Follow a Hobbit Trail, see a shipwreck, watch for whales, and visit a haunted lighthouse in Florence, Newport, and Cannon Beach.
Words & Photos by Camille Gullickson
This past year has thrown a lot of curveballs to all of us, globally, and in the West. Catastrophic wildfires, a worldwide pandemic, and a megadrought have been part of the ‘new normal’ we are navigating while planning fun and safe experiences for our families. For us, one place has been a steady refuge throughout it all, the Oregon coast.
At the coast, devices are forgotten, children frolic in the surf, and family dogs are in their element. Smoke is cleared, the temperatures are cool, and everyone can finally let down. The Oregon coast is the first place we felt comfortable staying for our first hotel experience since the pandemic began, and the place we pivoted to when our farther afield family vacation plan went south because of extreme weather.
And if you’re planning for a fall getaway, you’re in luck, because many consider September to mid-October to be the best weather of the year on the coast. We’ve enjoyed the Oregon coast every season of the year, and generally prefer to go in the off-season. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it is to be prepared for all types of weather, no matter the season. We’ve gone in parkas in the winter and wished we had shorts, and shorts in the summer and wished we had parkas.
Rain or shine, there is something for everyone at the Oregon coast’s lovely beach towns, so pack your swimsuit and your rain gear and get out there to enjoy our favorite activities in these three popular spots: Florence, Newport, and Cannon Beach.
Visit Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint We have been visiting the beautiful Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint since our teen was a baby in a pack. The short Heceta Head Lighthouse Trail climb is a good length for young kids and ends with beautiful views of the lighthouse and the coastline. Photogenic Heceta Head Lighthouse, first illuminated in 1894, is one of the most photographed lighthouses along the coast, and the lighthouse viewpoint is also noted as one of the best places to spot migrating whales during their winter and spring migrations. Click here for a full trail map of the Heceta Lighthouse Trail if you’d like to extend your explorations.
Follow Hobbit Trail to the Beach The Hobbit Trail Trailhead, located just a short drive from Heceta Head, is another favorite short (1-mile) family-friendly hike through lush green coastal forest along the Pacific Ocean. The great thing about this hike is its versatility. If you are adventuring with younger children or carrying a lot of beach gear, you may choose to just take the short hike down to the beach from the highway parking lot, and if you are feeling more ambitious the Hobbit Trail can be combined with the Heceta Lighthouse Trail system for a longer coastal hiking experience.
Explore the Lush Enchanted Valley Trail We explored the pretty Enchanted Valley Trail this spring and found it to be a great setting for kids and dogs. If you hike the entire thing, it is only 3.3 miles, and the trail can be muddy and overgrown in areas depending on the time of year so make sure you wear appropriate footwear. If you are visiting Florence for a few days and want to break up your trips to the beach or try a less crowded and lesser-known area, this can be an interesting area to explore, especially during wildflower season.
Where to Stay in Florence
- For a family and dog-friendly hotel option, check out Best Western Pier Point Inn, located in a pretty forested setting above the Siuslaw River two miles from downtown Florence.
- For car camping and yurts, take a peek at the beautiful Creekside Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park campground, located in the Siuslaw National Forest north of Florence. We’ll be trying our first-ever yurt camping experience here (finally!) this fall.
Go Fly a Kite at One of Newport’s Beautiful Beaches There are many beautiful beaches to explore in Newport, but a few of our favorites are Nye Beach, Devil’s Punchbowl State Natural Area, and Beverly Beach State Park. High winds and wide-open beaches make kite flying an especially fun activity. If you don’t own a kite, check out The Kite Company where you can buy your own and spend the day indulging in this fun economical activity.
Get Too Close for Comfort With the Sharks at the Oregon Coast Aquarium We’ve had so many wonderful family trips to the Oregon Coast Aquarium over the years. Our favorite exhibit is the home of the giant Pacific octopus, but there is so much more to see at this top-notch aquarium. A special new exhibit, Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline, is now open (June 11th, 2021 – March 3rd, 2022) and takes visitors on a trip back in time to prehistoric Oregon.
