Where Land Meets Water: Oregon Coast Highway

from The Most Scenic Drives in America | 217

Route Details Length: About 360 miles.

When to go: Popular year-round, but best in summer (because of water activities) and during fall (when less crowded).

Lodging: Reservations recommended during June, July, and August. Words to the wise: In peak seasons allow plenty of time, since traffic is heavy and the road is narrow and winding.

Nearby attractions: Tillamook County Creamery (Oregon’s largest cheese-making plant), Tillamook Naval Air Museum, and Tillamook County Pioneer Museum, Tillamook. Columbia River Maritime Museum, Astoria. Latimer Quilt & Textile Center, Latimer. Further information: Oregon Tourism Commission, 775 Summer St. NE, Salem, OR 97301, tel. 800-547-7842, www.traveloregon.com.

Oregon Coast Visitor’s Ass’n., P.O. Box 74, Newport, OR, 97365, 888-628-2101, www.visittheoregoncoast.com

Star Route

Rogue River Loop For a look at inland scenery, turn east at Gold Beach (29 miles north of Brookings) and follow the 140-mile loop along the Rogue and Coquille rivers. Take Rtes. 595, 33, and 219 north, then continue on Rte. 42 from Myrtle Point to Coos Bay. The drive, which passes through a forest containing rare myrtlewood trees, treats travelers to splendid views of cliffs, canyons, and the deep blue waters of the rivers themselves. Now and then, boats carrying mail or sightseers whiz by on the Rogue and then vanish into the wilderness.

Think of Oregon and you probably think of trees, for the state is America’s leading source of timber. But Oregon is notable for its coastline as well. This 360-mile fringe, paralleled by Rte. 101, is dotted with lagoons, lakes, and lighthouses; coves and canyons; sand dunes and seaports. What makes it truly special, however, is a landmark law that designates all beaches free and open to the public.

1. Brookings Fish and flowers are the hallmarks of this town near the southern end of the Oregon Coast Highway. The fish in question are such favorites as salmon and steelhead, which are taken from the Chetco River. The flowers—azaleas—flourish at Azalea Park. Featuring 25 acres of the shrubs, some of them 20 feet tall and over 400 years old, the park delivers amply on the promise of its name. (Brookings also supplies a large share of America’s commercially grown lilies.)

At the north end of town, Rte. 101 passes Harris Beach State Park and, farther to the north, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, where a 10-mile trail affords panoramic clifftop views. The next few miles leading to Cape Sebastian are particularly beautiful, with unobstructed views of offshore rocks.

2. Cape Sebastian State Park About 22 miles north of Brookings, a steep road off the Coast Highway leads to the Cape Sebastian headland, which offers stunning views of craggy cliffs and rocky coves. At 1,100-acre Cape Sebastian State Park, tall evergreens form a verdant backdrop for the colorful azaleas and rhododendrons that carpet the cape.

3. Port Orford This major fishing center is one of the oldest settlements on the Oregon coast. Among its attractions are the Sixes and Elk rivers, the Thousand Island Coast (a series of offshore rocks that are favored by harbor seals and sea lions), and Battle Rock City Park, where you can survey the coastline from atop an oceanfront monolith.

4. Cape Blanco State Park Perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific, the park occupies 1,900 acres of windswept land that once served as a pasture. The scenic views here encompass offshore rocks and reefs, as well as the Cape Blanco Lighthouse, the state’s westernmost beacon. A three-mile trail leads down to a black sand beach (not uncommon along the Oregon coast). 5. Bandon-by-the-Sea The drive from Cape Blanco to the coastal village of Bandon passes through a kaleidoscope of splendid scenery—dense fir forests and wide-open plains, lush green farmland and barren beige shores. At the waterfront begins a five-mile scenic drive that heads south past large sea stacks. These fantastic rock formations are especially impressive when silhouetted against blazing sunsets, as they often are at Face Rock Wayside, located along the loop. The town’s biggest annual event is the Cranberry Festival, held in late September, when Bandon celebrates its status as the Cranberry Capital of Oregon.

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