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A Karen Brown Recommended Itinerary

Edge of the World
The Oregon Coast Itinerary

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ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN'S GUIDE:  A trip along the Oregon coast is like a trip along the very edge of the world, where one small piece of North America comes finally to an end and drops dramatically into the Pacific Ocean. Mist and mild temperatures, awe-inspiring scenery, and a wide range of recreational activities make this one of the state's most popular regions for Oregonians and visitors alike. Here one comes to revel in quiet; in raw and rugged landscapes and unspoiled sandy beaches; in revitalizing ocean breezes; and for the liberating sensation of sheer space and remoteness. Town populations are small. The way of life is relaxed and unhurried. When deciding how you want to approach your visit, keep in mind that it is not at all necessary to make the entire 362-mile trip from the California to the Washington border (or vice versa, of course) to appreciate the beauty and wonder of the coastline. One- and two-day trips from many of the destinations we cover in other Oregon itineraries are not only realistic, but a great way to mix things up a bit and enjoy a variety of the landscapes that make the state so unique. The approach we'll take here is to segment the coast into three separate sections: South Coast, Central Coast, and North Coast. We'll highlight our favorite spots along the way and interject an alternative route or two to inland places of interest in case you do decide to mix and match itineraries to vary your experience.

Recommended Pacing: If you want to take a top-to-bottom approach and focus all your attention on the ocean setting, you might spend two nights in each of the three regions we cover here. If you are combining your visit with other inland regions of the state, remember that day trips are easy. You can get to the north coast from Portland in about an hour. We once made a perfect day trip from Portland, taking Hwy 18 westward through the Willamette Valley, heading up the coast as far as Cannon Beach, then back to the city via Hwy 26. We had plenty of time to make spontaneous stops along the way, including a delicious waterfront dinner in Cannon Beach. Likewise, the central coast is a stone's throw from Eugene, and the south coast makes a great sojourn from the Ashland area.

SOUTH COAST

California's densest redwood forests greet the state of Oregon here, where the rugged Siskiyou Mountains give way to a series of rocky headlands and the mighty Rogue River cuts a path to the Pacific. Coastal rainforests on the south coast are considered among the most diverse in the country.

Let's take 101 North from the California border to our first stop in Brookings. This particular segment of coastline enjoys the warmest coastal weather in the entire Pacific Northwest.  Flowers thrive here, especially Easter lilies and other varieties known to prefer winter months. You might take a stroll through Azalea Park (watch for signs off 101 just west of the Chetco River Bridge) to enjoy a display of some the area's most prized blooms. In April and May the azaleas are at their most glorious, but you can count on a beautiful display no matter what the time of year.

We took a short, easy walk through nearby Loeb State Park (farther inland via the same road that took us to Azalea Park; open daily year round; 541-469-2021). With a printed handout we collected at the Redwood Grove Nature Trail trailhead, we learned how to tell the difference between a coastal redwood and a Douglas fir, the difference between four varieties of ferns, and what to call that gold-bellied creature that kept skittering across our path: a newt! It is a tranquil thing indeed to walk through a forest like this.

Boardman State Park is only 4 miles north of downtown Brookings. (Open year round from dawn to dusk; 800-551-6949.) This is an absolutely gorgeous stretch of coastline, providing multiple opportunities to pull over and draw inspiration from the beauty of your surroundings. Two stops in particular are simply required now that you're here: the trail to the Thomas Creek Bridge and the brief walk to Natural Bridge Cove. Both are located very near the north end of the park. Watch for signs.

