From north to south, the Oregon coast is variable and rugged terrain, with cliffs that rise several hundred feet above the white caps of the ocean, sea stacks, sandstone spires, arches, caves and coves and any number of other wilderness wonders. The story of the coast is one of explosion and erosion in which volcanoes and the passage of time have created a borderland of spits and sands.
Headlands are formed by less easily eroded igneous rock, also known as magmatic rock, from Oregon’s volcanic prehistory. They are often surrounded by bights and beaches comprised of more easily eroded stone. The origins of this dynamic actually begin at the Yellowstone caldera. Erupting many times 15 million years ago, over 300 fast-moving flows over the next 11 million years would find the Oregon coast in as little as a week, bore into the crust, and re-erupt on the sea floor to create submarine volcanoes, which persist today in eroded remains at locations like Haystack Rock. This dynamic is on display in the Coast Range as well, where the peaks are typically comprised of hard igneous rock, like Marys Peak, the highest point in the mountain range. The vestiges of these formations make their way to the sea, as well, in the form of agate, a silica formation created in the furnace of volcanic lava that hardens and eventually flows with the course of water to the Oregon shore.
Cape Kiwanda is one notable exception to this rule: Of the Astoria Formation, the hard sandstone was missed by the powerful lava flows that originated from the Yellowstone caldera. One of the only headlands that is not comprised of basalt, it was missed by the lava flows that affected the northern Oregon coast, where a shiftier landscape shows measurable decay in short spans of time. The layers of rock here are littered with fossils—97 mollusk species, prevalent throughout the formation, and animals as large as sea lions and even a fossilized whale have been found in the area around Kiwanda.
Nevertheless, the push and pull of erosive forces is what creates the astounding beauty of the Oregon coast—something that must be experienced in one of these amazing adventures.
- Once an active military stronghold on Oregon’s northern-most point, Fort Stevens now showcases old stoneworks, cannons, and the Peter Iredale, the photogenic frame of a ship that ran aground many years ago. The park is also a hotspot for birdwatching.
- Otter Rock + Devil’s Punchbowl State Natural Area is perhaps the most interesting of Oregon’s coastal features, along with Thor’s Well and a handful of others. Go for the unrelenting wave action that created the chasm. Stick around for the tide pools, surfing, and whale watching.
- Offering an escape from the crowds to the north and south, Arcadia Beach State Recreation Site is a relatively quiet beach with the same kind of rock formations that make Cannon Beach so spectacular.
- Yaquina Bay is dotted with several notable adventure destinations, and Yaquina Bay State Recreation Site is one of them. It is home to Newport’s oldest structure: the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse was built in 1871, and it lit the way into harbor for just three years. It remains open for tours.
- Ecola State Park is overshadowed by the hubbub of Cannon Beach, but don’t pass it by on your way to cotton candy and tchotchkes without planning your return. Not only does it offer one of the best Cannon Beach views, its trails lead to the secluded and beautiful Indian Beach, which is popular with surfers.
- You could always skip Cannon Beach entirely and head to Roads End State Recreation Site. Secluded, it has dramatic, rocky, photogenic spires that rival Cannon Beach for glory. Keep an eye on the tide.
- Cape Kiwanda is one of Oregon’s most popular and beautiful natural areas. Though desecrated in recent years by senseless pranks, its sandstone remains a unique and amazing stop south of Cannon Beach.
- Otter Crest State Scenic Viewpoint is better known as an overlook to Cape Foulweather—known for winds reaching 100 miles per hour and a history that dates to Captain James Cook. Perched more than 400 feet over the ocean, few viewpoints provide such a commanding view of the surrounding features.
- Some of the best tide pools in the state are found at Hug Point State Recreation Site, which is full of sea stars, sea anemones, and sandstone caves that are fun to explore. Also, keep an eye out for stagecoach tracks, a remnant of Oregon’s pioneer history.
- There aren’t many places to camp on the Oregon coast, and the fact that Nehalem Bay State Park also offers miles of horseback riding and biking, wildlife viewing, and crabbing in Nehalem Bay makes it an easy sell for coast adventures.
- The Oregon coast is full of nooks and crannies, little coastal towns that have each their own character, and Depoe Bay is one of its most unique. The ride into this little fishing town along the Depoe Bay State Wayside is riddled with the kind of rugged coastal terrain characteristic of Oregon.
- Oswald West State Park is home to one of Oregon’s finest beaches at Short Sand Beach, and the secret is out. Still, the park’s many hikes and acres of old-growth Sitka make it a high-priority destination.
- Paddles on the Oregon coast often mean battling the surf, but not at Beaver Creek State Natural Area. Slow currents make paddling easy, though winds may pick up in the afternoon, and the area entices visitors with wildlife, like herons, osprey, otters, and of course beavers.
- Imagine the speed and momentum you could bring to your lakeside plunge after running down a massive sand dune. Honeyman State Park is where you can do that and more in Oregon’s sand dunes, and it is one of the state’s most popular parks.
- Kayak tours in Brian Booth State Park is another flatwater opportunity to see wildlife, but the park also offers a beach for exploration, surf fishing, and a welcome center with naturalist displays.
- The farther south you travel along the Oregon coast, the fewer faces you see. But the scenery remains as spectacular as the northern reaches. Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor is one of the most rugged and scenic stretches of shoreline in the state. Along the corridor, Secret Beach is as secluded as it sounds, and Indian Sands features cliffside dunes with unparalleled views unlike any other in Oregon.
- Shore Acres State Park is a remarkable blend of rugged beauty and natural management, with an estate that offers a protected view of crashing waves, sandstone formations offshore, and an English-style botanical garden.
- Cape Arago State Park, perched high above the Pacific, offers great opportunities to spot wildlife offshore—like gray whales.
- A landscape typically marked by conifer forest, sandy beaches, and sea stacks, Cape Blanco State Park, Oregon’s southern-most state park and westernmost point of land, the remoteness of this natural area is complemented by its unique features. Broad grassy hillsides that are more California than Oregon, big ocean views, and a great trail network.