Towering some five hundred feet above the Pacific Ocean, the end point of this rocky promontory provides a front-row seat for witnessing the spectacle of migrating gray whales. Nearly fifty feet in length, these massive mammals begin their six-thousand-mile journey from the Bering Sea to the warm bays of Mexico in December. But beginning in March, when the whales return with newborn calves, they range closer to shore, making sightings more likely. Located within the two-thousand-acre Cape Lookout State Park, the trail also leads hikers through a rare thicket of old-growth coastal forest brimming with mammoth moss-covered Sitka spruce trees. And because many whale watchers choose easier-to-reach viewpoints like nearby Cape Meares, your only companion during a journey past these ancient relics may be the distant sound of waves crashing below.
ROUTE: From the southwest end of the parking lot, head straight on the well-signed Cape Lookout Trail and stay straight at the intersection with South Beach Trail. At approximately the half-mile mark, you’ll pass a faded green placard memorializing crew members of a World War II bomber that crashed on the cape in 1943. After curving northward through a dense forest lined with salmonberry shrubs and sword ferns, the trail opens to reveal a cove and views of Three Arch Rocks. In warmer months, blooms of Indian paintbrush and purple wild iris line the path’s last leg, leading to a lone bench and an infinite horizon.
POST-HIKE WATERING HOLE: Pelican Pub & Brewery. Fresh dory-caught snapper and crab cakes topped with a sweet grilled onion–and–mango salsa tempt diners at this beachside brewpub. The real attraction, though, is the Pelican’s treasure trove of award-winning ales like the Indian Pelican Ale, a gold medalist at 2008’s North American Beer Awards. Any one of the brews can be bottled in a thirty-four-ounce growler to go. 33180 Cape Kiwanda Dr, Pacific City; 503-965-7007
TRAILHEAD DIRECTIONS: At the intersection of US 101 and OR 6 in Tillamook, turn left on US 101. Drive 0.1 miles and turn right on Third Street/Netarts Highway. Go 5 miles. Bear left onto Whiskey Creek Road. Travel approximately 5 miles, passing the entrance for Cape Lookout State Park. Go 3 miles and look for the Cape Lookout Trail entrance on the right. No fees or permits required.