It's at Gold Beach that the powerful Rogue River empties into the Pacific Ocean. Whatever else you decide to do in this area, don't miss the chance to sign up for a jet-boat excursion up the mighty Rogue. Some 40 miles of riverside from Gold Beach to Grants Pass are protected within the Siskiyou National Forest Service, where the only access is by foot or boat, so this is a perfect opportunity for an intimate glimpse into this beautiful wild place. We recommend Jerry’s Rogue River Jet Boats for an entertaining, educational, and invigorating adventure (May through October, 800-451-3645, www.roguejets.com.) Boats depart from a well marked dock located in Gold Beach on the south side of the bridge that crosses the Rogue as you travel north on 101. These trips are perfect for all ages, so if you're traveling with children, consider this a terrific way to spend the day. Jerry's vessels are modern riverboats custom designed for the river and certified by the Coast Guard, so you don't have to worry about safety. Tours of different lengths are available, but we encourage you to take the 104-mile excursion to venture deep into the forest and climb some 350 feet up a series of rapids. Allow eight hours for a round trip, which includes lunch or dinner, depending on your departure time. The first leg of the journey takes place in a lovely estuary where temperatures are often chilly, so grab one of the on-board blankets-you won't need it long as you make your way east into the hotter, drier inland areas. Your guide will describe the gorgeous surroundings and you'll have fun looking for river otters, birds, deer, and even bears. At the rustic and forested town of Agness, you'll switch to a smaller boat, one better designed to navigate the narrow gorges, hairpin turns, and shallow rapids ahead. This is truly a voyage now! At Paradise Lodge farther inland, you'll stop for sustenance before making your reluctant way back to the ocean. Talk to Jerry about the option to spend the night at Paradise Lodge, if you prefer. Guestrooms are small and plainly furnished, but appropriate to this spot so far from civilization!

Alternative Inland Loop: Southern Oregon (well, all of Oregon, for that matter) is replete with scenic back roads providing alternative ways to get around. From June to about early October-when snowfall doesn't close it-the Shasta Costa Road from Gold Beach to Galice is a great adventure: an intimate look at the sylvan Siskiyou National Forest on an only-recently, sometimes-questionably, paved and narrow road that proves a rewarding break from the "usual." If you have the time to move slowly, try this route. Watch for signs from just north of Gold Beach on 101 directing you east toward Agness or Galice (the Shasta Costa Road is also called 33, and later 23). You'll feel far removed from civilization as you make your way through the forest. From Galice, follow signs to the tiny hamlet of Merlin and on to Grants Pass. Your loop might take you south from Grants Pass on 199 South through the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, on through the immense, redwood groves and impossible, rock-bound canyons of the Smith River Gorge, all the way back to Hwy 101 near Crescent City. From here, it's a quick trip (about 40 miles) back up to Gold Beach. Refer to our Southern Oregon itinerary for a look at all there is to do inland in this beautiful region.

 From Gold Beach, continue on 101 North to Bandon. Exit at either Chicago, 2nd, or Delaware Streets and follow the signs to Old Town. Visitors enjoy rambling through Old Town to enjoy the shops and fine galleries or to watch the fishing boats sail in and out of the harbor. But nature is what really calls to you in this corner of the world. At the west end of 11th Street, for example, right off Beach Loop Drive, you'll find Coquille Point. Take a walk on the paved trail there and enjoy views of beautiful Bandon Beach with its strange sea stacks and profusion of birds. Two miles north of Bandon on 101, a gentle 3-mile road through Bullards Beach State Park (open daily year round; 541-347-2209) guides you through coastal forest, along the north bank of the Coquille Estuary, and out to the Coquille River Lighthouse, one of nine stately lighthouses to stand guard along the Oregon coastline.

The old lumber towns of Coos Bay, North Bend, and Charleston are sometimes referred to as Oregon's "Bay Area," once an extremely busy commercial hub where the timber industry thrived. Today, visitors are drawn here by three landmarks immediately southwest of Coos Bay via the Cape Arago midway: Shore Acres State Park, Cape Arago State Park, and South Slough National Estuarine Preserve. (Look for signs to the midway between Bandon and Coos Bay on 101.) Once the grounds of a 20th-century private estate, Shore Acres is now an impressive 743-acre garden, the winner of numerous landscape design awards, and most notable for its many unusual botanicals. (Open year round daily from 8 am to dusk.) At nearby Cape Arago State Park, an easy trail leads north along a ridge to an excellent vantage point for viewing the marine animals that make these offshore rocks their home. On clear days, you can see south to Bandon, but in a winter storm, watch out! Winds can reach epic proportions on this ridge. (Open year round, daily, from 8 am to dusk; 541-888-3778 or 800-551-6949.) You might also enjoy a visit to South Slough National Estuarine Preserve, one of seven tidal inlets that collectively form the Coos Estuary. An Interpretive Center is open to the public (daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day, from 8 am to 4 pm; 541-888-5558). It houses exhibits, a video viewing area, and a bookstore, and there is an outdoor amphitheater for special presentations (or just for resting). Several easy trails, varying in length from ¼ mile to 3 miles, give you immediate access to this preserve, which is peaceful yet teeming with life. Try the wonderful Estuary Study Trail, a 3-mile series of scenic loops. 

