Ah, Oregon - you’re so incredible!
Do you love rocky beaches? Gorgeous sunsets? Sea caves and pirate stories? How about tide pools with starfish in them? How about some hiking? Mountain views? Well, you have come to the right place. Oregon has it all, and you will be rewarded for exploring and spending some time in nature. Charge your batteries, buy extra memory cards, and let’s get rolling!
I absolutely love Oregon. It’s just gorgeous. Whether you are a mountain person or a beach person, you can find what you need there. I have been many times, and hope to return many more. It may just be my favorite place in the US. It’s THAT great.
When I travel places, I tend to scour the web, Google Maps, Flickr and more for the best places where I can (hopefully) take stunning photos while there. It’s worth it to do a lot of research before a big trip, to make sure you don’t miss something that you absolutely don’t want to miss. It sucks to get home and find out you were 5 minutes away from something amazing, and didn't even know it (it's happened to me).
That is how this list got started. I originally created this list of 5 amazing spots on the Oregon coast, because despite several visits out there, I had only heard of 2 of them, and figured that other folks were in the same boat. The other 3 spots I came across either by accident or by online search and a bit of effort on my part.
But you know, 5 spots just isn’t enough for a guy like me. I want to see EVERYTHING POSSIBLE when I am somewhere, and now that I have spent a good deal of time along the Oregon coast, I feel like this list is ready. You can call it a new and expanded version of that other list, but it’s more than that. Read on and find out why.
Most of this is along the northern coastline...
This is EVERYTHING that I could get to that I found photo-worthy, but I will admit it’s mostly concentrated along the northern coastline. Yes, there are definitely more spots to go see and photograph, and I am sure they are awesome. But I can’t put everything on this list, or else it would just be a full map of Oregon and you would be left to figuring it out on your own, right? ;-)
And to clarify, most of my time has been spent along the northern Oregon coast, near the town of Cannon Beach. That entire area is an absolute GOLD MINE and I highly recommend it as a home base for the majority of this list. I did find a wonderful spot in southern Oregon (Bandon, OR - and it’s AMAZING!!) and I am sure there are plenty more down there, too, it's just that 95% of my time in Oregon has been along the northern coast.
Like I said, you could pretty much just stop anywhere and find something beautiful. So yes, most of this list is concentrated along the northern Oregon coast, mostly because that is where I have spent the majority of my time, hence I have a deeper familiarity with it. But that's not the entire reason. It's also because there is just so much in that area. You can literally fill your days exploring all these spots, and return several times under different lighting conditions.
To make this somewhat logical, these spots are NOT listed in any sort of ranking, but they ARE listed in geographic placement from North to South. I feel like that gives you a cleaner sense of how to navigate things, etc. But maybe that’s just a personal preference. I just know that I would hate to see a spot, drive on to another one, and then later realize I missed something else. In other words, I hate back-tracking. It seems so inefficient. :-)
So without further ado, here are the spots that I consider the absolute BEST along the Oregon coast, starting from the North and heading South. These are NOT in any order of preference or ranking. They are all equally awesome in their own way.
Let's get on to the pictures, Jim!!
1) The Astoria-Megler Bridge - Astoria, OR
This monster bridge spans the mighty Columbia River in the town of Astoria, OR and crosses over into Washington State. I found an easy-to-get-to spot with some decks that gave me this excellent view of the bridge, with a nice foreground to go with it (right behind a restaurant). There’s even some parking right there, so you can literally hop out and get your shots quickly.
2) The Columbia River Maritime Museum - Astoria, OR
This museum of maritime history sits rights on the edge of the Columbia River in the center of Astoria, OR. It’s actually a really good museum, and if you have the time, I would highly recommend a visit here. We went twice - we enjoyed it that much. The architecture is gorgeous, the exhibits are great and of course there is a ship out back to photograph (and you can actually go for a tour inside this one)! It's all good fun.
3) The Goonies House - Astoria, OR
Ok, I will admit that I am a huge fan of the old movie The Goonies. I always wanted to go on adventures like the kids did in the movie, and when there’s a possible treasure waiting for you at the end? I’m in. Well, did you know that the house where Mikey lived is in Astoria? It is - and you can visit it, too (although you can only view the outside). While this may not be “bucket list” material for some, for those of you out there that are Goonies at heart, stop by.
