Ultimate Tour of the North Oregon Coast: Astoria to Neskowin
By Gary Hayes
Published: 09/13/2013  Updated: 05/03/2019
Photo by Gary Hayes

With beautiful sandy beaches stretching out between scenic rainforest-covered headlands and dramatic rocky coastlines, the North Oregon Coast offers unimaginable beauty at every turn.

Some of the Oregon Coast's great scenic viewpoints, lush rainforest hiking trails, historical attractions and quaint coastal communities can be discovered on Oregon's North Coast. Visitors can explore Astoria, the oldest settlement west of the Rockies; Seaside, Oregon's first beach resort town and very possibly the Northwest's favorite family destination; Cannon Beach, a scenic wonderland and renowned art town; and at least a dozen other small towns on the edges of scenic beaches, rivers and bays. Beautiful natural areas like Ecola State Park, Cape Meares, Oswald West State Park and Cape Lookout offer stunning sights and scenic hikes. You can visit a more than 100-year-old shipwreck at Fort Stevens State Park, walk Seaside's historic oceanfront promenade and explore tide pools at Oregon's iconic Haystack Rock. The region also offers one of the best side trips off scenic Highway 101, the Three Capes Scenic Route.

Astoria, the oldest US settlement west of the Rocky Mountains, was the first commercial hub of the West Coast due to its strategic position near the mouth of the Columbia River. Today, a riverfront walk offers views of the river, now busy with cargo ships, rather than the sailing ships of the earliest international traders. A restored trolley also traverses the river front, passing working waterfront buildings and old cannery piers intermixed with hotels, pubs and restaurants. The Columbia River Maritime Museum is a top attraction on the riverfront. Victorian homes climb the hillside of Astoria and the top of town is crowned with the Astoria Column, a lighthouse-like structure built in the 1920s offering panoramic views of the entire region.

US 101 Milepost 6.5
Fort Stevens State Park stretches from the south jetty of the Columbia River south along a sandy beach where you can still see the remains of a shipwreck from over 100 years ago. Encompassing 4200 acres, the Park includes a large campground, a network of nine miles of paved bicycle trails and six miles of hiking trails that allow you to explore forests, lakes, wetlands, dunes and beach. Visitors can explore the military fortifications that served to defend the Columbia River through World War II. A military museum shares the history of the Fort that dates back to the Civil War.

US 101 Milepost 7.1
One of the top sites of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, Fort Clatsop features visitor center exhibits, multi-media programs and a full size re-creation of the fort built by the Lewis and Clark expedition to endure the winter of 1806. During the summer and for some other special events, authentically costumed re-enactors offer interpretive programs.

Oregon's first beach resort town is known as one of the Northwest's top family destinations. Family friendly shops, restaurants and attractions ranging from a large arcade to bumper cars line famous Broadway street which ends at the beach and the historic automobile turnaround. The Turnaround and Seaside's 1.5 mile oceanfront promenade are top attractions in Seaside and are among the Oregon Coast's most recognized landmarks dating from the 1920s.

US 101 Milepost 28
A day-use park offering panoramic views of the coast including Cannon Beach, Haystack Rock and other offshore rocks; headlands to the south and the offshore Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. The main viewpoint area offers paved walking trails and hiking trailheads. The Indian Beach parking area offers beach access and additional hiking trails including the Tillamook Head Trail crossing six miles over the headland to Seaside. This is one of the coast's best Gray Whale watching viewpoints during the twice-annual migration. Watch for the frequent sightings of Bald Eagles and Roosevelt Elk too.

This destination combines small town beach resort character with great nearby natural areas and is known as one of the Northwest's top art towns, home to numerous galleries in this picturesque community. Oregon's famous Haystack Rock sits at the edge of the beach and Ecola State Park is accessed from the north end of town. Haystack Rock is part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and is home to the state's most easily viewed colony of Tufted Puffins during spring and summer. The tidepool area at its base is one of Oregon's seven designated Marine Garden protected areas.

US 101 Milepost 39
Sky-high scenic views from roadside turnouts offer stunning panoramic views from the edge of Neahkahnie Mountain. A short trail leads to Short Sand Beach and hiking trails extend to the end of Cape Falcon and climb Neahkahnie Mountain. The park encompasses 2484 acres including a 13-mile stretch of the Oregon Coast Trail that weaves its way through the entire park, starting at the community of Arch Cape.

Just three miles south of Oswald West State Park, several miles of sandy beach stretch out to the south from the base of Neahkahnie Mountain past the quaint town of Manzanita. Laneda Avenue serves as the main street in town and meanders down to the beach between unique shops and restaurants befitting this artisan-centric beach town.

Located along the banks of the Nehalem River, this town is adorned with hanging baskets of brilliant blooms at fun shops and restaurants along the main street. Nearby is Nehalem Bay State Park, featuring ocean and bayfront beaches, camping, hiking and bike trails.