CENTRAL COAST

Stretching some 40 miles from Coos Bay to Florence, the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is considered one of the best examples of coastal dune formation anywhere in the country. Roughly midway, some 11 miles south of Reedsport on the ocean side of 101, watch for signs to the Umpqua Scenic Dunes Trail. Park the car, take off your shoes, and get out on the open sand! Farther up the road, about 10 miles south of Florence, three raised platforms provide excellent viewpoints, informative signage, and an easy 1-mile trail across the dunes to the beach.

The Cape Perpetua Scenic Area just south of Yachats (say YAH hots) has to be one of the most beautiful sections of the Oregon coast. Characterized by 2,700 acres of Sitka spruce rainforest, it's a Sherwood Forest right out of your dreams. Stop at the Interpretive Center right off 101 to see films and exhibits about the area. (Open daily between Memorial Day and Labor Day from 9 am to 5 pm, and 10 am to 4 pm on weekends the rest of the year; 541-547-3289.) While you're at it, collect walking maps, for there are some 23 miles of stunning trails in this region. Try the half-mile Captain Cook Trail, taking you from forest to ancient basalt at the water's edge.

Next stop, Newport, established in 1882, and today a bustling coastal community of over 9,000 people. Its heart is a working waterfront on Yaquina Bay, where fishing fleets and fresh seafood markets share space with galleries, shops, and restaurants. You'll want to visit Newport's first-class Oregon Coast Aquarium, where five impressive indoor exhibits offer intimate views of life on the Oregon shoreline and out in the open sea. The Passages of the Deep exhibit is really something: you'll feel like an underwater explorer as you come face to face with sharks, rockfish, and sting rays from an underwater tunnel. Be sure to see the Enchanted Seas exhibit, which takes you on a journey into the mystical world of seahorses, sea dragons, and other magical sea creatures. Six acres of outdoor exhibits add to this comprehensive sea museum, including your chance to get up-close peeks at sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, tufted puffins, a giant Pacific octopus, and a walk-through seabird aviary. (2820 SE Ferry Slip Road; open daily Memorial Day to Labor Day, from 9 am to 6 pm, and after Labor Day, from 10 am to 5 pm; 541-867-3474; www.aquarium.org.)

Four miles north of Newport, the Interpretive Center at Yaquina Head Outstanding Na (follow the signage off Hwy 101) offers first-rate exhibits and videos to introduce you to this unique spot: a 100-acre column of ancient lava stretching 1 mile out into the ocean. (Open daily, year round; 541-574-3100.) Just south of the center, at the tip of the Quarry Cove Inter-tidal headlands, stands Yaquina Lighthouse (open daily from June 15th to September 15th for guided morning tours, weather permitting), built in 1873 and billed as the tallest lighthouse on the Oregon coast at 93 feet.

NORTH COAST

Let's leave Hwy 101 for a moment and get a break from the highway. About 30 miles north of Newport, take a right onto Hwy 18. Stop at the Otis Cafe in Otis (just a couple of miles up Hwy 18 on your left) for an amazing piece of fresh-from-the-oven fruit pie. It's a down-home, Northwest roadside café that locals love. Order that pie à la mode! (Open every day in summer from 7 am to 9 pm. When the "kids are back in school," hours change: Monday to Thursday from 7 am to 3 pm, and from 7 am to 9 pm on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.) As you leave the café, head north on Old Scenic Highway 101 (it's well marked alongside the café) and take it a brief, but lovely, distance as it wends through quiet sections of the Suislaw National Forest and returns you to 101 at Neskowin.

