Enjoy coastal vistas, hiking and seafood on this picturesque Northern Oregon Coast drive.

After a 10-year hiatus caused by mudslides, the Cape Meares Loop — part of the stunning Three Capes Scenic Route — is open once again. Take advantage of the reopening with a road trip along this 40-mile stretch, which connects Tillamook to Cape Kiwanda on the North Coast, and winds through forests and along cliffs with plenty of places to stop. Here’s what you can expect along the way.

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Cape Meares Lighthouse (Photo courtesy of Visit Tillamook Coast)

Tillamook to Cape Meares

The Three Capes Scenic Route begins in the city of Tillamook. Head west on Oregon Route 131, which runs from the city center out to the Coast, running along the southern end of Tillamook Bay before arriving at the Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint, about 10 miles away.  The main draw here is the Cape Meares Lighthouse, which was built in 1888. At the top of this 38-foot-tall lighthouse — the shortest on the Oregon Coast — sits the only eight-sided light in the continental United States. 

The lighthouse is just a few minutes’ walk from the parking area via a paved loop trail. Stop along the way to take in scenic views of the Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge to the south of the cape — bring binoculars and you may end up seeing seals, sea lions, and seabirds such as tufted puffins and common murres. Don’t leave before visiting the Octopus Tree, a roughly 250-year-old Sitka spruce with long limbs that make it look like a giant cephalopod.

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Cape Lookout trail (Photo courtesy of Visit Tillamook Coast)

Cape Meares to Cape Lookout

Continue south along Bayshore Drive toward your next destination: Cape Lookout. If you feel like dipping your toes in the ocean, consider a pit stop at Oceanside Beach State Recreation Site, a great place for summertime tide-pool viewing and winter agate hunting. The route continues south, alongside Netarts Bay, a shellfish reserve that attracts clammers and egrets with its abundance of gaper and butter clams. The bay is sheltered from the Pacific by the Netarts Spit — you might see pods of harbor seals sunning themselves on the edge of the water.

Near the southern end of Netarts Bay, the Jacobsen Salt Company is another good spot for a quick break. While it doesn’t offer facilities tours, there is a small gift shop selling gourmet gifts made from locally harvested sea salt. From here it’s just a few minutes’ drive to Cape Lookout State Park, a popular summertime camping destination on the southern end of the spit. If you’re in the mood for a hike, you can head to the Cape Lookout Trailhead just south of the park entrance and take a 5-mile out-and-back hike through a Sitka spruce forest to the tip of the cape.

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Cape Kiwanda (Photo courtesy of Visit Tillamook Coast)

Cape Lookout to Cape Kiwanda

The final stretch of the Three Capes Scenic Route connects Cape Lookout to Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City via Sandlake Road, which skirts the eastern end of the Sand Lake Recreation Area. This 1,076-acre expanse of dunes is a popular spot among off-highway vehicle riders, while the adjacent 900-acre Sand Lake Estuary is a great spot for birding, fishing, crabbing, kayaking and even swimming. You can access the estuary from Whalen Island County Park or from the Sitka Sedge State Natural Area, named for the grass-like Sitka sedge plant that grows in abundance here. Around 3.5 miles of mostly flat trails loop through the expanse.

After crossing the small community of Tierra del Mar, you’ll reach the Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area. (For updates on the new parking lot and alternative parking, see this link.) Stop for a beer with an ocean view at Pelican Brewery and Taproom or a seafood lover’s dinner with fish caught by historic dory boats at Riverhouse Nestucca. You can stroll right onto the beach at Cape Kiwanda, the smallest of the three capes on the route, or climb up the dunes for great views of the area. Gaze down upon what some call “the other Haystack Rock,” a larger version of its sea stack sibling in Cannon Beach.

– By Margot Bigg

Top photo Cape Lookout courtesy of Visit Tillamook Coast