The 12 best hikes on the north Oregon coast

Sure, the beaches are nice, but if it’s good views and big trees you’re after, you’ll need to hit the hiking trails along the north Oregon coast.

From sweeping ocean vistas to quiet old-growth forests, there’s no shortage of hiking options on the north coast. Each offers access to another little pocket of the beautiful northern coastline, from Astoria down to Neskowin.

Along those roughly 80 miles of coast there are hiking opportunities to suit just about everyone: easy walks through the woods, moderate day trips and adventurous excursions. Whichever path you choose, make sure to carry the proper supplies, watch out for dangers, and obey all fences and trail closures – including a trio of north coast trails that are expected to remain closed through 2023.

You haven’t really experienced the Oregon coast until you’ve walked its trails and immersed yourself into the natural landscape. Sand, after all, is only a small part of the coastline.

Here are my picks for the 12 best hikes on the north Oregon coast. Full disclosure: these are my personal favorites, ranked based on the views, the diversity of natural beauty and the accessibility of the trails. Truthfully, each of these hikes is a gem, and all are worth exploring.

The Cathedral Tree is 300-year-old Sitka spruce, found in the forest on the north Oregon coast. A hiking trail to the towering tree begins at the Astoria Column parking lot.Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

12. CATHEDRAL TREE

Distance: 1 mile

Difficulty: moderately easy

Location: Astoria

The Cathedral Tree is a 300-year-old Sitka spruce, found at the end of a half-mile hike that begins on the northeast side of the Astoria Column parking lot. After taking in the views over Astoria and peering up at the beautiful column (the interior is currently closed due to the pandemic), dip into the woods to see one of the biggest, oldest trees on the Oregon coast.

Parking is $5 per vehicle at the Astoria Column.

Tillamook Head Trail

The Tillamook Head Trail runs four miles along the northern edge of Tillamook Head, through coastal rainforest on the relatively wilder side of Ecola State Park.Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

11. TILLAMOOK HEAD

Distance: 8 miles

Difficulty: moderate

Location: Seaside

The Tillamook Head hike starts in a residential area on the edge of Seaside, but soon gives way to a wild, dense coastal forest on the remote side of Ecola State Park. The rugged trail runs along the north end of Tillamook Head, and depending on recent conditions the hike may require you to navigate mud, fallen trees and thick brush. It’s about four miles to the hikers’ camp, where you can turn around or continue hiking onto the Clatsop Loop Trail.

Ecola Creek Forest Reserve

Towering trees, massive ferns and rough-skinned newts populate the Ecola Creek Forest Reserve, a 1,040-acre community forest that protects part of the watershed in Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast.Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

10. ECOLA CREEK FOREST RESERVE

Distance: 2 to 4 miles

Difficulty: easy to moderate

Location: Cannon Beach

The Ecola Creek Forest Reserve is a 1,040-acre forest tucked away in a residential area of Cannon Beach, where multi-use trails allow locals and tourists alike a quiet refuge away from the crowds. The trailhead parking lot is tiny with no extra room to park, so you might want to get there by foot, walking about .7 miles from downtown Cannon Beach.

From the trailhead, it’s an easy one-mile hike to reach a section of old-growth forest, where you can continue on for an additional half mile up steeper hills to see more trees. Instead of going back the way you came, you may decide to take an alternate return route along a hikers-only trail that is a bit more rugged, requiring you to ford a creek in order to get back to the start.

Elk Flats Trail

The Elk Flats Trail leads through a meadow in Oswald West State Park.Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

9. ELK FLATS TRAIL

Distance: 3 miles

Difficulty: moderately easy

Location: Manzanita

The 1.5-mile Elk Flats Trail runs through the heart of Oswald West State Park, connecting the popular Short Sand Beach to the North Neah-Kah-Nie Mountain Trail (which is currently closed). On the way the Elk Flats Trail passes by two incredible viewpoints over an area known as Devil’s Cauldron, where steep cliffs stand over the ocean. At Short Sand Beach, there’s an option to peruse a network of short side trails or continue on to Cape Falcon.

Oswald West

A hiker rests at the top of Cape Falcon, part of Oswald West State Park on the northern Oregon coast.Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

8. CAPE FALCON

Distance: 4.6 miles

Difficulty: moderately easy

Location: Manzanita

The northernmost of four parking areas at Oswald West State Park leads to the Cape Falcon Trail, a 2.3-mile trail that runs through a quiet forest overlooking Short Sand Beach to a viewpoint atop Cape Falcon. The well-graded trail gains only 160 feet of elevation, making it an easy excursion for good views – though hikers will need to navigate exposed roots and mud in some spots.