Alternative Inland Loop from Portland: If you are exploring the North Coast by way of the Portland area, a great loop might look something like this: Starting in Portland, take I-5 South to 99W (the "Wine Road") through the Willamette Valley. Pick up Hwy 18 in McMinnville and follow it out to the coast. Head north on 101, following the route recommended in the North Coast portion of this itinerary, then head east again at Cannon Beach on Hwy 26, for a sylvan path back to the city. Depending on how much you want to see and do as you go, you can either make this a long but fulfilling day trip, or extend the journey by spending the night on the coast before returning to the city. See the Portland Area itinerary, especially the Wine Country section, for ideas on fun things to do en route to the coast.

About 7 miles north of Neskowin, you'll have another chance to turn off the highway and get closer to the water. Taking these scenic detours is the best way to enjoy the coast, time permitting, since many stretches of 101 pass through some less-than-appealing settings. Turn left onto Brooten Road to follow the signs for 3 Capes Scenic Route, a 39-mile detour along the water, through forests, and past the remote seaside communities of Pacific City, Sandlake, Netarts, and Oceanside. (You'll have several opportunities to cut back to 101 as you go, in case you find yourself pressed for time.) A couple of miles past Pacific City, the coast unfolds dramatically as rolling, forested hills spill into the ocean. Take advantage of turnouts and viewpoints when you can. If you have time for a walk, we recommend the Cape Lookout Trailhead (about 2-3 miles before reaching Cape Lookout State Park), from which you'll have your choice of three routes, ranging from 1-4/5 to 2-2/5 miles and from easy to difficult, through coastal rainforests and along rocky cliffs. Breathtaking views!

The 3 Capes Scenic Route will join 101 again near Tillamook, the center of Oregon's dairy industry. You might want to stop here and visit the Pioneer Museum (2106 Second St; open Monday to Saturday from 8 am to 5 pm, Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm; 503-842-4553) or drive 2 miles south of town to the Tillamook Air Museum, an impressive private collection of World War II aircraft (6030 Hangar Road; open daily from 10 am to 5 pm; 503-842-1130). On your way north on the 101, you can watch cheese being made at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, just outside town (4175 Hwy 101 N; open daily from 8 am to 8 pm, June 15 to September 15; from 8 am to 6 pm the rest of the year; 503-815-1300). A few miles south of Nehalem, Manhattan Beach is wide and sandy, good for strolling and soaking in the sun (follow the signs off 101 to Manhattan Beach State Wayside and walk the short path to the beach). The town of Manzanita is funky and friendly, with great beaches and enviable ocean-view homes in the hills. The next stretch of 101 North from Manzanita is just beautiful. You'll pass the verdant Oswald West State Park, a popular spot for camping and fishing (503-368-3575), and the tiny romantic beach at Hug Point.

The next village of Cannon Beach is considered the center for artistic activity on the Oregon coast. It is more contemporary and more sophisticated, especially along Hemlock Street, than many of its counterpart coastal towns, all the while retaining a small-town feeling. Travelers come to enjoy the shops and restaurants, but no visit here would be complete without a stop at the pristine and magnificent Ecola State Park (open from 6 am to 10 pm daily year round; 503-436-2844). Ecola ("Whale Creek" to the native Indians) was the spot at which William Clark, Sacajawea, and the men of the Corps of Discovery traded with Tillamook Indians in 1806 for whale blubber and whale meat, in a no-doubt deliriously happy transaction to supplement their spartan and monotonous diets. So taken was Clark with this particular stretch of coastline, that an awestruck description appears in his journal. This 1,300-acre park includes a picture-perfect stretch of beach that's great for walking. A waterside forest of old-growth Sitka spruce and western hemlock makes for a protected habitat for elk and deer. For a good 6-mile hike, try the Tillamook Head Trail beginning at Indian Beach. Prefer a short stroll to an amazing overlook? Try Ecola Point just 2 miles north of the park entrance, where a ¼-mile path leads you from the parking lot to the headlands.

