Comprising 363 miles of premier coastline, Oregon’s Highway 101 is both historic and beautiful as it covers some of the state’s best travel destinations. Speckled with adorable fishing towns, fresh caught seafood, towering sea stacks, and plenty of epic viewpoints, it is equal parts gorgeous and wild as it traverses the rocky and oftentimes moody Pacific coast. With ever-changing terrain that features ocean, forests, and mountains along with plenty of sandy beaches, sharp corners, and eroded cliffs, it is an unforgettable drive that can be done in either a day or a week (although we suggest taking at least four days!).
Time of Year:
The Oregon coast is stunning year-round and can be driven at any time. While it is the most popular in the summer when the weather reaches the 70s and 80s and is mostly sunny, it is also a wonderful drive in the fall and spring when there are fewer tourists and temperatures are in the 50s and 60s. If you are more worried about avoiding people rather than the weather, consider visiting during the winter months to catch some storms and impressive showers. While rain may ruin a nice beach day in California or Florida, it oftentimes elevates the raw beauty of Oregon’s untamed coast.
No matter what time of year you visit, you should pack plenty of layers. The Pacific is shockingly cold year-round and can cause sudden weather shifts, even on a cloudless and sunny day! It is not uncommon to run into the marine layer when driving along the coast. This thick fog can be chilly and limit views, but it typically burns off by mid-morning. If you happen to visit on a day when it does not burn off, just head inland a few miles and the weather will be drastically different.
If you are interested in tide pooling or hiking while on the coast, make sure to be aware of tide tables. Do plenty of research before any hike as some can be dependent on low tide and, if you are out hiking when high tide comes in, you can become stuck on the beach until the next tidal shift. You can find a good resource to check tidal charts here on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website.
Reception on the Oregon coast can be extremely spotty. It is a good idea to download any maps, trails, or important markers to make sure you can access them without cell service or WiFi. AllTrails is an excellent option to download any hiking trails, and Google Maps allows you to download road directions.
Beach Camping and Bonfires:
You can have bonfires on any public beach in Oregon, but please be aware of any nearby fire bans, especially during the summer months. Locals often sell bundles of firewood for $5, so plan to have plenty of picnics and take advantage of some of the coast’s beach camping opportunities. While free beach camping can be remote and difficult to access, it does exist outside of state parks and city limits. It is probably best to find an established campground or stay at a rental property such as the ones found below.
Passes and Permits:
If you are planning to go hiking or enjoy some of the coastal parks, you should consider buying an Oregon State Park Pass to save money on entrance fees. While the entire Oregon Coast Scenic Byway can be driven without any passes or permits, it is a good idea to buy them ahead of time for any activities you are planning on doing while on your trip. An Oregon State Park Pass can be bought at most convenience stores or gas stations along your route.
Driving Distance: 25 miles
Highlights: Astoria, Fort Stevens State Park, Seaside, Ecola State Park, Cannon Beach
Your road trip starts in Astoria, Oregon, a charming harbor town known for its food and beer scene. Spend your morning strolling the streets, trying out the local cuisine, visiting the Astoria Film Museum (calling all Goonies fans!), or make your way to the Astoria Column and climb to the top. When you’re ready, travel about 20 minutes away to Fort Stevens State Park where you can walk through the skeletal remains of the Peter Iredale shipwreck.
About 30 minutes down the road from Astoria is Seaside where you can grab some gelato, walk the Prom, and visit some tourist shops. If you’re an animal lover, consider visiting the Seaside Aquarium where you can feed the seals and learn about marine life. Then, head to Ecola State Park. With large cliffs, plenty of sea stacks, and old-growth forests, this state park is a jaw-dropping example of just how rugged the Oregon coast can be. Popular hikes include the Tillamook Lighthouse Trail, or the Clatsop Loop Trail. If you’re not up for a hike, consider exploring the tide pools on Indian Beach. From here, make your way to Cannon Beach where the iconic Haystack rock formation endures both weather and sea. Grab some blankets, marshmallows, and firewood to light up a bonfire while the sun sets behind Haystack Rock. Consider grabbing a few beers from the local Pelican Brewing for a truly unforgettable night.
Highlights: Hug Point, Oswald West State Park, Manzanita, Nehalem Bay State Park, Rockaway Beach, Tillamook Creamery, Three Capes Scenic Route
Wake up in Cannon Beach and get ready for a big day! Just south of the town sits a small parking area where you can hike to the iconic Hug Point and find a small sea cave and a waterfall that pours into the Pacific Ocean. Six minutes down the road from Hug Point is Oswald West State Park. Famous for its secluded beaches, old-growth forests, and the Devil’s Cauldron. This is a must-stop for any nature lover! Take the 0.1-mile walk to Devil’s Cauldron where the ocean crashed into a small cove, walk the trail to Short Sand Beach and find amazing views of the nearby Elk Flats, or find a new trail and explore on your own.
