Three Capes Loop: Cape Meares, Cape Kiwanda


You might be surprised to discover that US 101 isn’t always a stone’s throw away from the Pacific Ocean.  There are several places along the Oregon Coast where the main road turns inland.  Fortunately, there’s often a scenic alternative.  One of the most worthwhile is the Three Capes Loop, which will take you past Cape Meares, Cape Lookout, and Cape Kiwanda.

The Three Capes Loop turns off from US 101 at the biggest intersection in Tillamook, and rejoins it near Pacific City.  There are numerous turns along the route, so keep a close eye out for those brown road signs.  For the most part, the route is well-marked.

Once you’ve left the town of Tillamook behind, the Three Capes Loop runs right along the edge of Tillamook Bay.  You’re actually headed north at this point, paralleling US 101 on the other side of the water.  Soon, though, the road makes a sharp left turn, heading south along the coast.

When I reached that left turn, I decided instead to go straight.  After passing a few beach houses, I ended up at the gravel-covered shoreline, just north of Cape Meares.

The gravel here stretches out for miles, and is littered with driftwood–in some cases, entire trees, including the roots, have been abandoned here by the surf.

Take a few minutes to stroll around, amongst the stumps.  Walking on the gravel is a bit difficult.

Once you’ve climbed on some of the driftwood, there’s not a lot else to do here.  So, jump back in the car, and re-join the Three Capes Loop for the trip south.

Cape Meares State Park

Moments later, you’re atop Cape Meares, a lofty perch above the Pacific Ocean.

Cape Meares Lighthouse is open April-October, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.  Admission to the lighthouse is free.  For more information, check out the lighthouse’s website.

A short walk from the parking area leads to the main attraction: the Cape Meares Lighthouse.  Chances are, there will be friendly folks on hand to explain everything you could possibly want to know about the old light.

Climb to the top, and you’re treated to an up-close look at the giant old Fresnel lens.  Unlike most other lighthouses, some of the glass in the lens at Cape Meares is colored red, to produce the light’s unique signature.

Bring your binoculars, or shell out 25¢, to observe the wildlife on the offshore rocks.

Head uphill from the parking lot, and walk about 1/4 mile, and you can behold another attraction: the famous Octopus Tree.  From its base, this oddly-formed Sitka Spruce branches out in six different directions (yes, that means it should be a Hexapus, not an Octopus, until you realize that a couple of other limbs were at some time in the past removed).

A sign explains that coastal winds caused the strange candelabra-shape, but fails to rationalize why the tree’s neighbors ignored those forces, and grew straight up.

Just beyond the Octopus Tree, you can take in this view of the coast, looking south.  Look closely and you can see US 101.  From here, the second of the Three Capes, Cape Lookout, is only a few miles away.  I chose to skip it, and head on to the third, Cape Kiwanda.

Cape Kiwanda

Cape Kiwanda is located next to the resort town of Pacific City.  The most recognized landmark isn’t the cape, though, it’s the giant, offshore Haystack Rock.  And yes, if you’re keeping count, you’ll notice that this is the second Haystack Rock you’ve seen today.  You can spend the rest of your day deciding which is your favorite (mine is still the one near Cannon Beach).

This particular sea stack’s name may not be unique, but its appearance is.  Look closely–the rock has a sort of “jug handle” on the side.

Your best view of Haystack Rock is from the beach just south of the cape.  There’s a big parking lot that’s probably intended for patrons of a nearby restaurant, but you won’t be chased off if your only intention is a walk on the beach.

Why walk on the beach, when you can drive on it?  Waterfront driving and parking are allowed here, although you’ll likely end up stuck, if you’re not driving a 4wd vehicle.

Cape Kiwanda itself is just to the north of the parking area–about a 10 minute walk away.  On the other side of the sandy hill is Cape Kiwanda State Park.

I re-visited Cape Kiwanda on the final day of this trip, and spent more time exploring the cape itself.  You can view my second stop at Cape Kiwanda here.

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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