Spruce, salal, and surf: A couple nights at Cape Lookout, 5-7 April 2016

I had a “three day weekend” last week, which for me falls mid-week. I had no idea that the weather would be so nice when I planned the extra day off, weeks in advance, but I had the hope that with that window, I could have a nice little trip to the Oregon Coast.

Ah yes, the coast. I grew up on the East Coast, Connecticut, with a brief stint in North Carolina. The past sixteen years have been spent on the West Coast, first a brief foray in California, and then here.* Like many a coastal native, I’d consider (and do!) a move cross-country to another coast than somewhere in the middle. There’s something about having the ocean at hand, even if it’s out of reach most of the time.

Growing up, my family regularly went to the beach. Granted, it was possibly the dumpiest beach in existence (Silver Sands State Park, aka “Milford Beach”) on a lowly, dirty arm of the Atlantic (Long Island Sound), but I loved my days there. As I grew older and got weird about my body, I became more ambivalent about “the beach”. For example, that year in North Carolina? For most of it, I lived less than five miles by bike from the beach. But I was fifteen and awkward, so I rarely went there.

And while Portland is relatively close to the coast, it’s still the furthest distance I’ve ever lived from the ocean. To get to the beach, it’s either a day trip commitment, as it’s a two hour drive one way. And if I wanted to bike it, it’s at the bare minimum a one day bike ride to get there. So while I always tell myself that I’m going to go to the ocean more often, it happens fairly infrequently. In fact, the last time I actually was on the Pacific Coast was in late 2014. I didn’t see the ocean at all in 2015. Sure, I saw both the Puget Sound and Strait of Georgia since then. While going to the sea is still cool and worthy, there’s nothing like that unrestrained ocean roar and surf, the idea of looking out into a blue horizon, knowing that Asia is still several thousand miles away at its closest. Lake Superior is great, but still doesn’t compare.

Time to remedy that.

On Tuesday morning, I hopped the Tillamook Wave bus from Portland Union Station to the near-coastal town of Tillamook (yes, where they make the cheese.) From there it’s a fairly easy 11 mile ride to Cape Lookout State Park, right on the coast. Cape Lookout has hiker/biker campsites that are my hands-down favorite along the Pacific Coast.** The sites are separated a bit from the main campground and resemble something out of the Ewok landscape, with tall Sitka Spruce trees above and salal everywhere. And it’s right next to the beach! In fact, I got the choicest spot (5) from which you can actually see the waves. All this for six bucks a night!

I spent two nights in the campground, hanging out, walking the beach. On my “off day” of Wednesday, rather than hike the Cape Lookout Trail to the end of the cape, a 10 mile round-trip from the campground, I decided to ride my unencumbered bike to Cape Meares, 12 miles north of Cape Lookout. Cape Meares features a cool lighthouse that was unfortunately not open, but the views around the cape are great. I also stopped in the small villages of Oceanside (for the beach) and Netarts (for supplies.)

I had to return to Portland on Thursday. Originally I considered riding all the way back, but in order to do it easily in a day, I’d have to ride along busy and narrow Route 6, which wasn’t that thrilling for me. (My more preferred routing back via the Nestucca River Road is about 20 miles longer than OR 6, 85 vs 68, plus has a lot more climbing, something I didn’t want to tackle in one day. If I had two days, sure.)*** Also, it got really hot for early April, a high of 85F/29C in Portland, a record for that early. As it was I practically wilted when I got back into Tillamook from the beach, as it was already hot there. So back by bus!

I hope to get back out to the coast at least once more this year, if not more. Heck, I should do a little tour down it…

*I did spend a full month in Arizona, but that doesn’t count, right?

**There may be better sites in Southern California, but I haven’t been to them yet.

***My original idea was to take the bus out on Monday afternoon, giving me two nights at the beach. Then I could do Wed-Thurs back along the Nestucca. Unfortunately, it was still rainy on Monday, so I scrapped that idea. I’d rather have two dry nights of camping.


8 thoughts on “Spruce, salal, and surf: A couple nights at Cape Lookout, 5-7 April 2016

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  1. Nice little trip. It’s funny but I’ve been jonesing to go to the coast myself. I’d thought about it for hot days last week as well, but had some conflicts. But gotta do it soon.

    Cape Lookout was great. When I rode the coast I only took one rest day on the Oregon Coast and it was there. Loved the H/B sites. Though they were only $3 or $4 then (I forget which but the h/b sites in CA and OR were $3 and $4). You are creeping up toward the WA costs! Anyway your pictures really bring me back…

  2. Sounds like a wonderful trip! Always good to get to the sea. I was just at Silver Sands a couple of weeks ago, you would not reconise the place. My family went to Sherwood Isle back in the day.

    1. To me, Silver Sands will ALWAYS be the place with the deteriorating road with car eating potholes, and the one old lady living in a trailer, who refused to be forced off her land.

      1. Oh…the old lady in the Trailer…the city finally got her to move about 15 years ago. I always thought it was so cool that she held out down there. With therecent storm events over the past couple of years, Mother nature would have moved her if the city failed.
        No more pot holes, all fancy pavement, bike lane and everything!

  3. It was Hampton, Wallis Sands or Rye (all NH) or York and Ogunquit (ME) for me growing up. The wife and I have settled on the idea that we will always live near the ocean (1-1.5 hours at most) with the intention of retiring within 2 miles of a coast (probably East….Bar Harbor area maybe).

  4. My friend and I did this 3 day loop last fall and it was lovely.
    I love how many low elevation routes that Portland has to the coast compared to Seattle & the Olympic Peninsula.
    The closed road at Cape Meares was really fun to ride & the Trask River road over the pass was almost completely empty when we went through. The gravel roads were top notch. Oregon is such a gem!

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