Venturing Off the Beaten Path
By Stella Bennett
Published: 06/12/2011  Updated: 08/08/2019

The Three Capes Scenic Loop near Tillamook provides great viewpoints of sand dunes, lighthouses and dramatic ocean panoramas not seen on the Coast Highway.

Coastal visitors miss spectacular scenery and awe-inspiring vistas by only traveling the main highways. The Three Capes Scenic Route in Tillamook County is the perfect example. This side tour from 101 leads visitors past spectacular panoramic viewpoints, a historic lighthouse, dramatic sandscapes and rainforest covered capes. You'll discover great natural areas, hiking, birdwatching, interesting history and miles of sandy beaches to explore. Here are our six, must-stop locations for your tour of the Three Capes Route.

Stop 1: Bayocean
Third Street at Highway 101 in Tillamook is the junction of the Three Capes Scenic Loop. After crossing the Tillamook River Bridge, a right turn onto Bayocean Road leads to Bayocean Peninsula County Park. Seeing the tranquil beach covered with dune grass and Scotch Broom, it's hard to believe this was the site of a planned resort community with 2000 residents in 1914. The building of a jetty and a series of storms created "man-induced" coastal erosion, sending hotels, a theater, other businesses and four miles of paved roads into the sea. The sea claimed the last remaining building in 1971. Today, Bayocean Peninsula County Park is popular with hikers, bird watchers and horseback riders.

Stop 2: Cape Meares
About ten miles west of Tillamook at the north end of the Three Capes Scenic Loop, Cape Meares is the perfect summertime destination for exploring a portion of the beautiful Oregon coast. The star of the show at Cape Meares is the lighthouse, the shortest on the Oregon coast at a mere 38 feet, however it stands atop a 200-foot bluff. The park offers miles of nature trails featuring scenic viewpoints where visitors can often spot Bald Eagles, puffins, Peregrine Falcons and other native birds. Cape Meares hosts a wildlife refuge for creatures of fur and feather, but the park is also a good location for spotting marine life. Migrating whales as well as sea lions, porpoises and dolphins have been seen from the vistas at Cape Meares. Another attraction is the famous Octopus Tree. This gargantuan Sitka spruce is believed to be over 250 years old. Six branches grow upwards from the 50-foot wide trunk. More information on this strange tree can be found in the interpretive center inside the gift shop.

Stop 3: Oceanside
Oceanside is a quiet village of about 350 residents. Beach homes from modest to opulent cling to the rocky hillside overlooking the windswept beach. To the north, a half-mile offshore, lie Three Arch Rocks, designated as the first National Wildlife Refuge west of the Mississippi River. The rocks are home to Oregon's largest colony of Tufted Puffins and support the largest breeding colony of Common Murres south of Alaska. When the tide is out, a tunnel through Maxwell Point at the north end of the beach leads to secluded beaches and rock formations.

Stop 4: Cape Lookout
Nature enthusiasts who enjoy hiking, photography and bird watching will love serene Cape Lookout. At the Cape Lookout State Park, there are over eight miles of hiking trails through lush old-growth forest, including a portion of the Oregon Coast Trail. The headland juts two miles out into the ocean and a trail along the southern edge of the cliffs leads to the tip of the cape, where views stretch northward to Cape Foulweather and south to Haystack Rock off Cape Kiwanda.
The day use area offers nice picnic spots and terrific views.

Stop 5: Sand Lake
As you continue your trek south from Cape Lookout, you re-emerge at sea level where the landscape changes dramatically. Sand drifts and dunes offer views of this unique and ever changing ecosystem. A small parking area offers access to the dunescape. A side trip from your sidetrip will lead to the Sand Lake Recreation Area, over a thousand acres of sand dunes open for the dune buggy crowd.

Stop 6: Cape Kiwanda
Cape Kiwanda, the southernmost of the Three Capes is the smallest of the three and is also different in that it is composed of wind and water sculpted sandstone. Visitors can scale the gigantic dune on the south side of the cape. These upper viewpoints can be a great place to watch spectacular wave action. Tidepools are exposed at the base of the cape during low tides. This is an active place during the summer, popular with surfers, surf kayakers, dory boats, kite flyers and beer lovers who come for the conveniently located Pelican Pub and Brewery that shares the parking lot with the state wayside. Haystack Rock, the world's fourth largest sea stack at 327 feet, rises from the sea just offshore. This location at the town of Pacific City also invites exploration of shopping and dining opportunities.
Venturing Off the Beaten Path