Few states offer the unique and diverse beauty that Oregon’s beautiful coast affords adventurers and explorers alike. From rolling sand dunes, to brilliant sea stacks, this beautiful coastal journey will take you through some of the most picturesque spots on the entire western seaboard. Following the famous US Route 101, this multi day road trip guide will help you discover these hidden gems as you explore secret beaches, hidden caves, and breathtaking camp sites that will leave you with life long memories to cherish.
- Samuel H Boardman
- Prehistoric Gardens
- Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
- Thor’s Well
- Yaquina Head Lighthouse
- Devil’s Punchbowl
- Tillamook Cheese Factory
- Cannon Beach
- Ecola State Park
- Sunset Beach
Samuel H Boardman State Park
Nothing compares to the hidden beauty of Oregon’s secret gem, Samuel H. Boardman State Park. This beautiful scenic corridor will bring you through a 12 mile stretch of natural wonders, from amazing sea stack rocks to natural bridges. Located outside of Brookings, Oregon, Samuel H. Boardman brings thousands of visitors a year, however, remains quiet in comparison to California’s Lost Coast. While you can easily spend a full week exploring the miles of thick forest and rocky beaches, there are a few must see adventures that will leave you wanting to come back for more.
Beginning on the southern side of the park, stop at both Cape Ferrelo and House Rock viewpoints. Both viewpoints require a short hike in, averaging around a mile with little elevation change. The beautiful viewpoints overlook the amazing rock cliffs of the park, as they jet majestically down into the pacific ocean. Combined with gorgeous meadows of wild flowers, these overlooks are sure to inspire your creative side. Often you will find painters, musicians, and photographers doing what they do best, while basking in the tranquility of Samuel H. Boardman. If you are feeling up for a true adventure, go for the 4 mile hike that connects Cape Ferrelo and House Rock, taking you across this magnificent coastal landscape.
If basking on a warm beach is more your cup of tea, head to Whaleshead Beach. Accessible by car, this beautiful beach has both restrooms and a picnic area, making it ideal for an early afternoon lunch. As enticing as it might be to post up here for sunset, continue to the north side of the park for the true beauty that Samuel H. Boardman has to offer.
As you head north up HWY 101 towards the park’s most notable attractions (Natural Bridge and Arch Rock) you will pass the hidden entrance to Samuel H. Boardman’s secret crown jewel. Secret beach, as it is known by locals, is a bucket list adventure, filled with incredible sea stack views, rain forest like vegetation, and a sandy hidden cove perfect for an epic beach day. Find the trail entrance to Secret Beach about 1/3 mile south of milepost 345 on U.S. 101 in Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. There is a small gravel parking area that leads to the 3/4 mile trail down to Secret Beach. Be sure to use the trail to the RIGHT of the parking lot, as the left most trail will take you to the side of a small waterfall. While camping isn’t permitted on the beach, you will often find some campers in the parking lot.
Secret Beach is one of those spots that will have a lasting impact on you. Its tranquil beauty combined with its solitude will have you wanting to come back again and again. We are often searching for the “perfect” experience, a landscape rich with vibrant colors and the roaring sounds of nature. The one thing we have learned from all of our incredible adventures, is that the only truth in life lies in the vast expanse of nature. A place free from the daily negativity of normal life. Secret Beach is the epitome of this, a place that you can sit and enjoy for endless hours. If you only take one thing from all of our guides, we hope that this unique spot is it!
Continuing North you will pass the pull offs for both Natural Bridge and Arch Rock. Both are accessible by car, and are complete with bathrooms and picnic areas. Similar to the unbelievable arches found in Utah’s Arches National Park, these incredible sea stacks were formed by thousands of years of ocean erosion. Follow the surrounding trails for a few miles of incredible seaside hiking, including some truly captivating photography spots. Be sure to bring a camera with a zoom lens for the best photos!
Outside of the State Park there are many RV and Tent campgrounds ranging from $20-$40 dollars per night. Be sure to make reservations for these campsites in advance, as during peak summer season it is almost impossible to snag a site day of.
For more info on camping in the area, be sure to check out a great spot just south of Samuel H. Boardman called Brookings RV.(www.brookingsrv.com or (541) 469-6849) or reserve a spot at Harris Beach State Park about 30 minutes away at https://oregonstateparks.reserveamerica.com/camping/harris-beach-state-park/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=OR&parkId=405331 .
