The Pacific Northwest is located in the Northwest corner of the United States, stretching from Washington State to Eastern Oregon, and extending into Idaho and British Columbia. Travelers come to the Pacific Northwest to experience its coastal waters, lush green rainforests, beautiful mountain landscapes, and explore America's best National Parks! It is the perfect location for outdoor lovers like ourselves.
Although you could spend a whole month or two exploring the PNW, we felt that our 2 week road trip provided plenty of time for us to get a taste of what makes the PNW so special. Over the next few blog posts we will be breaking down our full itinerary, so stay tuned as we bring you along to all the best places to see and do, including suggestion of places to stay and eat on your trip around the Pacific Northwest. This is based on our experience of the Pacific Northwest during Summer 2022.
Planning a Pacific Northwest Roadtrip to the Oregon Coast
Exploring the Coast
The Oregon Coast runs 362 miles starting from the northern tip of Oregon in Astoria traveling all the way down to Bookings in the southern Coast. You could plan a week trip just to see the entire Oregon Coast; however our itinerary covers Astoria to Gardiner due to our limited time.
Getting There & Getting Around
If you're planning your PNW road trip to include both Washington State and Oregon then we suggest flying into Seattle Tacoma - International Airport and picking up a rental car to get around.
If you are only interested in exploring Oregon, we recommend flying into Portland International Airport, which most airlines fly into. Then drive to either Astoria or Cannon Beach, both are just under 2 hours away from the airport. Navigating the Oregon Coast was pretty simple, but it did require a lot of driving on our way back to Washington. Keep that in mind if you plan to follow our 2 week road trip.
In Summer, the weather along the Oregon Coast is pretty dry, with little to no rain. Temperatures can reach a low of 52° F and highs of 77° F. We recommend bringing a light jacket along with you in case you get chilly.
The Pacific Northwest offers many locations and opportunities to camp. We packed our own camping tent and pillows in our luggage, and opted to rent other essential camping gear, 30 degree sleeping bags, sleeping pads, cooler and a cooking stove from REI Co Op, in Bellevue, WA.
Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary: Oregon Coast
Below we are sharing our suggested itinerary for your Pacific Northwest road trip. The Oregon Coast is highly worth adding onto your visit to the Pacific Northwest. Here is a map with links and pins for the places we mention in our itinerary, see below.
The Oregon Coast is another big draw of the Pacific Northwest, which is known for scenic coastal shorelines, large sea stacks, and marine life. The coast stretches 362 miles starting from the Columbia River in the north all the way to the California Border in the south. To optimize seeing the most of the Pacific Northwest including highlights in Washington State (see our previous itinerary), we recommend starting from Cannon Beach Oregon then make your way all the way to Gardiner, then come back up through the Coast to Astoria, which is also an optional starting point.
We are big fans of the 1985 classic The Goonies so a stop in Astoria was a big must for us to see some of the filming locations from the movie. Astoria is a coastal city located on the mouth of the Columbia River. Here are some must see filming spots.
Keep in mind that some of these locations are located in residential neighborhoods*.
The Goonies House*
County Jail (Oregon Film Museum)
Flavel House Museum
Lower Columbia Bowl
Fort Stevenson State Park
Just a 20 minute drive from Astoria is Fort Stevenson State Park. Fort Stevenson, established during the civil war era, was once used to protect the mouth of the Columbia River. It is now a popular destination for outdoor recreation and the historic Peter Iredale Shipwreck.
Ecola State Park
Perched on the edge of Tillamook Head and stretching 9 miles of coastline is Ecola State Park, which offers plenty hiking and walking trails to see some of the most scenic views along the coast. It is also another famous filming location from The Goonies. Once inside the park head to Ecola Point where you will get a view of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, this inactive lighthouse sits upon a stack of basalt. On the way to Ecola Point you will come to a beautiful viewpoint where you will see in the distance Crescent Beach, Cannon Beach, and the famous Haystack Rock.
Take a stroll along Indian Beach, to take in the views of large sea stacks, explore tide pools, and to get a different vantage point of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. There is a parking lot at the beach or if you prefer to hike, the Indian Beach Trail via Ecola State Park is a 3.8 miles out and back, along the trail you will get birds eye views of the coast. It's estimated to take around 2 hours to complete. (all trails estimate)
Cannon Beach was named after a naval cannon that washed up on shore from a shipwreck in the 1840s. It draws many visitors to its stretch of shoreline to see the famous Haystack Rock, which was featured in The Goonies. To get a closer view of Haystack Rock from Cannon Beach, find a parking spot along S Hemlock St. We recommend parking on the corner of S Hemlock St and View Pt Terrace, the lot is small but the boardwalk to enter the beach is directly across the street, another option is parking on the corner of E Chena St and S Hemlock St, the lot is bigger but you will have to walk along the main road to Center St, then walking down to an entrance to the beach. Tip: Arrive during low tide to check out the tide pools close to Haystack Rock. You will get a cool glimpse of some sea creatures like starfish, barnacles, and sea urchins. Keep your eyes peeled as you may also see tufted puffins perched on the rock, they are most active from April through early July.
