Oregon’s Highway 101 where the Lewis and Clark expedition ended—at the confluence of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean, where Fort Clatsop sidles up to Warrenton. Southbound travelers discover rivers, resorts, refuges, and more state parks and waysides per mile than any other stretch of Oregon road (thirteen state parks in Clatsop County alone). Hamlets spring from grassy dunes, artist colonies colonize and roadside eateries beckon travelers to Oregon’s seafood bounty. From Warrenton to the Cape Meares Lighthouse, this northern segment of Highway 101 puts travelers at the junction of sea and sand.

Right off the top, motorists need to note that they’ll share the road with many bicyclists. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has designated this the official “Oregon Coast Bike Route.” Cyclists should note that the prevailing winds in the summer months blow south, and ODOT made extra room for cyclists along the southern shoulder.

ODOT’s milepost numbering system runs north to south on 101. Milepost 9 brings travelers easy access to Fort Stevens State Park. Serving as a military installation from the Civil War to the end of World War II, the fort now hosts visitors exploring nature, history and recreation. It’s open daily from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. in the winter and spring, and until 6 p.m. in the summer and fall.

The first of the many state parks is Sunset Beach at milepost 13. Here visitors can trek along the historic Fort-to-Sea Trail. It was along this path that the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery traveled from Fort Clatsop to the ocean during the winter of 1805 and 1806.

For flying kites or just getting away from the hustle of the highway, Del Rey State Park at milepost 17 offers the ideal setting. The ocean is just a short walk from the parking area and windswept dunes are a sandy testimony to the incessant wind. The shore is expansive but untrammeled. Visitors can feel as if the shore is theirs alone. Sometimes it truly is.

Gearhart awaits at about milepost 17. Among other things, Gearhart is billed as the home of the oldest golf course in the Northwest—Gearhart Golf Links circa 1892. Motorists can cruise through the center of town without encountering a stop light. Here, you’ll find Gearhart Ocean State Park, one of the parks less-traveled along the coast.

Seaside welcomes travelers south of milepost 19. Families and friends, even those with disabilities, can take in the ocean from a promenade that stretches about mile and a half along the shoreline. As a true Oregon Coast resort, Seaside offers a full range of day and night activities. This eminently walkable beach city is also home to the Seaside Historical Society Museum. Its archives document developments from Oregon’s ocean history, including the salt cairn set up by the Lewis and Clark Expedition to recover seasalt to preserve their food.Aubrie LeGault

At about milepost 28, Ecola State Park is where, in 1806, Captain William Clark and twelve members of the Corps of Discovery hacked their way through trees and shrubs to reach a beached whale. Motorists and hikers can now easily reach one of the more scenic viewpoints along the coast. Beach life abounds here in tide pools under foot and in towering Sitka spruce trees— a canopy for birds and other wildlife.

Just to the south, Cannon Beach offers a home to a completely different kind of life. Artists, artisans, cooks, collectors, connoisseurs, hoteliers and others have created an oceanfront haven for people at the seashore. Notable stores along Hemlock Street (and others) include Sabra J’s, Castaways Restaurant, White Bird Gallery, Arriba, Coaster Village, Geppetto’s Toy Shoppe and so many more. Still, Cannon Beach retains its small-town feel. It’s a destination that’s been recognized as “Oregon’s Best Beach” and hosts greater numbers of visitors every year.

Southbound along 101, travelers quickly pass Arcadia Beach (milepost 32), Hug Point (milepost 33) and Arch Cape. At milepost 36, Oswald West State Park, the emerald gem of state parks on this stretch of highway, calls for visitors to stop and learn about West’s incredible guile in making all Oregon beaches public. Travelers whose destination is the ocean must pass through the forest, but the trek is worth the effort and the rewards make up for the work. The trail winds through dense rainforest, weaving and winding over logs and under leaves. Visitors come to a beach surrounded by mountains and overlain with complete coastal solitude.

In rapid succession, modern explorers pass the Oregon Coast Trail-head (milepost 40), Neahkahnie Mt. Trail (milepost 41), Neahkahnie Beach, Manzanita, with its seven miles of sandy beach, followed by Nehalem Bay State Park (milepost 43). Just to the south is Nehalem, a quaint and picturesque village.

Wheeler, Manhattan Beach, Twin Rocks line up on the way south to Garibaldi (milepost 55). Garibaldi is home to the U.S. Coast Guard station and personnel who guard the dangerous Tillamook Bar, where the bay meets the ocean. When fishing season is on, Garibaldi becomes ground zero for anglers hoping to hook up with a salmon or steelhead swimming for one of the five rivers draining into Tillamook Bay. The Garibaldi Museum heralds Captain Robert Gray, his ship, the Lady Washington, and their contributions to Northwest nautical heritage.

Just north of milepost 64, you’ll be tempted to stop and learn about the cheese that made Tillamook famous. The Tillamook Cheese Factory is open every day, all year (except Thanksgiving and Christmas). Stop in to learn what distinguishes cheddar sharp from extra sharp, sample cheese and ice cream and pick up an edible souvenir. Summer hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., but from Labor Day until mid-June, the cheese icon closes at 6 p.m.

Entering Tillamook north of milepost 65, travelers encounter the urban area that serves the low-lying dairy country nearby. Among its notable attractions is one of the largest wooden structures ever built. The Tillamook Air Museum was constructed to house lighter-than-air U.S. Navy blimps that helped protect America’s coast during World War II.

Travelers have the choice at the intersection of highways 101, 6 and 131 in the center of Tillamook. A turn east to Highway 6 leads inland, straight and travelers keep moving south on Highway 101, or visitors can head west along a scenic highway loop out to Cape Meares State Park and the Cape Meares Lighthouse. Built in 1890, the lighthouse lit the way for many a mariner but is now relegated to lighting the imagination of visitors to the Three Capes Scenic Drive– a journey that will have to wait for another day. 

Peter Murphy
Contributing Writer | + posts