Every road trip needs a stop at a touristy road side attraction. Located off US 101, the Prehistoric Gardens are one of the best quirky attractions we’ve been to. A $12 entry fee will gain you access to this unique exhibit which leads you on a trail back in time. Complete with 23 full size dinosaur replicas, this exhibit goes into detail about all of the prehistoric creatures that used to roam the Pacific North West. Although the “Cringe” factor is high, it is a fun experience that you shouldn’t pass up.
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
If you’re in search of an off road adventure, or want to experience incredible sand dunes without flying to the Sahara, add the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area to your list of must see attractions. Formed 100,000 years ago, these brilliant dunes spread the coast north for 40 miles starting at the Coos river. With over 30,000 acres of terrain, this recreation area brings in close to 2 million visitors a year. Dune Buggies, ATV’s, and dirt bikes are a common sight as they speed up and down these dunes, making it a paradise for extreme sport lovers. If you are like most of us and don’t own a wide array of off road toys, don’t fret, as Spinreel Rentals can hook you up with your choice of vehicle to enjoy for the day. Rent yours now at https://www.ridetheoregondunes.com/ .
If rushing through the dunes isn’t your forte, the recreational area is also home to some amazing hiking trails that will have you experience a wide variety of ocean life animals and flora. Hiking through the coastal dunes can be quite rewarding, and can offer a very unique backcountry experience. For more information on backcountry camping, and hiking areas visit fs.usda.gov/siuslaw.
Moving up the coast will bring you to a small town called Yachats. On the outskirts of this small quintessential town is one of the most epic ocean performances you’ll ever witness, Thor’s Well. Thor’s Well is a beach front attraction, embedded within the sharp volcanic rock of the coastline. Over thousands of years, water from the ocean has carved out underground caves as well as holes to the mainland. Thor’s Well is one of these geological formations, which during high tide will fire water out of the “Well” and into the sky, before slowly receding back in. If you time it right, you can see these oceanic ballets during sunset, providing a truly special photography experience. Thor’s Well is most impressive at high tide, so be sure to check your tide tables at https://tides.willyweather.com/or/lane-county/thors-well.html .
Camping is very easy, with the Cape Perpetua Campground located just a mile away. The campground abuts a small brook, giving it a calm atmosphere, but beware as it can also lead to some atrocious mosquitoes. The campground costs $24, but is well worth it due to its close proximity to both attractions and the town of Yachats. More info can be found at: https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/233900.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse
Continuing up HWY 101, you will pass through Newport, OR, a touristy beach town filled with t-shirt shops and bars. However, towards the north of town is the photogenic Yaquina Head Lighthouse. Its only a mile off HWY 101 and requires a cheap entry fee. (They also accept the National Parks Pass). The lighthouse is the tallest of its kind in Oregon, standing at 93 feet high. Originally built in Paris, the lighthouse was shipped to Oregon in 1868, and first put into service in 1873. In 1993 the lighthouse was added to the Nation Register of Historic Places, and has been used in many filming locations, most notably the horror film “The Ring”. Be sure to walk down to the beach head at the base of the lighthouse, which is made up of black igneous rocks adding to its ominous look and feel.
30 minutes north of Newport is the Devil’s Punchbowl. Named for its orange, bowl shaped appearance, Devil’s Punchbowl is a spectacular natural rock formation that cab easily become a beach explorer’s paradise. Be sure to check you tide tables, as the inside of the bowl is only accessible during low tide. If your willing to venture down inside you’ll be rewarded with some amazing photographs of a truly fascinating spot. Be careful, as the short trail leading down inside is very steep and slippery. Check your tides at https://tides.willyweather.com/or/lincoln-county/devils-punch-bowl.html .