US 101 Milepost 43.8
Campground and day use areas on a four-mile long sand spit with ocean on one side and Nehalem Bay on the other. The park features a forested 1.8-mile long bike path.

Wheeler is located on the southern shore of Nehalem Bay. Cast a line or drop a crab net into the water from the public dock. Nehalem Bay and the Nehalem River offer kayaking, fishing and crabbing, with boats and crab pots available for rent along the shore. For a more relaxed visit, visitors can enjoy a picnic along the waterfront or at Upper City Park, overlooking the town and river.

Located across the bay from Nehalem Bay State Park, Brighton is a great spot for crabbing, clamming and fishing. In addition to boat rentals, the local marina offers the option to have your catch cooked on the spot for a truly fresh seafood experience.

With seven miles of beaches and Twin Rocks just off shore, Rockaway Beach offers easy access to its small town beach experience. The historic town with railroad beginnings grew up along the line reaching from Portland to Tillamook in the early 1900s and pays appropriate tribute with a red caboose-housed visitor information center along the highway near easy access to the beach. Visitors can still catch a train here and explore the shores of Tillamook Bay.

An active port and marina, Garibaldi is a small fishing village at the northern end of Tillamook Bay. Visitors can ride the rails along Tillamook Bay from here to Rockaway Beach, charter a boat and go fishing, paddle a kayak out for some birdwatching or enjoy the local museum specializing in the history of this port and mill town.

Best known as the home to Tillamook Cheese, the Tillamook County Creamery visitor center draws nearly a million visitors each year. At the Latimer Quilt & Textile Center you will find quilts and textiles dating back to 1851. Just south of Tillamook, a hiking trail leads through ancient Sitka Spruce and Western Red Cedar along Munson Creek to Munson Creek Falls, the tallest waterfall in the coast range, dropping 319 feet. Tillamook is the northern gateway to the Three Capes Scenic Route.

See below for recommended side trip to Three Capes Scenic Route

From the Neskowin Beach State Recreation Site wayside just off the highway, follow the path along Hawk Creek to the beach and Proposal Rock.

RECOMMENDED SIDE TRIP: Three Capes Scenic Route

(Southbound: US 101 MP 65.7; Northbound: US 101 MP 90.3)
The Three Capes Scenic Route follows a stretch of coastline between Tillamook and Pacific City while the Coast Highway runs inland. The route's top stops include Cape Meares, Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda, but also passes through the dune landscape of Sand Lake and along scenic Netarts Bay. From north to south:

Cape Meares rises 200 feet above the waves offering panoramic views and a short walk to an historic lighthouse. The natural area includes three miles of hiking trails and a mile long walking trail through old growth Sitka Spruce including the uniquely shaped Octopus Tree. One of the coast's best spots for bird watching and whale watching during the twice-annual migration.

This beach-side parking area offers access to the beach on the south side of Maxwell Mountain with Three Arch Rocks visible offshore. From the beach, a crude pedestrian tunnel through the mountain offers access to the beach on the other side during low tides. In the winter months, this spot is prime for agate hunting. Summer is prime time for beachcombing the tidepools, fishing and wildlife viewing.

With opportunities for outdoor adventure and wildlife watching, Netarts Bay is a quiet alternative to busier waterfronts. Protected from the ocean by the Netarts Spit, this seven-mile stretch of water, nestled between Cape Meares and Cape Lookout, is a haven for kayaking, birdwatching, clamming and crabbing.

A beautiful park with three miles of beach, a large campground and day use area great for picnicking with more than eight miles of hiking trails through lush, old growth rainforest to the end of the cape.

Made up of mixed woodlands, grasslands and fresh and saltwater wetlands, this estuary environment is home to a diverse collection of wildlife and sea creatures. The area and its inhabitant wildlife can be seen from a walk around the Whalen Island Loop Trail that circles the island.

With over 1000 acres of open sand dunes, surrounded by forests and the Pacific, the Sand Lake Recreation Area is a unique stop along the Oregon Coast. Outdoor enthusiasts can take advantage of the Sand Lake Estuary by fishing, swimming and hiking; or bring a properly permitted Off-Highway Vehicle to cruise the dunes. Campgrounds are available, but fill up fast during peak seasons.

This sandstone cape stands in contrast to its neighboring basalt headlands. The south side of the cape is a giant sand dune and climbing to the top offers views of the unique sculpted sandstone landscape, sheer cliffs and crashing waves when the surf is up. The base of the cape features tidepools, one of Oregon's seven designated Marine Garden protected areas. Offshore is Haystack Rock, not to be confused with Cannon Beach's Haystack Rock.

The park offers beach access, fishing, picnicking and a horse trail. A trail from the parking lot west takes hikers two miles to the tip of Nestucca Spit.

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Top Attractions for the Central Oregon Coast Click here
Top Attractions for the South Oregon Coast Click here

Ultimate Tour of the North Oregon Coast: Astoria to Neskowin