Ican’t tell you how many times we’ve been cruising along in our travels and I’ve exclaimed, “Oh! Look at that beautiful view/interesting wayside trail/cool one-street town/yummy café” and we’ve just zoomed on by, because there isn’t a place to pull over with our trailer and we still have a long drive ahead of us. (Left to my own devices, I would pull over at every whim. But I do realize that we would never get anywhere at that rate.)
We’ve spent the past couple of weeks on the north Oregon Coast, moving short distances and spending four or five days in each place. It’s been great. And there’s been almost enough time to explore all of the places that capture our interest.
Following our stay in Tillamook, we moved 25 miles up the coast to Nehalem Bay State Park, another lovely Oregon State Park. Not only is the natural setting gorgeous, the picturesque little towns of Nehalem, Manzanita, and Cannon Beach are nearby. Being so close to Portland, there’s a hip vibe that’s drifted over to the coast, which means that along with beach strolls and hiking nearby trails, we could get good coffee, browse bookstores and intriguing shops, and enjoy creative offerings from local cafés.
The proximity of Portland also means that we were close enough for Eric’s sister Peggy to drive over for a visit. We spent a couple of days together exploring the adorable town of Manzanita and relaxing and catching up. It’s always fun when we’re together. We also were able to catch up with our friends Rick and Kim, whom we last saw in Taos. They’ve recently bought a sweet home in Seaside, which they’ve beautifully renovated. We spent a delightful afternoon and evening with them, including a long walk along the beach and dinner at a tasty Mediterranean café.
We rose early one morning to head to Cannon Beach, only 25 miles away. Our goal was to see Tufted Puffins at Haystack Rock, an iconic landmark on Cannon Beach and home to a nesting colony of puffins (as well as Pigeon Guillemots, Common Murres, Pelagic Cormorants, Western Gulls, and Black Oystercatchers). We had great views of the birds, but came away with no photos of Tufted Puffins. When they leave their nest burrows in search of fish, the puffins fly speedily and awkwardly overhead, like little bowling pins with wings. They are impossible to photograph in flight—and when they head back to their nests, they disappear immediately into their burrows. The lack of photo opportunities notwithstanding, we had a blast watching them.
Five miles south of Cannon Beach is Hug Point State Recreation Site. We were lured by the promise of unique scenic beauty, where at low tide, a half-mile hike leads to a beach with beautiful sandstone caves, a seasonal waterfall, and tidepools. Little did we know that the history here is as interesting as the landscape.
Before the coastal highway was built, people traveled the coast via the beach. Getting around this particular headland required hugging the point at low tide (hence the name). Stagecoaches plunged into the sea to careen around the point, until someone decided to blast a trail through the rock. Even then, it was a risky ride. At low tide, you can walk along the original stagecoach road, just steps from the pounding surf and tidepools below. At high tide, the old road floods quickly—you had better move fast when the tide starts to roll back in (I speak from experience).
The Hug Point road played an important role in the fight to preserve public access to Oregon beaches. In 1913, Governor Oswald West used the road as an example of why Oregon beaches needed to remain public—he basically saved the beaches by declaring them state highways. In many cases, such as Hug Point, there were no alternative routes. Although the beaches are no longer highways (thank goodness!) all of us Oregonians are really happy that Governor West had the foresight to preserve our beautiful beaches and keep them out of the clutches of private ownership.
At Oswald West State Park (named in honor of Governor West), just 10 miles south of Cannon Beach, we hiked the beautiful Cape Falcon Trail, a five-mile round trip journey that winds through a forest of ferns, cedars, and spruces and ends up in a maze of tall salal and wild beach roses. We bushwhacked our way through to openings that revealed spectacular views of the coastline below. We highly recommend this gorgeous hike.
As far as culinary adventures, we loved Buttercup in Nehalem, a fabulous little take-away eatery that serves up excellent chowders and ice creams. That’s it for the menu. But oh wow, the chef/owner is a genius. She sources everything locally, including fresh seafood, dairy products, organic vegetables, and even local salt from Jacobsen Salt (the little salt producer we visited near Tillamook). The offerings change frequently; we came away with spring clam chowder and Malaysian fish chowder (both excellent) and a basil strawberry sorbet that was ridiculously good.
About the campground:
Nehalem Bay State Park is another beautiful coastal Oregon State Park. The sites are spacious, level, and surrounded by shore pines, each with a grassy sitting area, picnic table, and fire pit. We especially liked the sites in A-loop, and even better, those backing up to the dunes (we were in one of those sites). Electric and water hookups, good Verizon coverage, quiet, and dark night skies—all things that make us happy. Walking trails lead from the campground through the dunes to four miles of beautiful beaches that we always seemed to have to ourselves.