Tillamook Cheese Factory
Cheese Please! Breaking up the drive between amazing scenic locations is Oregon’s Famous Tillamook Cheese Factory. The headquarters of the Tillamook County Creamery Association, the Tillamook cheese factory is the 48th largest dairy processor in North America. The co-op includes over 90 independent dairy farms, which together produce cheese, ice cream, butter, sour cream, and yogurt. The facility itself offers free tours inside the processing plant, that show how different dairy products are made. The best part of the whole experience is the free cheese sampling bar, where you can easily fill up on wide variety of unique cheeses. If you still have room, the factory has a full cafeteria that makes some of the best cheese based dishes you’ll ever have. My suggestion is the incredible grilled cheese, although simple, this homemade Tillamook cheddar cheese sandwich melts away in your mouth. Plus, after all the hiking you’ve done, you deserve a little reward!
Cannon Beach is without a doubt Oregon’s most iconic coastal spot. Sitting a few hundred feet off the shore lies Haystack Rock, a larger than life sea stack that stands alone, towering over the sandy beach. The beauty of the beach pairs perfectly with a nice lunch in town. Our suggestion is an outdoor table at The Wayfarer Restaurant and Lounge. Only 90 minutes from Portland, Cannon Beach can be very busy during the summer time, but if your unafraid of some small crowds, Cannon Beach will reward you with an amazing time. Jet up to Ecola State Park and Indian Beach to find some solitude, or rent a sea kayak and investigate Haystack Rock up close. With endless activities, Cannon Beach is sure to please!
Ecola State Park
Stretching nearly 9 miles of coastline, Ecola State Park, located just North of Cannon Beach, is a coast lover’s paradise. With miles of hiking, tidepooling, and exploring, Ecola State Park is a perfect place to escape the crowds found in Seaside and Cannon Beach. Originally founded by William Clark in 1806 while searching for a beached whale, Ecola State Park was acquired from private owners and federal government between 1932 and 1978. Spanning 1,023 acres, the park offers an eight mile section of the Oregon Coast trail, as well as breathtaking vista overlooks and recreational activities. Follow the windy rain forest road through the park to Indian Beach, popular to local surfers and picnicking families. Although often cold, (be sure to bring layers) the sandy beach’s incredible combination of tidal breaks, sea stacks, and abundant wildlife, make it a must see afternoon stop.
Have you every wanted to roll your windows down, and drive for miles on end down a beautiful sand beach? Yea us too! Sunset beach offers the longest stretch of drive-able beach on the Oregon Coast. Located between Gearhart and Warrenton in the upper tip of the state, Sunset Beach is a perfect place to set up for an early night of roasting marshmallows and enjoying beach vibes. Early mornings brings a trove of scallopers, in search of the delicious meaty gems the evenings tide brought in. Be forewarned, although vehicle clearance isn’t an issue, be sure to have 4 wheel drive. If you do find yourself stuck, there is enough traffic that someone will be able to help you quickly. Although you are allowed on the beach 24/7, camping is prohibited due to safety concerns. Fires are also permitted, but be sure to bring your own firewood, as using drift wood is highly frowned upon.
As you come to the end of the drive-able beach at Fort Stevens State Park, you will encounter one of the coolest beach side attractions we’ve every had the luxury to explore: The Wreck of the Peter Iredale. This rusted ship skeleton sits upon the beach sand, accessible for all but high tide times. The Peter Iredale was a steel barque sailing vessel that ran ashore while en route to Portland via the Columbia River. The wreck occurred in the early morning hours of 25 October 1906, when the crew, confused by thick mist, was unable to fight the heavy eastern winds, leading to the vessels running aground.
Just north of the Wreck of the Peter Iredale, lies Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. This woodsy inlet known as Fort Clatsop was home to Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discover for the winter of 1805-1806. If your interested in Lewis and Clark, be sure to pop in and enjoy some history on how the PNW was first discovered.
The most Northern Town on the Oregon Coast is Astoria, an awesome port town with an amazing New England feel. Famous for the Astoria-Megler Bridge, this port town is home to a wide array of breweries and seafood restaurants. The Astoria-Megler bridge is a true wonder, spanning over 4 miles from Astoria to Point Ellice, WA. This toll free, Steel Cantilever through truss bridge is well worth the drive across, as its sheer length and 200 foot height are an incredible experience. After your fun drive across the bridge and back, be sure to stop by Buoy Beer Company. With some amazing food and drinks, the Buoy Beer Company gives visitors a one of a kind experience with its glass floor, allowing you to admire giant sea lions while enjoying a meal.