TILLAMOOK COUNTY, Ore. - On a day when the sun and surf meld into a refreshing moment, it is hard to believe it is the dead of winter.
That’s the beauty of life on the Oregon coast in January, February or March, where some warm, pleasant days allow for exploring such less-traveled byways as the Three Capes Scenic Loop in Tillamook County.
Along the 40 miles of the Three Capes route, you can still find a bit of that quiet, unhurried side of life, a far cry from the hubbub of nearby U.S. 101, where the coastal traffic speeds by at a shattering pace.
Head west out of Tillamook proper along Bay Ocean Road as it skirts the southern end of Tillamook Bay. Soon you’ll come face to face with the site of Bay Ocean Park, a now-extinct community, a developer’s dream turned homeowner’s nightmare.
Today, Bay Ocean Spit is managed by the county as a park, and it’s great fun to stroll its five-mile length, even though all signs of the former community are long gone.
The route continues south and soon you reach Cape Meares State Park, situated on a 700-foot rocky headland named for British sea adventurer John Meares. Meares came this way in 1788, and a lighthouse built in the 1890s marks the spot. The lighthouse sports a hand-ground Fresnel lens that a nearby kiosk boasts was "shipped around the Horn."
A nearby kiosk contains interpretive panels containing other facts about Cape Meares. You can enjoy more than three miles of hiking trails and a mile-long walking trail that winds through old-growth spruce trees, including the uniquely-shaped Octopus Tree, a giant Sitka spruce with massive branches that radiate out from near the base.
In winter and spring, this park is another excellent location for viewing whale migrations. The Friends of Cape Meares help maintain the lighthouse and are usually found painting, cleaning or generally sprucing up the place. There is no fee to use this park.
Your next stop, Cape Lookout State Park, is a popular overnight and day-use area. Its campground is located on a sand spit between Netarts Bay and the ocean, giving you a terrific view with easy access to the beach. Beachcombing is popular here, and I have heard it’s a fine place to find glass floats on the first high tide following a storm. More than eight miles of hiking and walking trails wind through a lush old-growth forest.
Less than ten miles from Cape Lookout, you’ll arrive at Cape Kiwanda, a sculpted headland eroded by time and tides and weather. This gleaming sandy shoreline has developed a faithful cadre of year-round sun worshipers and surfers. It is also home to a small but dedicated angling lot, for this cape is one of the few places in the country where you can watch fishermen launch their boats off the beach into the foamy surfline.
To the south, at the south end of Pacific City, lies Robert Straub State Park. The park is a day-use site (no overnight camping allowed) with miles of open, unspoiled sand that invite you to explore - maybe for sand dollars, maybe for glass floats - as you wander toward the mouth of the Nestucca River.
The Three Capes Scenic Route is a splendid day-long getaway, and I know it will invite you back for closer inspection.
Getting There: From Portland, drive west on U.S. 26 to the junction with Oregon 6 (Wilson River Highway). Continue on Oregon 6 to Tillamook. Drive west of Tillamook one mile onto Bay Ocean Road and follow signs to the Three Capes Scenic Loop and the state parks. Wheelchair-accessible viewpoints.
You can learn more about the Three Capes Scenic Loop and many other Grant’s Getaways in his popular books "Grant’s Getaways I" and "Grant’s Getaways II."