Wowing Winter Drives of the Oregon Coast
(Oregon Coast) - When winter rolls around, the coast takes on a truly rugged character. Incredible winds, massive storm-fueled waves and torrential downpours come and go, interspersed with bouts of sun and gorgeous sunsets - or these storms may stay around for days on end. It's a wild place, filled with amazing sights.
In many instances, remaining in your car will seem the best option. Maybe take a scenic drive: you're sure to find something to make your eyes pop out.
Otter Crest Loop
South of Depoe Bay, where the road begins its abrupt ascent up a steep hill towards Cape Foulweather, sits a hidden road that darts off to the west of Highway 101, running beneath it as the highway heads upward. 101 provides high vantage point vistas in this area, but Otter Crest Loop Road lets you get close enough to the jagged cliffs - unseen from 101 - to see the drama of the breakers that slam them.
There's even a bike route along this stretch of road. But it's a one-way-only road, heading south towards the parking lot at Cape Foulweather.
Along the way, you can find secret pathways to those surprise-filled cliffs. One trail wanders down a steep hill, briefly into a dark forest area, before it emerges out onto a stunning landscape where wild waves attack almost constantly.
The entire town of Astoria is one incredible drive. With steep hills, an abundance of Victorian homes and a long-standing maritime tradition, it has a vibe somewhere between San Francisco and Portland back in the sixties. Wandering any of these turn-of-the-century neighborhoods will have you gawking in no time.
Follow the signs up the winding hill to Coxcomb Hill and the Astoria Column, and you'll reach one of the most marvelous views in Oregon. You'll end up 600 feet above the rest of this sky-high town, but the stunning Astoria Column soars another 125 feet. You can reach this spot too, after trotting some 164 steps to the top for even more incredible views.
The enormous span of the Astoria/Megler Bridge - rather imposing up close - looks like a child's toy from here.
Wintertime is the best to catch the most incredible wave displays in this cozy little town between Newport and Lincoln City. Under the right tidal conditions, fissures in the rocks below the seawall will squeeze the water into one giant squirt, spouting seawater high into the air. Occasionally you'll catch the delightfully surreal sight of spouting horns shooting high enough to soak cars on the highway. Be prepared to get soaked if you're parked near them and venture outside your car.
Other remarkable moments await just north of town, such as the viewpoints around Boiler Bay, where, if the tides are right, you can spot the boiler from an old shipwreck (which this spot got its name from).
Between Manzanita and Oswald West State Park, the road twists and turns along precarious cliff edges, beneath which the Pacific roars and slams into ancient rock formations with ferocity year-round. Several viewpoints sit along the way, beneath the looming presence of Neahkahnie Mountain, allowing you to park and ogle the seemingly endless expanse of ocean.
Not far from the entrance to Oswald, the road gives you glimpses of Short Sand Beach (Smuggler's Cove). In winter, these waves can be gargantuan and frightening as they crash and tumble into the crescent-shaped area, an imposing sight even from about a mile away.
Continue north, out of Oswald, and you'll emerge from the forests of the park and encounter more high vantage points as the highway twists and turns on its way to Cannon Beach. En route, you'll see the sweeping vistas and craggy cliffs just south of the Arch Cape Tunnel and a host of sea stacks just offshore.
The whole eight-mile stretch between Manzanita and Cannon Beach is filled with numerous wonders that can be enjoyed from above.
Tierra Del Mar to Pacific City
Along the Three Capes Tour, just west of Tillamook, the highway winds around tight bends, through forests and in and out of incredible viewpoints. Just south of Sand Lake Road and the community of Sand Lake, you emerge from the farmlands and forests and hit one of the last untouched coastal areas: Tierra Del Mar. Currently, it's primarily a collection of sleepy neighborhoods. But plans for a major golf course in the area will likely make it a tourism force to deal with in coming years.
As the trees give way to ocean views, the long, sandy stretches of this tiny town appear. You can drive on parts of this beach, all the way to Cape Kiwanda State Park, a few miles south. Haystack Rock is usually visible from here.
The hill ascends again, and the beach mostly disappears behind a thick canopy of trees. Soon, you pop out at Pacific City, about where Pelican Pub sits, encountering the grandiose sandstone marvel known as Cape Kiwanda, and its companion, the sulking Haystack Rock.
Continue south, onto Highway 101, and more incredible ocean horizons await you as you drive toward Neskowin.