped at, all of which offer slightly different views of this stunning vista.
The only call out – especially if you have kids – is that the security walls here are very low. They are maybe two feet high and I even felt chills looking at the sharp vertical drop down from them, so be very careful! You can see a sneak peek of what I am talking about in the photo above. There are brush / plants below, but I was very much sitting on top of the security wall on the side of a cliff!
The Neahkahnie Viewpoint is located within Oswald West State Park, which has a 13-mile stretch of the Oregon Coast Trail and Short Sand Beach, which is a half a mile hike from the parking lot through what looks like a beautiful stretch of the park. It would definitely be a spot that I would like to go back and see more of next time!
Tillamook Forest Center
After an incredible day driving along the coast, we decided to drive through Tillamook Forest on our way back to Portland. Tillamook Forest spans 364,000 acres and is known for its Douglas-fir trees, plus a number of scenic trails, camping options, and more.
Ekaterina had wanted to show me the Tillamook Forest Center, which is located at the center of the forest and offers a range of exhibits and scenic trails to explore. Unfortunately, the center is only open until 5pm daily and we juuuuust missed the final cut off to get in. Sometimes, you cannot do it all when you travel!
We did stop off at another nearby point in the park with free restrooms (needed!) and walked down to the Wilson River to enjoy some of Tillamook Forest before driving back to Portland. I’ll definitely need to come back again and properly explore it!
Final Thoughts & My First-Ever Travel Vlog
All in all, we had the perfect day. It truly was a traveler’s dream day. From the weather, to the gorgeous scenery and the adorable town of Cannon Beach, the day just flowed perfectly and was surprisingly without any hassles. We (well, Ekaterina!) found the roads easy to drive on and parking was mostly easy to come by, as we went on a Thursday during the day versus a weekend. I would highly recommend a roadtrip through this part of the Oregon coast!
For more information on our trip and to see video footage of each of the destinations highlighted above, I would love it if you checked out my first-ever travel vlog! Ekaterina and I had so much fun filming it.
As I travel a ton, I am going to create travel vlogs on a regular basis on my newly launched SavvyBostonian YouTube channel. If you like this vlog and want to see more, I would love it if you would consider subscribing. For my social media business content, I also have a business focused YouTube channel where I cover social media, digital marketing, brand storytelling, interviews with digital leaders (coming soon!), and more.
You can – and should – also follow Ekaterina via her website, Facebook and Twitter, as she posts incredible photos and tips from her travels, plus valuable content on digital transformation, marketing innovation, brand storytelling, leadership, and much more!
Also, this goes without saying, but please feel free to leave a comment below or on my Oregon travel vlog with any feedback. I am just starting to vlog and would really appreciate it!
For more of my travel tips and trip roundups on The SavvyBostonian blog, read them all here.