Cape Lookout is one of Oregon’s most stunning northern coastal trails, offering spectacular vistas. It’s a quick there-and-back trail of roughly five miles, and an elevation gain of less than 1,000 feet. This is one of those more heavily trafficked trails you’ll want to check out even in the busy summer season.
From the Cape Lookout trailhead, the path invites hikers through a lush old-growth forest of predominantly Sitka spruce. Rich moss growth and massive, primeval-looking ferns add to the luxurious wash of green. The rains and ocean spray are to thank for the many shades of green, and the almost constant damp means the trail can be muddy and slippery most seasons, so wear foot gear with good traction.
About half a mile in the forest breaks open near the site of a B-17 bomber that crashed in 1943. Look for the plaque saluting the fallen before reentering the woods. The next break comes once you’ve hiked almost to the tip of the cape, and it leads along sheer southern cliffs. The view of the drop is breathtaking, and it’s an unparalleled location for watching gray whales migrate up the coastline.
Keep walking to the furthest tip of the Cape, which is open to more stunning views of the Pacific Ocean to both the north and south. When the fog is lifted, you can pick out Haystack Rock, Cape Kiwanda, Netarts Bay Spit, and Cape Meares. Look for wildlife here also, as birds make their home is this location. If you’re lucky, you might spot a peregrine falcon or two, making their home against the cliffs. Harbor seals can be seen in the rocky shores below, and eagles sometimes patrol the skies.
Cape Lookout is open year-round. The area does get an average rainfall of 90 inches annually (compared with Portland’s 37.5 inches). Be prepared for damp weather -- you’ve been warned! Visitors flock to the area, especially on summer weekends, and during peak gray whale migration season in the spring. Folks with children are advised caution, as the cliff-side trail does not have any barrier.
Access to the trail is free, however there is a $3 fee for day parking at the trailhead.
Directions from Portland:
Take U.S. 26 west, then bear west on OR 6. Drive roughly 51 miles to Tillamook, and continue straight through across U.S. 101. Go two blocks and turn left on Stillwell Street, then turn right on 3rd Street. Travel 4.9 miles and turn left at an intersection marked with a Cape Lookout sign. After 5.3 miles you’ll pass the state-park campground and day-use area. The trailhead is at the end of the lot.