Note: I did read online that the owner of this house, tired of the crowds and the incessant litter left by them, has draped tarps over the front of the house, so double check before you go because you may NOT be able to see it now. (sad face)
4) The Oregon Film Museum - Astoria, OR
Yes, we are still in Astoria, but that will change in a moment. This film museum is better known as the County Jail in the opening scene from the movie The Goonies. You can easily visit this one and even take tours, though I only had a few minutes, so I opted for just an exterior shot. Again, not for everyone, but kind of cool nonetheless!
5) The Wreck of the Peter Iredale - Fort Stevens State Park, Warrenton, OR
A rusted old shipwreck on a beach? Hell yeah!! I have been here twice now, and it’s just pretty awesome to stand here on the beach and check this thing out. Depending on the tide, you can actually walk out to it, and I have even seen people climbing on it. It’s just right there on the beach - you can’t miss it.
6) Saddle Mountain State Natural Area - Clatsop County, OR
This gorgeous area is well worth a visit, both for the photography and the hiking. We spent a day here climbing up this thing (and taking a lot of photos along the way). The views are stunning and the climb is rewarding. Be sure and pack water, food and anything else you might need because once you leave the parking/camping area, that’s it until you return to it. I recommend a jacket too. It’s absolutely breathtaking up there, but wear proper footwear and be careful, too.
7) Ecola State Park - Indian Beach - Cannon Beach, OR
On my first visit to Ecola State Park years ago, I drove in, parked at the main lot, walked about 100 yards, and took pictures of the coastline stretching before me. I was actually at Ecola Point, but I thought that was the whole thing.
Ecola State Park has 9 miles of coastline, so you can literally spend days here exploring it all. Since this list is geographic, I am starting with Indian Beach which is at the far northern end of the park. You can park in the main lot and hike over there, or drive to the parking lot at Indian Beach. I recommend the hike, unless you are shooting sunset in which case it will be hard to see coming back. This section, while it can get busy in the daytime, is nearly empty late in the day when the surfers and sun worshippers depart. There are AMAZING rocks to climb on (and photograph) and believe me when I say you will enjoy this.
8) Ecola State Park - Ecola Point viewing platform - Cannon Beach, OR
Moving back to the main parking lot at Ecola, the view from Ecola Point stretches southward down to the town of Cannon Beach and their famous Haystock Rock. There is a viewing platform and despite requiring absolutely no effort at all to get to this spot, it’s well worth taking in the view and firing some shots. It’s a beautiful view.
9) Ecola State Park - Crescent Beach - Cannon Beach, OR
But wait, there’s more! Yes, I missed this on my first two visits, but finally got here on my third and realized that Ecola State Park really is the gift that keeps on giving! While standing on the viewing platform in #8 above, you can see a beach way down below you. You might see a couple of people on it, but you may not. It’s a steep drop down from Ecola Point, but there are a couple of ways to get there. I’ve done both.
The first and more dangerous one is to head off on a trail to the right of the viewing platform (if you are facing it). It heads into the woods (and towards the ocean) and weaves around a bit, eventually requiring you to descend a pretty steep incline and sort of slide on your butt down to the beach. I don’t recall seeing any signs for this trail, so it requires a bit of exploring. We did this one evening near sunset, and were rewarded with a nearly empty beach, some sea caves, and one of the most stunning sunsets I have ever seen. Believe me when I tell you that you MUST go see this.
Ok, what’s the safer route? Well, if you are facing the viewing platform, there is a trail off to the left as well (near the bathrooms, you can’t miss it, and there are signs) that seems to disappear into the forest and head to the south. It’s a decent walk and there are some steep stairs at the end, but it’s pretty manageable for most people. It will deposit you on the far south end of Crescent Beach. Once there, I recommend walking back towards the north because of all the gorgeous rock formations, tide pools, sea caves and general awesomeness that you will encounter along the way. You will be basically directly below the viewing platform from #8 above after a few minutes walk.
But don’t stop there. If the tide is out, you can wander along the coastline around the rocks (continuing northward) and end up at the section that I mentioned above with the dangerous trail. It’s just so gorgeous that if you can manage to get down on the beach, you really must go see all this. You can thank me later!