Speaking of Lewis and Clark, the Fort Clatsop National Memorial, where a 125-acre site honors the 1805-06 winter encampment of the expedition, is a must-see for those interested in this remarkable piece of American history (follow signs to Fort Clatsop Road off Business 101; open daily from 8 am to 5 pm). A community-built replica of the explorers' fort is the focus. A large Visitor Center includes two theaters and an excellent exhibit hall.  (Hours vary seasonally; 503-861-2471.)

At the very top of the Oregon coast sits the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies, Astoria. It was first visited by the English Captain Robert Gray in 1792, then by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805, and thereafter by adventurous pioneers by the thousands. Today a great many restored buildings keep that history alive.

Founded in 1962, the Columbia River Maritime Museum is home to one of the nation's finest displays of model ships and nautical relics. In a 37,000-square-foot space, the museum presents more than 7,000 artifacts, plus the lightship Columbia, a National Historic Landmark. (1792 Marine Drive on the waterfront; open daily from 9:30 am to 5 pm; 503-325-2323; www.crmm.org.)

Climb the 125-foot-high Astoria Column, patterned after Trajan's Column in Rome. The mural art that makes up the exterior of the column is truly impressive, depicting the westward expansion of settlers into the area and Oregon's early history. From the top of the column, you'll have an excellent view of the Pacific Ocean, the Columbia River, Saddle Mountain, and the Clatsop Plain. (From downtown, drive uphill on 16th Street and follow the signage. It's open from 7 am to dusk every day.)

Astoria celebrates its Scandinavian heritage with the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival, held every year in mid-June. This is when local Icelanders, Finns, Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes gather to celebrate their cultures with pole dancing, bonfires that destroy evil spirits, authentic Scandinavian music, a smorgasbord of old-world delicacies, crafts, and a parade.

Alternative Side Trip: True Lewis and Clark enthusiasts would do well to make the trip across the Astoria Bridge over to the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington to see Fort Canby State Park-see the following section.

Also of special interest, The Lewis & Clark Explorer Train: The Lewis & Clark Explorer Train travels from Portland along the Oregon side of the lower Columbia River to Astoria.  The train takes you close to several historic sites and through the countryside visited and traversed by the famous Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery Expedition. Train schedules are seasonal. (www.lcbo.net/train.html)

LONG BEACH PENINSULA

If you've come this far, you might be interested in pushing on a bit farther in a trip to Washington State's Long Beach Peninsula, a long (28 miles) spit of land that separates Willapa Bay from the Pacific Ocean. It's a quiet spot, long ago inhabited by the Chinook Indians, with a surprising selection of unique inns and the promise of tranquility. A glimpse of Northwest history, fishing, and strolling wild and sandy beaches: these pleasures have lured visitors to this corner of Washington State for years.

Fort Canby State Park resides at the southernmost tip of the peninsula. It's primarily a camping and picnicking spot, but Lewis and Clark historians will appreciate the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center there (open daily from 10 am to 5 pm; 360-642-3029). Perched high on a cliff overlooking Cape Disappointment, the center reminds us that it was here that the Corps of Discovery first reached the shores of the Pacific. Before jetties were constructed to control its sandbar, the mouth of the Columbia was known as the "Graveyard of the Pacific." You'll take a self-guided tour detailing the events of the momentous Lewis and Clark Expedition and follow a path to the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, the oldest (1856) operating lighthouse on the West Coast. A tour of nearby North Head Lighthouse, perched atop layers of pillow basalt (formations that shape when lava hits the ocean) is available daily from 10 am to 6 pm between April and October (360-642-3078).

Protected by tall headlands to the west, Ilwaco lies just northeast of Cape Disappointment. It's a popular spot for sports fishermen and a wonderful place to stay.

Oysterville at the northern end of the peninsula was, in the 19th century, a key supplier of oysters to the city of San Francisco. The town is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Buildings of note include a church, an oyster cannery, and an old post office. The peninsula is still a great place for sampling the oysters of Willapa Bay.

Leadbetter Point State Park, at the very top of the peninsula, offers hiking trails through coastal forest, across sand dunes, and over mudflats to the beach or bay. (Open daily year round from dawn to dusk; 360-642-3078.)


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[ icon ] McMinnville
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