In this itinerary for exploring Oregon's Northern Coast, you'll spend five nights and six days marveling at rugged coastlines, jumping in swimming holes, hiking and watching the waves break. This route will take you from Portland to Astoria, down the Northern Coast to Tillamook, and then back to Portland. Huge thanks to Chris Beard, owner of Tilly Jane, for all the suggestions below.
From Portland, head west on Highway 30 and start your journey where Lewis and Clark first glimpsed the Pacific Ocean: Astoria. Once the regional trading center for the lower Columbia basin, Astoria still remains a hub to this day. Its economy is centered around fishing, fish processing, and lumber, but most people who visit now see it as a great weekend getaway. And a host of other people are making a pilgrimage to see where the Goonies was shot. Here are 15 things to do in Astoria, though notably absent is the one thing you absolutely must do: eat at Bowpicker Fish and Chips.
For camping we recommend Fort Stevens State Park and for provisions you could stop at the Astoria Coop. While at Fort Stevens State Park, you will inevitably find yourself marveling at the Peter Iredale, a ship wreck that you can walk right up to at low tide. This four-masted steel ship left Salina Cruz, Mexico in 1906, bound for Portland, where it was supposed to pick up a cargo of wheat. When it ran aground at Clatsop Beach, apparently the red-bearded captain stood stiffly at attention, saluted his ship, and said, “May God bless you and may your bones bleach in these sands.” Indeed they have.
There will be plenty for you to explore at the park, and we also recommend finishing the things you didn’t get to yesterday on your to do list for Astoria. You could also consider a quick side trip to Youngs River Falls. Youngs River Falls was first discovered in 1806 by a hunting party of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery. This waterfall cascades over a large 54-foot wall into an inviting pool. On a hot day you could join the locals for a quick dip, then head back to Astoria for happy hour at the Fort George Brewery. Choose to have dinner in Astoria or back at your campsite. Either way, you just had a great day.
Your destination for day 3 is Manzanita, where you will camp in Nehalem Bay State Park for the next two nights. Your big decision today involves how many stops to make along the way, as Gearhart, Seaside and Cannon Beach will all be clamoring for your attention.
If you choose Gearhart, you’ll park at one of the turnouts on Ocean Avenue, which is lined with homes built in the 20’s and 30’s for the wealthy families of Portland. Mothers and kids spent the summer at the beach and the train used to deposit fathers and husbands on the weekend. Walk through the dunes and beach grass to the ocean where you can meander or run along this long stretch of sand. If you pick Seaside, you’ll be rewarded with a classic beach town where you can find salt water taffy to eat, bumper cars to ride and kites to fly.
And finally if you are in the mood to eat and shop, the town of Cannon Beach will not disappoint. For stretching your legs, you have two good options in the Cannon Beach area. You could head to Ecola State Park, just north of Cannon Beach, where Ecola’s trails will offer cliff side viewpoints of secluded coves, forested promontories and even a long-abandoned lighthouse. Alternatively, you could keep going and take the Tolovana exit off Highway 101 for easy access to the beach and Haystack Rock.
Finally, drive past Oswald West State Park (don’t worry, you’ll get to explore this park tomorrow) and camp at Nehalem Bay State Park, just south of Manzanita. For provisioning, Cannon Beach and Manzanita have lots of options.
You are waking up this morning on a 4 mile-long sand spit, set between the ocean and the bay. Walk over the dunes and you’re at the beach building sand castles, flying a kite or relaxing to the sound of the ocean. And you are also just outside the beach town of Manzanita, dotted with eateries, shops and a nice book store. You could easily spend the day exploring your immediate area, or you could backtrack just a bit to Oswald West State Park.
For Oswald West, head back up Highway 101 going north a few miles and look for the surfers in the parking lot on either side of the highway. From here you’ll access a trail to Short Sand Beach, a protected surf spot between two headlands. Watch for bald eagles while you marvel at the fortitude of year-round surfers in the chilly Pacific, hike out to Cape Falcon through the coastal rain forest, or, if you’ve got the energy, head up Neahkhanie Mountain for stellar views north and south.
Driving Highway 101 south to Tillamook takes you past the small town of Wheeler and the bay. Camping at Cape Lookout State Park never disappoints and provides a great base for exploring the Three Capes Scenic Route.
In honor of the Three Capes area, here’s three things you could do while there. (1) Rent a small boat and try your hand at crabbing in Netarts. (2) Visit the Cape Meares light house. The nearby Octopus tree, a giant Sitka spruce with massive branches that radiate out from near the base will enchant kids. (3) Hike the Cape Lookout Trail, a moderate, five-mile out-and-back with lookouts offering gorgeous views south to Haystack Rock and north to Three Arch Rocks.
Today is your day to head back to Portland, but before you do, consider spending some time in Oceanside, a cozy little hideaway located just off the Three Capes Scenic Route, South of Cape Meares, and North of Netarts.
At the northern-most end of Oceanside beach is a tunnel through Maxwell Point. During low tides, the tunnel affords access to Tunnel Beach on the other side. Around the next point at the North end of Tunnel Beach, is Agate Beach, which can only be reached by going around the point on a minus tide. And yet another secluded beach to the North of the next point, during a minus tide, gives access to a natural cave which enters the cliff through one portal and forks into two exits near Short Beach, below Radar Road. This cave is called Lost Boy Cave, for a good reason, and its name provides proper warning to anyone venturing in when the tide turns.
And by all means, don’t get stuck in the cave because you have one last stop to make. Tillamook County is a big dairy area, so you should sample the cheese at either the Great Blue Heron Cheese Factory or the Tillamook Cheese Factory before heading back to Portland via scenic Highway 6 along the Wilson River.
With any luck, you’ll be finding sand in your pockets and shoes long after you’ve returned your GoCamp van.