10) Northern Cannon Beach/Chapman Point area - Cannon Beach, OR
While most people head out and just photograph Haystack Rock near the center of Cannon Beach, I highly recommend doing a little exploring just north of there. We rented bicycles one day and rode up here, then realized it was gorgeous and less crowded, so we came back for a picnic dinner one evening. Luckily, the sunset turned out quite nice and I was able to capture all sorts of goodness!
As with many beach spots in this area, there are tide pools and great rock formations just waiting to be explored. This area is north of Ecola Creek and you can park at Les Shirley Park on E 5th Street. It requires a short walk to the beach and then head north when you get to the beach. The beach dead-ends at Chapman Point.
11) Haystack Rock - Cannon Beach, OR
This is the grand-daddy of all rock formations and is pretty much the biggest tourist draw in the area - and it’s awesome. I absolutely love this place, but it can definitely get crowded, especially in the daytime. In the evening the crowds thin out a bit and it’s high time for some awesome photography, but I’ve happily shot away here in the daytime too. You cannot climb on the rock, but when the tide is out there are excellent tide pools around the base of it that are super fun to explore.
12) The Needles at Haystack Rock - Cannon Beach, OR
Yep, there’s more than just one big rock out here! The Needles are these other large rocks that are basically adjacent to Haystack Rock. If you are coming in from the north side of the rock (which is where the main beach entry from town is located), you don’t really see them. So be sure to spend a lot of time here and walk PAST Haystack Rock, heading southward along the beach. From there you will get a great view of The Needles, and probably some pretty excellent photographs, too!
And one more thing, if you have the time: keep going WAY past Haystack Rock and The Needles, further down the beach in a southward direction. There are a few more spots that are worth seeing, though I have no idea what their names are. But there are more big rocks, like Haystack Rock, scattered along the coast and they are both beautiful and quite fun to explore!
13) Arcadia Beach State Park - just south of Cannon Beach, OR
If you continue walking down the beach from Haystack Rock (or decide to drive south along Highway 101 - which I recommend doing because you will need a car for the rest of the list anyways), in a few minutes you will end up at Arcadia Beach State Park (there is a sign indicating the location). This is one of those places that I had never heard of and saw on a map, so I decided to stop and check it out. Like all these beach stops, it’s beautiful, so I am running out of superlatives to write here. It’s just off the highway, and there is a parking lot, so pull over and check it out. Wander a bit towards the North and check out the big rocks at the end.
14) Hug Point State Recreation Site - just south of Cannon Beach, OR
Oh my, this is THE PLACE. I adore Hug Point. It may be my favorite place on this entire list (well, maybe tied with Crescent Beach in Ecola State Park). It’s not very large, but I find it just breath-taking. I highly recommend going here when the tide is out. Why? Well, so you can get to the sea caves, of course!
Yes, if you park here (the parking lot is just off Hwy 101, and there is a sign) and walk onto the beach, head towards the north and then out and around where the coastline juts out. Once you clear that, you will find a smaller, more secluded beach with a waterfall cascading onto the beach with a sea cave right next to it.
No, I am not making this stuff up - it really exists!
It feels like you are in a fantasy world, or maybe just an extra on the set of The Goonies. Either way, you will revel in your time here and you might not want to leave.
15) The beach in Arch Cape - Arch Cape, OR
Arch Cape is a very small town (maybe not even a town - a hamlet, perhaps?) that is about 4-5 miles south of Cannon Beach. We have actually stayed here a couple of times, because it’s a short drive to Cannon Beach if you need something, but you don’t have the crowds and congestion of that town.
But here’s the other thing - there is a gorgeous, wide open beach here. Since we stayed in Arch Cape, we could just walk down to the beach here. If you are driving, then look for a parking lot or two, which I *believe* exist for non-locals to use. You’ll just have to locate one, because I really think you will want to see this.
There are basically two sections of this beach - north and south. The north end is very nice, ending at some rocks that jut out into the sea and basically stop your forward progress. I walked here many times, took a lot of photos, and climbed on the rocks. It’s all great fun.
But if you head toward the south end of the beach in Arch Cape, you will find more rocks, a couple of small sea caves, a creek that flows into the ocean, and more! It’s an explorer’s wonderland, and believe me I took all sorts of photos down here on several occasions. Again, this spot is best at low tide, which will allow you to get past the headland and sort of around the bend towards some of the more interesting rock structures.
