Daily Archives: August 19, 2013

Down the Oregon Coast on Highway 101


The stunning Oregon Coast

Before I started my trip, I’d heard good things about the Oregon Coast, and I’m happy to report that it lived up to expectations. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it turns out there’s a lot of diversity. I started in the evening, after fleeing the traffic of Portland. The coast isn’t that far away, and my introduction was the town of Astoria – a pleasant small town, reminiscent of Port Townsend, but on the Columbia River, across the border from Washington. The Columbia here is broad, about the width of the Mississippi in southern Minnesota. For whatever reason, the traffic was insane (at 3:30 on a Monday). I don’t know if it’s normally that way, or if there had been an accident, but it was the worst traffic jam I’d seen so far in the trip – about 2 miles that took 45 minutes to travel.

Pretty much all of Fort Clatsop

My goal for the day was Fort Clatsop, which is another small National Historic Site. In this case, it was built once Lewis & Clark reached the Pacific Coast to serve as winter quarters before they headed back. The fort itself is miniscule, almost comically small, but the site has a decent museum and a good movie, and there were a reasonable amount of hiking trails: I did the “Slough to Sea” trail and then a trail to Nehul Landing, which is a former logging site near the coast. There were rows of old pilings there, and Oregon mountains in the background, but what stood out most was the blackberries – there were tons of them, all ripe for the picking. I must have eaten at least a pint, maybe two. Collectively I was able to log somewhat under 10 miles in this park.

I spent the night at Safeway in the town of Seaside – awakened for a while as a street sweeper made its way around the parking lot, and then followed up with a leaf blower cleaning out the cart areas. They were very thorough, but the lodging was free so I can’t complain.

The beach in early morning

I got up early and headed down the coast. Having seen little of interest during my half hour on the coast the previous day, I was stunned by how beautiful it was after I started driving. There’s a huge volume of campgrounds, picnic areas, scenic pullouts, boat launches sprinkled along the coast. On average, probably every 5 miles there was a beach to visit or state park. I picked a random one early on, as the sun was rising, to see what all the fuss was about.

These starfish were enormous, probably a foot across

This beach really took me aback. Compared to the Washington beaches, which are a little sand, or all rocks, and NY beaches, which are just sand, this was incredible. There were seastacks in the water, as you might see at the famous Rialto beach in Washington. The beach itself was very flat, and stretched out forever at low tide. Cliffs rose nearby, some with little waterfalls flowing down. There were tidepools – the first tidepools I’ve seen recently that showed any sign of life. Mussels and barnacles I’d seen plenty of elsewhere, but there were also huge starfish, little roly-polys, brine shrimp, and small fish.

‘Island’ of trees. Who wouldn’t want to climb that?

I continued on down the coast for a few hours before picking out another park. This one featured a large ‘island’ of rocks and trees above the beach, which I knew I had to climb. The beach itself was also nice, but not as good as the one I’d seen earlier.

View from a secluded section of the ‘island’

The trees were growing on a rock formation maybe 150-200 yards across and 50 yards deep; it was 150 feet high. Thee were a variety of trails leading into the undergrowth, many of them treacherous, a very steep grade with loose soil. Much of the climb was a ‘scramble’ – requiring handholds – but it was a lot of fun, and the panorama on top was worth the effort. There was a maze of narrow trails there, many partially closed in with vines and brush, and they opened up near the edge of the island for a view of the beach.

There are many overlooks along the highway with such views

I walked about 5 miles around these beaches before continuing on. My objective, which I reached around 1 pm, was a campground in the Siuslaw National Forest (perhaps the best National Forest I’ve seen so far on my trip). The location was called Cape Perpetua and was supposed to feature the best coastal view in Oregon. It was a well-run campground situated next to a small stream in a valley between two coastal mountains, with spotless bathrooms and great trails – the climb for the Mt Perpetua view was 830 feet of switchbacks in the forest; there was a WWII spotting station at the top. You could see the waves crashing against rocks below; when I visited them later they were covered with tidepools a constellation of tidepools.

The top of Mt Perpetua; the visitor center and coast trails are below

I also hiked to the local ‘Giant Spruce,’ which featured two stoners with a didgeridoo (conveniently left off the trail guide…), and then down to the ocean, covering an additional 10 miles on the day. That night I had my third campfire of the trip; this felt a lot more like a campground than some of the others I’d visited.

In the morning I continued down the coast before crossing inland to Crater Lake. The roads here, in southwest Oregon, by the way, were a delight – highways with nice shoulders, reasonable drivers, good scenery, and just the right amount of turns to keep things interesting without being obnoxious. Between the two local National Forests – Umpqua and Siuslaw – and the myriad State Parks, I can definitely see myself returning to this area.