Oswald West

The beach at Manzanita and Nehalem Bay, seen from a viewpoint on Neahkahnie Mountain in Oswald West State Park.Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

7. NEAHKAHNIE MOUNTAIN

Distance: 3 miles

Difficulty: moderately easy

Location: Manzanita

One of the best views on the north Oregon coast is found on Neahkahnie Mountain, a 1,680-foot peak found in Oswald West State Park that is accessible from trailheads found on the mountain’s north and south sides. The northern trail is currently closed, so hikers will need to make the easier 1.5-mile trek from the South Neah-Kah-Nie Mountain Trailhead, found on Neahkahnie Trailhead Road off U.S. 101.

Fort to Sea Trail

A footbridge crosses over Sunset Lake along the Fort to Sea Trail, which runs 6.5 miles from Lewis and Clark National Historical Park to Sunset Beach on the north Oregon coast. Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

6. FORT TO SEA TRAIL

Distance: 6.5 miles one way

Difficulty: moderate

Location: Warrenton

One of the Oregon coast’s best long-distance day hikes, the Fort to Sea Trail runs from Fort Clatsop at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park to the Pacific Ocean at Sunset Beach. About 6.5 miles each way, the trail passes through a dense coastal forest, open farmland, over creeks and ponds, and finally across sandy dunes to the ocean. Leave a car at either end to make it a one-way trek, or hike out and back for a 13-mile journey.

$10 per person entrance fee charged at the national historical park; parking is free at Sunset Beach.

Cape Kiwanda new fences

Haystack Rock in Pacific City is seen from a viewpoint near the top of Cape Kiwanda, along with new fencing that was installed in an area that was previously off-limits. Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

5. CAPE KIWANDA

Distance: .6 miles

Difficulty: moderate

Location: Pacific City

What the hike up Cape Kiwanda lacks in distance, it makes up for with its beautiful views. A short, steep hike up the sand dune on the south side of the cape gives access to a fenced-in area with spectacular views across the sandstone headland. Those who want a higher view can continue up the dunes to the crest of Cape Kiwanda.

Parking is $10 per vehicle at the Cape Kiwanda public parking lot in Pacific City.

Sitka Sedge

Wildflowers bloom at the edge of wetland at Sitka Sedge State Natural Area near Pacific City on the Oregon coast.Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

4. SITKA SEDGE

Distance: 4 miles

Difficulty: moderately easy

Location: Pacific City

The newest state park site in Oregon, Sitka Sedge features a wide variety of natural landscapes, beginning at a broad wetland, continuing through a dark sand dune forest and emerging at the beach on the north side of Cape Kiwanda. A four-mile excursion will take you to every corner of the park, though a simple hike from the parking lot to the beach is less than a mile.

600 coast hikes

ecola park

3. CLATSOP LOOP TRAIL

Distance: 3 miles

Difficulty: moderate

Location: Cannon Beach

With one segment of the trail leading along cliffs overlooking the ocean, and another leading through a quiet coastal rainforest, the Clatsop Loop Trail at Ecola State Park is one of the most impressive hikes on the north Oregon coast. The trail offers a 1.5-mile hike from the Indian Beach parking lot to the Hikers’ Camp viewpoint, where you can look out at the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse in the distance. Head back along whichever side of the loop you didn’t take on the way out.

Indian Beach Trail

The Indian Beach Trail runs through a quiet coastal forest and along oceanside cliffs at Ecola State Park, offering some of the most stunning views on the north Oregon coast.Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

2. INDIAN BEACH TRAIL

Distance: 4.3 miles

Difficulty: moderate

Location: Cannon Beach

The Indian Beach Trail, found between the Ecola Point and Indian Beach parking lots at Ecola State Park, reopened last October after being closed for nearly five years due to a landslide. The re-routed trail skirts around the big slide, and now leads through an old-growth forest of Sitka spruce on its way to gorgeous cliffside views. More adventurous hikers can continue on to the Clatsop Loop Hike at the end, or you can simply turn around and see it all again on the way back.

Cape Lookout State Park trails

A view from the Cape Trail at Cape Lookout State Park.Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

1. CAPE LOOKOUT

Distance: 5 miles

Difficulty: moderate

Location: Tillamook

You won’t find better ocean views than those from the edge of Cape Lookout, a long finger of a headland south of Tillamook nearly two miles long. A hike out to the tip of Cape Lookout runs about 2.5 miles, taking you through a dense forest, over exposed roots and mud, and finally to a clearing at the edge of a cliff with a phenomenal view over the Pacific Ocean.

Hikers start the journey at the Cape Lookout Trailhead, where they can follow the Cape Trail to the end. The South Trail offers a side trip down to South Beach and Sand Lake, but the North Trail (which usually connects to the Cape Lookout campground) is currently closed due to storm damage.

–Jamie Hale; [email protected]; 503-294-4077; @HaleJamesB