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Oregon Coast Day Trip

If you’re traveling to Portland and have some extra time to explore, you’d be an absolute fool to not at least consider a full-day, fun-filled excursion to the Oregon Coast! Known for its rocky shorelines, dramatic bluffs, and windswept forests, it’s the absolute perfect place for nature lovers, sightseers, and anyone looking to explore the charming little coastal towns scattered along Highway 101. Read on to discover some of the highlights that you won’t want to miss!

a tree next to a body of water

For this trip, set aside a full day to make the drive from Portland worth it. There are several worthy destinations on the coast to aim for, but if you only have one day to explore, we highly suggest setting your GPS to Cannon Beach, a quaint and artsy little town that will steal your heart! From downtown, just hop onto Highway 26 headed west, and let the adventure begin!

The drive takes approximately 90-minutes, and you should plan to head out early to avoid excessive traffic and crowds, which can make parking challenging on weekends, holidays, and during the summer when Oregonian families take to the beach for vacation. Aim first for the northernmost end of town, the closest to your first stop, the lovely Ecola State Park! There is plenty of signage leading you to a long and narrow road that twists and turns through lush forests as it makes its way to the park entrance. Once you reach the main gate, pay for a day permit, park in the main lot, and get out to enjoy the breathtaking scenery! There are several trails to choose from that leave right from the lot, and depending on your interests, you can hike down to Indian Beach (a favorite for Oregon surfers), or up to one of the many viewpoints where you can catch a glimpse of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse.

When you’ve had your fill at Ecola State Park, pop down into Cannon Beach for some grub! Cannon Beach is small, adorable, and super easy to navigate! Take some time to explore some of the art galleries and souvenir shops scattered along the main road, and make sure to stop into Bruce’s Candy Kitchen, a local and tourist favorite for all things sweet! Don’t leave without some locally made salt-water taffy, available in all sorts of delicious flavors and crafted right there in the store! Lunch options in Cannon Beach are plentiful, but some of our faves include Tom’s Fish & Chips, perfect for satisfying seafood cravings, and Pelican Brewing if you want to pair your lunch with one of the area’s favorite craft brews. After lunch, walk a few blocks down to the sand for a short stroll. You’ll be rewarded with the picture perfect views of Haystack Rock that you’ve seen in all the post-cards.

Our next stop is Oswald West State Park and is about a 15-minute (10-mile) drive south along the beautiful Highway 101. For an epic (but not overly strenuous) hike, our top pick for enjoying this park is the Short Sands Trail, which meanders along Short Sands Creek about ½ mile down to the tucked away beach of Smuggler Cove. The trailhead is accessed from a parking lot on 101, where you’ll also find public restrooms. The half mile hike to the beach will take you through the dense, coastal temperate rainforest that is characteristic of Oregon’s coastline, with flora comprised of sword ferns, bright green mosses and lichens, and evergreen giants like the Douglas fir, Oregon’s beloved state tree! As you approach the end of the trail, forest gives way to sand and expansive views of the Pacific Ocean. The beach itself is bordered to the north and south by dramatic bluffs and rocky outcrops, giving it a sense of remoteness and seclusion. Bring a picnic blanket and a good book, and you’ll be happy as a clam (pun intended!).

By the time you hike back up the trail to your car, you’ll have had a full day of ocean-front fun to reflect on during the drive back to Portland, and you’ll be able to check this small section of the Oregon coast off your list! Fair warning, this can feel like a very long day, so don’t be surprised if you are feeling exhausted on the drive back into town! Hopping on board an organized tour with Wildwood Adventures is a great way to leave the driving to someone else, so that you can sit back, relax, and just in enjoy the ride! During the late spring and summer months, Wildwood Adventures offers a full-day Oregon Coast Tour itinerary almost identical to the one we’ve just outlined. Hop on board for a fully guided tour with one of our specialist guides. We’ll pick you up and drop you off in downtown Portland, and facilitate all the fun in between!