Hike the Oregon Coast:
Cape Lookout State Park in May (with whale video)

It’s amazing enough that we in the Portland area can drive about 90 minutes and go hiking at the beautiful Oregon coast.

A basket of ferns hanging in a spruce tree: an essential view of the coastal forest.
A basket of ferns hanging in a spruce tree: an essential view of the coastal forest.

We can walk among old-growth forest, gaze down at waves crashing against rocky shorelines, and cross meandering streams as they spread onto sandy beaches.

But when we start seeing whales from hundreds of feet above, then it’s a really special day.

All of that happened for me and a friend on a recent May afternoon. When it’s this easy and straightforward, we can forget that not every city has this kind of scenery so close to town — much less a corresponding world of mountain hikes the same distance the other way.

Hiking at Cape Lookout State Park offers some of the best options of Oregon Coast hiking, all in one easy-to-access place: You can start in a day-use area with a bathroom, right next to a campground; you can climb a gentle trail through amazing forest to ever-better views; you can walk a fairly flat couple of miles out to a clifftop 400 feet above the sea; you can walk down to another beach that is only accessible by that trail.

And you might see whales — especially when they are migrating in December and March.

There are three main hikes in the park, all of which connect at a trailhead just off a paved road above the park’s main entrance. From here, you can go out to the cape (2.6 miles roundtrip), down to the secluded beach (3.8 miles) or down to the day-use area (2.6 miles).

Here is a more detailed look

at hiking in Cape Lookout State Park

We did a combination, using an easy car shuttle to start at the day-use area, hike up to the trailhead, go out to the cape and back, then drive a few minutes into Tillamook for snacks. We did a total of 6.9 miles with 900 feet of elevation gain on the day.

Looking back from the cape towards the secluded beach.
Looking back from the cape towards the secluded beach.

The hike from the day-use area is mainly about the forest, including a Sitka spruce that I could walk through, almost without bending over. Heading out to the cape, the main issue is some amazing patches of mud, some of which last all summer, and the occasional tangle of roots you have to negotiate.

I suppose that, if you were afraid of heights, that might be an issue, as well — as you can see in the picture on the right. At the end you are 400 feet above the ocean with a flimsy rail for protection — and in places, less than that.

I have a photo gallery at the bottom of this post where you can see more images from our walk.

It was on the way back that we saw the whale.

What first caught our eye was, frankly, a bit terrifying: a baby stroller, turned over on its side, with no one around, near the top of a cliff. The mind races at such a sight, and we were just contemplating how to proceed when we saw a group of people further up the trail, pointing towards the water and looking through binoculars. (Turns out a couple had dropped the stroller, picked up the baby, and headed for the whale view.)

Somebody had spotted a gray whale, probably 7-800 feet below us, cruising around in the clear, fairly calm water. A few of these whales live off the Oregon coast all summer long, and you can spot them here and there — but from above? On a sunny day? We were quite fortunate.

Also fortunate: (A) I had my high-definition camcorder with me, and (B) YouTube has an auto-stabilize feature. Makes this video a lot better than it would have been otherwise:

A Great Day of Hiking on the Coast

That you have breakfast and dinner in Portland, and do this in between, is something that makes living in the Portland area really special. Whether it’s hiking the coast, the Gorge, or Mount Hood, we are truly blessed with natural abundance in these parts.

And now, my photo gallery from the day:

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