Thursday, July 20, 2017

Central Oregon Coast: Intimate Views, Stunning Vistas

When I was growing up near Portland, one of the highlights of summer was a trip to the Oregon coast. We got to indulge in saltwater taffy and fresh crab, but going to the beach was it.

To us western Oregon kids, the beach wasn't some puny stretch of sand on a lake or river. A real beach meant the windswept and feral Pacific Ocean coastline, where powerful waves relentlessly break onshore.

As we neared the coast, I'd get increasingly excited and fidgety waiting for that first glimpse of the magnificent Pacific. I still get that rush of exhilaration arriving at the western edge of the continent. 

The Intimate Views. Recently I spent a weekend with some childhood friends on the central Oregon coast, just south of Newport. Added bonus: We were there during the lowest tides of the year.

After dinner the first night, our host Judy said she'd be leaving for the beach at 7 a.m. sharp the next morning. Somehow 7 a.m. turned into 8 a.m., but no matter. When I dashed down to the water's edge, I was as giddy as my inner child.

 "I've never seen the tide this far out!" exclaimed Judy, who lives less than a mile away. A feast of exposed tidepools and rocky outcrops, some covered with otherworldly sea life, was spread out before us.

 We poked around for about an hour in the brisk ocean breeze, taking lots of pictures and inhaling all that clean air. I was happy to see the starfish (seastars) rebounding after the mass die-off a few years ago.

While the beach is the main event, the intimate views are not just in tidepools on the coast. In a lush coastal forest at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area south of Yachats, I found treasures too.


Less than half mile inland from the ocean, I enjoyed an easy hike one afternoon on the Giant Spruce Trail with friendly local Dennis. We passed huge Sitka spruce trees hundreds of years old as we walked on the trail above Cape Creek. Western redcedar is my totem tree, but Sitka spruce is a close second. The biggest old trees harbor so many plant communities in their sturdy branches that they remind me of Hometree from the film Avatar.

The Stunning Vistas. If you've not driven Highway 101 along the Oregon coast (part of the Pacific Scenic Byway), be forewarned: It's hard to keep your eyes on the road with such dramatic views. Plunging rocky cliffs, deep green forests, wide sandy beaches, and cute, kitschy towns blend in this spectacular mix of scenery.

After an excruciatingly slow drive from Portland through awful traffic, I hit the coast at Lincoln City (does anyone else remember the Pixie Kitchen?) and drove south along 101 toward Newport and beyond.

View north from Cape Foulweather
Cape Foulweather, which sits on a 500-foot-tall cliff above the ocean, is an easy stop off the highway. I walked down to the historic gift shop, which was originally opened as a coffee shop almost a century ago, and snapped a few shots before continuing.

After hiking with Dennis at Cape Perpetua the next day, he suggested I follow him up to the viewpoint overlooking the ocean. I'm so glad he did.

There's something about a breathtaking view that stirs wonder and awe akin to looking up at a dark sky full of stars. We walked a short path to the West Shelter, an open stone hut set on the edge of the cliff, and took in the immensity of the ocean and drama of the surf below.

While most of the weekend was about relaxing with friends, I came away with a healthy dose of Oregon coast magic. Never enough, but I fueled up on that bracing fresh air, brilliant sunshine, comforting ocean fog, and the sweet song of Swainson's thrush echoing through the coastal forest. 

When I get stressed or wound up (as I'm prone to), I'll pull that Oregon coast elixir off a shelf in my brain and take a strong whiff.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.  

I'd love to hear your experiences and memories of the Oregon coast, or any coast, in the comments below. :)

When You Go
While the beach where we went is accessed through private property, here is a map showing good tidepools along the Oregon coast and a link to an Oregon State Parks popular tidepools website. We were just south of South Beach State Park.

Check out this link to Cape Perpetua on the TravelOregon website that has a map you can expand to see Highway 101 on the coast. I barely scratched the surface visit of the trails and sights in my few hours there. Park ranger-led walks are offered on weekends from June through August.