After your walk, continue driving to the small town of Manzanita where you can grab an early lunch at any of the small artsy shops. Continue to Nehalem Bay State Park, a 4-mile sand spit that meets the ocean. Right down the road from Nehalem is Rockaway Beach which has the Twin Rocks, the Rockaway Big Tree, and plenty of opportunities to explore cute shops. 19 minutes down the road from Rockaway Beach is the Tillamook Creamery, an essential stop for anyone with a sweet tooth. Take a tour of the factory, try out one of the many flavors of ice cream, and make sure to sample some cheese.
From Tillamook, head 20 minutes to Oceanside where you will start the Three Capes Scenic Route along Highway 101. While the route only consists of 29 miles, you will find plenty of opportunities to pull over and enjoy the spectacular views. The route is named after the three capes you will pass, Cape Meares, Cape Lookout, and Cape Kiwanda. Spend your evening exploring this unique area, and land in Pacific City for the night.
Highlights: Lincoln City, Depoe Bay, Devil’s Punchbowl, Newport, Seal Rock, Yachats, Thor’s Well, Heceta Head Lighthouse, Sea Lion Cave, Florence
After waking up in Pacific City, drive 30 minutes down the road to Lincoln City. One of the biggest towns on the Oregon coast, it is famous for its glass-blowing, fresh seafood, and beautiful views. Each year local artisans hide 3,000 blown glass floats on the 7-mile stretch of beach between Roads End and Siletz Bay. Try your luck at finding a float, or head into town and make your own at one of the glass-blowing studios. Another option if you’re looking for something outdoors, hike a 4.8 mile out and back trail to God’s Thumb, a famous grassy mound that offers spectacular views of the ocean.
From Lincoln City, head about 20 minutes south to Depoe Bay. With a rugged coastline, plenty of whales, and beautiful cliffs, Depoe Bay is considered the whale-watching capital of Oregon. It also has an adorable downtown with coffee shops, artisans, and good food. From here, head to Devil’s Punchbowl. This is a highly windy area, but it has a unique geologic formation where the roof of a sea cave collapsed, leaving a giant crater where waves pound into the rocks.
Just down the road from Devil’s Punchbowl is Yaquina Head Lighthouse. Built in the 19th century, it is the tallest lighthouse on the Oregon coast and well worth a stop. Continue driving to Newport, the home of the original Mo’s Seafood and Chowder. While you will have most likely seen plenty of Mo’s Chowder Houses along the road thus far, this one will make your taste buds sing. After lunch, venture 15 minutes down the road to Seal Rock. While you may not find seals here, it does have fantastic tide pools and a large rock that reportedly looks like a seal (although some have a hard time seeing it!).
Only 20 minutes south is Thor’s Well and the Heceta Head Lighthouse. Thor’s Well is another unique geologic phenomenon where a large sinkhole in the ocean fills with water each time a wave comes in, only to mysteriously drown down into the earth. Most likely a collapsed sea cave, it is a sight to behold. After Thor’s Well, Heceta Head Lighthouse offers a rare opportunity to enter and tour a lighthouse.
After Heceta Head Lighthouse, head only five minutes away to the Sea Lion Cave. America’s largest naturally formed sea cave, this tourist attraction is actually worth a stop. While it’s located on private land and requires an entrance fee, the cave is 12 stories tall and 300 feet long. It’s a unique opportunity to enter a sea cave and watch the sea lions as they rest and play. From here, head to Florence where you will rest for the next busy and adventure-filled day.
Highlights: Shore Acres State Park, Bandon, Gold Beach, Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor
Known for its sand dunes, Florence is the perfect spot to rent a board and hit the dunes after breakfast! Sandboarding is a big attraction here, along with antique shops, the Boardwalk Farmers Market, and horseback riding.
1.5 hours from Florence and just south of Coos Bay is a trio of state parks all within a 3-mile stretch. They consist of Shore Acres, Cape Arago, and Sunset Bay. Shore Acres features a rugged coastline and a large Japanese botanical garden; Cape Arago consists of a jutting headland with spectacular whale watching; and Sunset Bay has classic sandy beaches. Spend your morning exploring these areas and taking it slow.
Heading south, you’ll eventually hit the “banana belt,” which is the warmer and more southern section of the Oregon coast. In this area sits the small town of Bandon, which is nearby to the Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint and Devil’s Kitchen. Another hour south, and Gold Beach awaits. A small town that packs a big punch, it has the wreck of the Mary D. Hume which can be spotted just offshore at the mouth of the Rogue River. Another worthy stop is the Pistol River State Scenic Viewpoint, which offers a fantastic view of the sandy dune and rock formations.
Only 15 minutes down the road from Gold Beach, you will hit the southern tip of Oregon and the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. A 12-mile stretch between Gold Beach and Brookings, its most famous stops include Natural Bridges, Arch Rock, Secret Beach, Indian Sands trail, and Whaleshead Beach. Each stop has amazing views of the unique scenery and offers a final goodbye to the beauty of the Oregon coast.
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Serenity Homes Enchanting Cabin, Ruby, New York, United States