Hug Point State Recreation Park
Best visited during low tide, head to Hug Point to take in the sights from a secret beach with large basalts and sandstone cliffs, tide pools, a waterfall, and explorable caves. From the parking lot take the staircase down to the beach then walk 0.7 miles to Adair Point, only accessible during low tide.
Tillamook Creamery in Tillamook Oregon
If you've ever dreamt of a dairy themed theme park then Tillamook Creamery is a must see. After completing the self tour of the factory and sampling some delicious cheese, head to the dinning hall for a cheese centered meal and yummy ice cream. Don't forget to exit through the gift shop to browse for souvenirs and exclusive flavors only offered at the creamery.
Pacific City Beach
Located near Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area. Take the climb up this large sand dune, that provides rewarding views of Nestucca Bay, Cape Lookout, and another large basalt similar to Haystack Rock.
Note: Cape Kiwanda is one of the landmarks along the Three Capes Scenic Route, which includes Cape Meares and Cape Lookout.
God's Thumb via the Knoll
This was one of our favorite hikes we completed along the Oregon Coast, the hike is a moderate 4.3 miles out and back. It will take about 2 hours and 25 minutes to complete (all trails estimate) Park in the empty cul-de-sac at the end of NE Devil's Lake Blvd, from there you will see the opening for the trail head. At the start of the trail you will hike through a wooded area, then eventually you'll start to see the shoreline coming into view.
Devil's Punchbowl Natural Area is located in Otter Creek. You can actually explore the inside the punchbowl when the tide is out. It's a short 15 minute hike from the beach.
Getting to Thor's Well is pretty easy, there is a parking lot that then has a path that leads down to a viewpoint. It's best seen during high tide, however if you're there during low tide, like we were, you can actually walk on the rocks for a closer look. Be careful though, as sometimes the swell inside of the well comes spouting out. From Thor's Well, you can also spot Spouting Horn near the bridge, and whales swimming in the bay.
Sea Lion Caves
Just a 15 minute drive from Thor's Well is Sea Lion Caves, a privately owned wildlife preserve and bird sanctuary. Many visitors go to see inside the cave where seal lions are resting. You will have to pay a fee to see the cave (click here for current pricing) They close pretty early at 4:00pm, so make sure to plan accordingly.
Near by the Sea Lion Caves is Heceta Head Lighthouse, it's a working 19th century lighthouse. You can see it from a scenic pullout located just a short drive from the Sea Lion Cave. If you want an up close and personal view of the lighthouse you can take the relatively short trek to see it from Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Point.
Oregon Sand Dunes
This is a must see on your trip to the Oregon Coast. You can choose to walk along the large sand dunes, or seek adventure by renting ATVs or sand boards. The best sand dunes we saw were at Oregon Dunes State Park Day Use Area. You can park then walk on the boardwalk to stairs that lead out to the beach. Highly recommend checking it out during sunset! Another alternative is Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park in Florence, these sand dunes were located on a lake.
End of the Road
We were visiting the coast the week of July 4th weekend, because of this we decided that Gardiner would be our farthest point, and head back to Washington to see the Olympic Peninsula ahead of the weekend to beat the crowds.
For our first night we camped at Cape Lookout State Park, this is about an 1 hour and 10 minute drive from Cannon Beach. There was nothing too special about our campsite, however it did have a shower, which is always a plus. Interested in camping here check out their website for more information, click here.
For our second night we stayed at the Inn at Otter Crest, this is about an 1 hour and 15 minute drive from Cape Lookout. The Inn is unique as each room is privately owned, and furnished by the owners. Our room was a large one bedroom suite with a full bath and kitchen. We enjoyed our stay and would definitely recommend.
More Food Recommendations:
If you're in Cannon Beach check out Oro's fireside Restaurant, they were newly opened just a month before our visit.
If you're heading to God Thumb's in Lincoln City, check out Pig'N'Pancake, a local chain along the Oregon Coast. Keith had dreams for days after having their 3 Little Pigs in Blankets. So Good!
We love our breakfast, and found a gem in Depoe Bay called Gracie's Sea Hag. Be advised that the breakfast portions are super big.
We think it's worth a mention for those who are light packers and don't mind stopping to do a quick load of laundry. We recommend stopping at Astoria East Coin Laundromat, we did one load wash and dry in just under an hour. Another plus is the Laundromat is connected to a Mini Market where you can pick up snacks or even sit at the bar and enjoy one of 36 different craft beers on tap while you wait for your laundry to be completed.