Look for Whales (and Ghosts) at Yaquina Bay State Recreation Site You could spend the entire day or longer at the beautiful Yaquina Bay State Recreation Area, located at the north end of Yaquina Bay near the Pacific Ocean, and home to a beautifully restored 1871 lighthouse that some believe to be haunted. Explore the beach, hike the scenic trails through spruce and pine forest, and visit the lighthouse. During the winter and spring migrations, you may even be able to spot gray whales migrating up and down the coast from this and other coastal state park locations, click here for a downloadable whale-watching brochure (including a map of the best spots to look for whales).
Test Your Fear of Heights at Drift Creek Falls Trail The Drift Creek Falls Trail is one of our favorite hikes along the Oregon coast, and it is located about a one-hour drive north of downtown Newport (near Lincoln City) so it makes a nice day trip if you are staying in the area for at least a few nights. We’ve hiked this 3-mile trail with our babies in packs, and then when they were able to hike it themselves. The hike features a 240-foot long suspension bridge and a lovely little waterfall and pool at the bottom just perfect for a picnic. The native forest and mossy nurse logs inspired more than one “fairy hunt” for our kids.
Where to Stay in Newport
- The beautiful Hallmark Resort features oceanfront rooms, a pool, an onsite restaurant, and it is family and dog-friendly too! We’ve enjoyed several stays here.
- Lovely Salishan Coastal Lodge is a bit farther north (26 minutes from Newport) in Gleneden Beach and closer to the Drift Creek Falls Trail. The rooms are not directly on the beach but are tucked up into the trees and are very spacious with exterior entrances. Salishan has one of the nicest pools we’ve experienced, especially for younger children, because it has a shallow end perfect for building confidence. They also allow dogs.
- If you are feeling a bit more adventurous or are on a budget, we’ve camped at Beverly Beach State Park Campground several times, and it was one of the nicest campsites we’ve visited. The campsites are tucked into the trees directly across from the beach.
Explore the Tidepools Under Iconic Haystack Rock Haystack Rock is one of the easiest places to see tidepools and other sea life (such as nesting sea birds) in Cannon Beach and visiting the landmark 235-foot sea stack pops up on most “what to do in Cannon Beach” lists. Click here for more ideas of where to explore tidepools, tidepool tips, and tide charts.
Take a Hike to Breathtaking Views at Ecola State Park Stunning Ecola State Park, just a short drive from the north part of downtown Cannon Beach, features beautiful trails through the mature Sika spruce forest with amazing panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean that may just take your breath away. We enjoyed Clatsop Loop Trail from Indian Beach, at 2.8 miles and moderate, a good length for a family hike. Depending on the time of year these trails can be slippery.
Marvel at the Peter Iredale Shipwreck at Fort Stevens State Park During our most recent trip to Cannon Beach, we finally saw the iconic Peter Iredale shipwreck at Fort Stevens State Park, and it did not disappoint. Located north of Cannon Beach, closer to Astoria, it is well worth the drive. This 4-masted steel ship washed ashore in 1906 en route to the Columbia River and was abandoned to the sands of time on Fort Clatsop Spit near Fort Stevens State Park. For more interesting history click here and here. Peter Iredale is easily accessible at Fort Stevens State Park.
Where to Stay in Cannon Beach
- We’ve enjoyed several stays at the Inn at Cannon Beach. We appreciated its reasonable price, that it is one block from the beach, that it is family and dog friendly, and that it includes a decent breakfast. The kids are still talking about the frog pond and bunnies in the garden courtyard.
Camille Gullickson – September 2021
Camille is a native of Seattle and moved to Oregon to raise her family after nine years in California and New York. She loves exploring the Pacific Northwest and beyond with her family, and whether she is hiking in the old growth or trying a new eatery in the city, she is home. Read more of her adventures at www.tournesoladventures.com
© ROAM Family Travel 2021 – All rights reserved
© ROAM Family Travel 2021 – All rights reserved
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