16) Oswald West State Park - Arch Cape, OR
This is a big park and there are some beautiful trails through old-growth forests. It’s really gorgeous here. I am in particular a fan of the stream that runs through here, and I spent quite a bit of time photographing the heck out of it. There are all sorts of rock and fallen trees in the stream and it’s just beautiful to witness. Plus there is an old wooden bridge crossing the creek which is fun to cross. It leads to more trails (#17 below).
After that bit of fun, I also recommend you get out on the beach here. It’s sort of a protected cove, and there is a waterfall coming down onto the beach way off on the right side (as you are facing the ocean). There are numerous spots for tide pools and even a few picnic tables back up at the edge of the forest, offering a stunning view out to the beach and the ocean. Well worth a visit and some time exploring it all.
17) Devil’s Cauldron - Oswald West State Park - Arch Cape, OR
Ah yes, but there’s more to Oswald West State Park! There is another trail that takes you away from the main part of the park, known as the Devil’s Cauldron Overlook Trail, and it’s well worth taking the time to explore. It meanders through forest for a while, but eventually you get to a stunning lookout over the Devil’s Cauldron, where you will see the waves thrash about in a sort of open area below you. There is a bench to sit and rest on, and a small fence to keep you from getting too close and falling to your death (seriously, it can be dangerous, so be careful).
18) Neakahnie Mountain - just north of Manzanita, OR
While this is technically also part of Oswald West State Park, I think of it as a completely different park. Instead of being on the coastal side of the Highway 101, it’s on the inland side, and it’s a little bit further south. Once you finish at #17, you could technically hike on to this spot. However, we visited this at a different time and thus drove and parked along Hwy 101 to hike Neakahnie.
And note - this is a serious hike in some parts! Especially towards the end, I found myself clambering over wet rocks at the top, trying to get the best view. I got it of course, but it was slippery and the trail sort of ends right before the summit, so it requires a little inventiveness on your part. However the view is majestic, stretching down to the town of Manzanita just south of here. It’s gorgeous. Note that we spent a few hours here, so this was not a quick hike.
19) The beach in Manzanita, OR
While Cannon Beach gets all the press, we really came to like Manzanita after having the opportunity to visit several times. It’s a 10-15 minute drive from Arch Cape (where we stayed) and has an excellent grocery store, some nice restaurants (I highly recommend Left Coast Siesta to get your Mexican food fix, which I sorely needed!) and some great shops. We even went to their Farmer’s Market a couple of times. It’s a beautiful little town and there is a nice beach there too.
The above list is 19 spots all within a few minutes of Cannon Beach, or at least no more than about 30 minutes drive time away. While it may be 19 spots, it is countless photo opps. You will be very pleased with all of this, believe me.
But there’s more!
If you are able to go a little further away, here are some other spots to consider.
1) Cape Disappointment State Park - Ilwaco, WA
We read about this place while we were in Arch Cape, and decided to take a day trip up there to check it out. It was excellent. While the weather wasn’t agreeable, photographically speaking (it was a bright, sunny day), the scenery is gorgeous and the beach is really cool. There are massive logs piled up on one side and it’s a fun place to spend some time. This is about a 30 minute drive from Astoria, OR so about an hour or so (roughly) drive time from Cannon Beach.
2) Bandon, OR
This is in far southern Oregon, but if you are even remotely close, be sure and visit. The town is very small and quaint, and while I liked it, it’s not for everyone. BUT OMG THE BEACH! Yes, this place is crazy amazing. We spent two nights here and I had hoped for one decent sunset - and I got two! Maybe I lucked out, or maybe every sunset is gorgeous there, but either way, you will want to see this place.
In particular, The Wizard’s Hat is incredible, standing there on the beach all tall, pointy and regal. I loved it. There is also Face Rock, which as the name implies looks quite a bit like a face. Such a gorgeous beach, and such a rich photographic playground.
3) Gold Beach, OR
Another stunner along the southern coast, this one sits about 50 miles or so south of Bandon, OR. We were just driving along when we saw this spot, and jumped out to breathe in the fresh air and take some pics. I honestly know nothing about the town or the area, but you really can’t argue with a beach that looks like this!