Northwest, Oregon, US Roadtrips

The Three Capes Scenic Route along the Oregon Coast

Exploring the Oregon Coast

One of my very favorite days of our Pacific Northwest trip was our time spent on the Oregon Coast.  The Oregon coast wasn’t even on my radar until I really started researching for this trip.  With a room booked to stay the night in Cannon Beach, we set out from Portland for the 2 hour drive southwest to explore the Three Capes Scenic Route along the coast.  Every stop along this route exceeded my expectations and whenever I hear someone is traveling to Oregon I always recommend they spend at least one day on the coast.

US Route 101 runs along the Oregon coast for over 360 miles.  Since we only had one day and were starting out from Portland, I planned our afternoon driving the Three Capes Scenic Route starting in Cape Kiwanda and ending the trip in Cannon Beach where we stayed the night.  If you have more time, there are many coastal towns to explore but the Three Capes loop is the perfect length for a day trip from Portland.

Northwest Roadtrip

On our drive to the coast, we passed through Tillamook and their Cheese Factory, and although we were intrigued by the signs, we hadn’t heard of it and didn’t stop.  Since that trip, we see Tillamook cheese everywhere and I’ve heard that this is a worthwhile factory tour and tasting.  If you love cheese, add this stop to your list on the way!

Cape Kiwanda

After a couple hours of driving winding roads through forests and farmlands, we arrived at the parking lot of Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area.  The cool wind was gusting as we stepped out onto the expansive beach with views of the (smaller) Haystack Rock and sandstone cliffs.  The area is popular for surfers and kite-boarders due to the wind and surf although I found it too cold to imagine doing either.

Cape Kiwanda

We spent some time climbing up and exploring the non-fenced off areas of the sandstone cliffs.  There were beautiful views from the cliffs back to the shore and in the opposite direction, Cape Lookout could be seen in the distance.

Cape Kiwanda, Oregon

Pelican Brewing is located just off the beach in Cape Kiwanda with an incredible view.  We stopped in to try their craft beer and eat lunch before setting out to our next destination.  I will note this was one of the only convenient food stops on the Three Capes Route, so I would suggest eating here or coming prepared with your own food.  There are countless beautiful areas to have a picnic along the coast.

Cape Lookout

Three Capes Scenic Route, Oregon Coast

Just a 15 minute drive north of Cape Kiwanda is Cape Lookout State Park.  We parked at the trail-head and set out on Cape Lookout Trail, a 4.6 mile out and back hike to the point of the lookout.  There are breathtaking views along the hike back toward to beach.  Be aware of some steep drop-offs along parts of this path since you are 400 feet above water level, but the views are worth the effort.

Oregon Coast

Oregon Coast

Cape Meares

After an invigorating hike with impressive views, we headed another 25 minutes north through the beach towns of Netarts and Oceanside to Cape Meares.  Be on the lookout for places to pull over along this stretch as there is no shortage of amazing views.

Oceanside, Oregon

Cape Meares is a unique stop featuring a restored 1890 lighthouse, an Octopus tree and an easy walk out to the Cape and lighthouse for more sweeping views.

Oregon Coast at Cape Meares

Cannon Beach

Cannon Beach, Oregon

After completing the Three Capes Scenic Route, it was hard to believe the views could get any better.  An hour and 20 minute drive brought us to Cannon Beach, our overnight destination.  Cannon Beach is home to the famed Haystack Rock featured in the movie the Goonies.  It features long stretches of sandy beach, caves and an abundance of tide pools full of critters to explore at low tide.  The town itself is a small coastal town with various shops, restaurants and lodging.

Bordering the north and south ends of Cannon Beach is Ecola State Park and Hug Point.  After some low tide exploration and dinner, we rounded out the evening watching a beautiful sunset over the ocean.

Cannon Beach Sunset

We had planned to head into Ecola State Park the next morning before leaving to Washington, but rain, fog and low visibility had other plans for us.  However, we could not have asked for better weather or visibility for our day exploring the Oregon Coast.  The cool salty air, abundant sunshine, scenic cliffs overlooking the sparkling blue Pacific ocean and beaches that stretched for miles was the perfect way to unwind from a few days in the city.

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Exploring the Oregon Coast and Three Capes Scenic Route


Untold Morsels

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  • Oh wow, I really, really want to drive this route! I can see how these stops surpassed your expectations. it is not easy to find out places that combine beaches, sea stacks and cliffs. I have heard good things about the cheese factor too. They sell ice cream too. #FarawayFiles

  • Untold Morsels

    What a beautiful wilderness. I can almost taste that salty sea air. There’s nothing quite like an ocean drive and I would love to do this myself one day. Thanks for the inspiration #FarawayFiles

  • Oregon! My Oregon! Oh you are making me homesick. The Oregon Coast has so many beautiful beaches, coves and capes to explore. Did you know that they entire coastline is open to the public and can not be privately owned? Thanks to then Oregon Governor Tom McCall, it is also known as the “People’s Coast” and every inch owned by the public since 1967. I think that makes it all the more amazing and beautiful! We spend more of our time a bit further south along the Central Oregon Coast, which I can also recommend if you every make it back! Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles

  • Oregon is so beautiful. I’ve only been once to visit my brother years ago when he was living there at the time, but we were in the wilderness and not the coast. I’d love to take a road trip along the coast – it’s so vast and atmospheric and makes for amazing photos, clearly! #farawayfiles

  • hilary

    I LOVE the Oregon Coast! I grew up in the PNW, and have always loved the Oregon beaches. Your photos are making me homesick..,. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

  • The Oregon coast looks stunning!! One of my dream trips is to drive from San Diego up to San Francisco, and then head further norther to Portland and then up and across to Vancouver. But I’d not thought of driving this part of the coast. I’m pinning this as I think I will definitely add this to our trip if we ever do it! #farawayfiles

  • Clare Thomson

    Wow, this looks so stunning, Jacki! I have always wanted to visit Oregon but I hadn’t appreciated how gorgeous the coast looks. I’d love to spend some time here visiting all those amazing beaches. #FarawayFiles