Cannon Beach is the iconic Pacific coast beach with glorious sandy beaches and impressive sea rocks. It also has a delightful town to spend time meandering around
Located in the most northerly reaches of Oregon, Cannon Beach is one of the most spectacular coastal areas along the Pacific Coast. The beach and sand dunes are beautiful but like all beaches in the Pacific Northwest of the USA (and most of the northern California coast), these are not your traditional beach destinations. It can be chilly even in the summer, prone to sea mist and the water is freezing! We went here in late August and needed to wear a fleece on the beach even in the middle of a sunny day. That said it is beautiful.
Undoubtedly the most recognisable landmark along Cannon Beach is Haystack Rock. This edifice is home to colourful tidepools and diverse birdlife. It rises 235 feet from the edge of the shoreline. At low tide, you can walk right up to it and find sea stars and other fascinating tidepool creatures in its intertidal area. Puffins can be observed on Haystack Rock from early spring to mid-summer, offering the most accessible viewing of Tufted Puffins in the Northwest. Many other varieties of birds can also be seen, making it a great bird watching location year-round. It’s part of the Oregon Coast’s geological history, formed millions of years ago by lava flows that created many of the dramatic capes and headlands on the Oregon Coast. Haystack Rock is part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and is a State protected marine environment.
Retreating from the beach into the comfort of the town offers a welcome break from the wind chill from the Pacific Ocean. We had already visited the neighbouring town of Seaside which we Brits would classify as a kiss-me-quick seaside resort. Cannon Beach is nothing like that, it is small, quaint and upscale. There is plenty to see, from restaurants, bars and cafes to quaint shops and posh galleries. It is not a large town and is split into a couple of main areas, the largest part of which is to the north. Obviously, most of the shops are oriented toward the tourists so it is not surprising that there is more than a fair share of gift shops touting endless knick-knacks- but it is still fun to check them out. At the end of a couple of hours of perusing you can always take time to relax with a cup of tea or microbrew.
Our visit to the north Oregon coast coincided with the Labor Day holiday weekend and good weather so it was very, very busy. Having explored Cannon Beach we decided to head to Ecola State Park which stretches along 9 miles of coastline and offers outstanding some scenic viewpoints and hiking opportunities. Whilst, the main attraction is hiking there are plenty of other things to do, including picnicking, tide pooling, surfing and strolling along the beach.
The entrance to the State Park meanders through a lush Sitka spruce forest, which eventually opens up to a grassy bluff. There is a car park here and if the weather is good you must pull in here. From the car park, it is a short walk to the cliff which offers the most amazing viewpoint south, a scene from many published photographs. Sea stacks punctuate the long sweep of shoreline south, backed by the town of Cannon Beach and ridge of coastal mountains above
Ecola’s trails offer cliffside viewpoints of secluded coves, forested promontories and even a long-abandoned lighthouse. The park’s network of trails includes an 8-mile segment of the Oregon Coast Trail, and a 2 1/2 mile historical interpretive route called the Clatsop Loop Trail. Part of the Clatsop Loop Trail and the trail over Tillamook Head follow in the footsteps of the Corps of Discovery. Captain William Clark and 12 members of the Corps of Discovery travelled through what is now the park in 1806 in search of a beached whale near present-day Cannon Beach.
We decided not to head down to Indian Beach, which has its own parking area because the queue to get in was long. Instead, we took the trail that starts from the grassy bluff which soon disappears into the forest from which you can get some amazing peek-a-boo views of the ocean and Indian Point, and beyond that Tillamook Head. This part of the trail eventually arrives at the Indian Beach parking lot.
The park is primarily for day use, although there is a rustic campsite for those heading along the Oregon Coast Trail. There is a parking fee to use the parking at Ecola unless you have a handy 12 month State Parks parking permit.
Planning your visit
Cannon Beach is located on the North Oregon Coast, less than two hours drive (80 miles) from Portland and just under four hours from Seattle. To reach Cannon Beach from Portland, follow Highway 26 West to the junction of Highway 101, then continue four miles south on Highway 101.
Best time to visit Cannon Beach
Summer is the busiest season in Cannon Beach where for several weeks, particularly in July and August, traffic, crowds, parking and limited availability at hotels and restaurants can make visiting a challenge. Although our most savvy visitors have learned that the other seasons of the year offer the most authentic and enjoyable Cannon Beach experience, summer remains the most popular.
Where to stay?
1. ECOLA CREEK LODGE
Ecola Creek Lodge is described as “homey” hotel with unfussy rooms. It is a less pricey option than the Waves but is still conveniently located in the heart of Cannon Beach. This is not an oceanfront property but it is only a five-minute walk to the beach.
Near half the cost per night (around $100) of the Waves, it might be worth the exercise! Ecola Creek Lodge has free onsite parking and free Wi-Fi.
2. THE WAVES
The Waves is an ocean front property located in the center of downtown Cannon Beach, Oregon. Each room here will provide you with a seating area. Most rooms have direct beach access or a view of the ocean.
Each room is complete with a microwave, refrigerator, and a coffee machine. Featuring a shower, the private bathroom also comes with a bath or shower. Extras include a sofa, bed linen and ironing facilities.
At The Waves you will find a hot tub and barbecue facilities. Other facilities offered at the property include meeting facilities and a vending machine.
The property is located within 5 minutes’ walk of the EVOO Cooking School and the Coaster Theater Play House.
3. INN AT CANNON BEACH
Located 5 minutes’ drive from Tolovana Beach State park, this Cannon Beach property provides free Wi-Fi and breakfast. A refrigerator and a microwave are included in rooms. Highway 101 is 0.5 miles away.
Guests of the Inn at Cannon Beach can relax in the private garden or browse the DVD and book collection. Free passes to Cannon Beach Fitness and Cannon Beach Yoga Arts are provided.
Haystack Rock is 15 minutes’ walk away. Cannon Beach town centre is 1.5 miles from Inn at Cannon Beach.