Depoe Bay: The World’s Smallest Navigable Harbor


When I was young and my parents took me on a road trip down the Oregon Coast, I remember Depoe Bay as being a highlight of the journey.  My father was amazed by the small port, and my mother lobbied for extra time in the stores that line US 101.  So now, nearly 20 years later, I was anxiously awaiting my visit to this small town.

Depoe Bay is located about halfway between Lincoln City and Newport, on US 101.

Depoe Bay does indeed have a unique claim to fame.  It is home to the world’s smallest navigable harbor.

As you watch boats navigate under the 101 bridge, through a very narrow passage between two rock walls, it is quite amazing.  There’s a viewing platform (where I stood to take the above picture) that allows a good view of the channel.

The ocean side of US 101 is a good place for whale watching.  In fact, Depoe Bay proclaims itself as the Whale Watching Capitol of the World.  Several businesses offer whale-watching cruises that head out of the tiny harbor (as well as fishing charters).

You can also drive around to the backside of the tiny bay, for a different view.

And that’s about it.  After about a half hour, I left Depoe Bay, slightly disappointed.  There wasn’t much activity in the port.  I poked my head into a few stores, but most were packed with touristy junk (the made-in-China kind that I’m sure no one ever actually buys).  So, I left.

Perhaps my assessment of the town is unfair.  I was there on a Sunday, so it’s possible there’s more activity on a weekday.  Also, I was there early in the season (mid-April)–maybe when summer rolls around, things start hopping in Depoe Bay.  I don’t really know.

My impression of the town may be based on nothing more than the disappointment I felt, the moment I drove in.  I was looking for a “historic bridge” sign along 101 which my father and I stood beside for a picture.  Similar signs still stand all along US 101, but this one was gone.

Yeah, that’s me, back in 1980something.  Interestingly enough, those same “Historic Bridge” signs still mark most of the other spectacular old bridges along US 101, just not this one anymore.

Not far south of Depoe Bay, I found another scenic turnout.  At the parking area, there was a large, grassy knoll that looked out on the ocean.  That was too boring for me, of course, so I ventured up a path for a better view.

The path did, indeed, lead to a better view…

… especially when I zoomed in on this cove.

And here’s the view back toward the parking area.  The only problem?  The trail was extremely muddy, and with one miscalculated step, I plunged my right foot ankle-deep in sludge.

Cape Foulweather

Just minutes further down the road, another scenic overlook calls for drivers to detour.  Cape Foulweather provides a nice view down the coast.  But this isn’t a state park.  The viewpoint mostly serves to draw visitors into a gift shop, perched on the edge of the cliff.

Yes, I, with my mud-bathed foot, walked right in.  I don’t think anyone noticed, and I tried to keep my dirty shoe out of view.

Continue down US 101.  Day 1 will end in Newport, which is only a few more miles away.

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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