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Rollicking Highlights of Three Capes Route on Oregon Coast: Attractions, Oddities

Published 05/11/21 at 5:15 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Rollicking Highlights of Three Capes Route on Oregon Coast: Attractions, Oddities

(Pacific City, Oregon) – One of the most treasured areas along the entire Oregon coast is the Three Capes Route (once called the Three Capes Loop, but a road closure cut off part of its continuity). This is where Highway 101 darts off inland and to stay on the beaches you have to hit this mega-scenic, super-awesome, winding roadway. It’s a constant stream of forested and sandy recreation, where the white-knuckled drive along tightly-twisting confines is well worth the rewards.

Three capes, a lighthouse and 20-some miles of fun all surround these eye-popping wonders of Cape Kiwanda, Cape Lookout and Cape Meares.

Things really start at the northern end at Cape Meares. That headland is full of enough distractions to last a day on its own, including a lighthouse, a trippy tree called the Octopus Tree, hiking trails and some of the most incredible views on the entire coastline.

Just south of there you'll find Oceanside, a tiny, hidden village but again stuffed with enough attractions and distractions to fill a whole day. Not the least of which is Maxwell Point and its shudder-inducing tunnel, but you come out the other side to one of the most interesting beaches on all the Oregon coast.

Cape Lookout State Park, the headland called Cape Lookout and some stunning viewpoints sit just south of there. Cape Lookout has more than five miles worth of hiking opportunities, including a very secret beach just below the cape. There’s a plaque along the way honoring an unusual bit of Oregon coast history: a plane that crashed here on training exercises during World War II. There’s quite a dramatic survival story in all that.

Nearby is tiny Netarts, primarily a bayside attraction where clamming, crabbing and such reign supreme. Docks on the inner bay provide a load of truly placid moments.

Just south of that cape is Sand Lake Recreation Area and Whalen Island State Park. This is known as the “other dunes” area of the Oregon coast, where massive sand dunes beckon hordes of ATV'ers and campers.

Capping off the southern end of the Three Cape Loop is glorious Pacific City and its towering Cape Kiwanda, where a seemingly endless array of civilized and wild delights are tucked into one tiny town.

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Head to the top of the headland and you’re immersed in some wild landforms, as ancient geologic forces continue to shape the sandstone into ever-stranger yet beautiful shapes and shades. Wire and metal fencing keeps you from tumbling down into the oceanic abyss, but it also inadvertently provides one of the most interesting surprises of Cape Kiwanda: the structure “sings” when hit by winds. It makes an unusual but amazing noise.

The top of this dune is another favorite, soaring a couple hundred feet above it all, and allowing kids of all ages an excuse to go rolling down the soft sands by simply tumbling down. Or they’re sandboarding downwards on various gear. It’s a hoot to watch.

Sitka Sedge State Natural Area is the newest Oregon coast park in the state parks system, with a massive array of bio-diversity in its landscape. Estuaries, tidal flats, forests, creeks and a very secret stretch of beach make for an engaging, even mesmerizing chunk of coastline.

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