Where Land Meets Water: Oregon Coast Highway

from The Most Scenic Drives in America | 217

12. Cape Perpetua Finding refuge on this headland during a dangerous storm, Capt. James Cook, the British explorer, christened it Cape Perpetua because he felt as if he had been delayed here forever. But far worse fates could befall a visitor. Towering more than 800 feet above the Pacific Ocean, Cape Perpetua is a place of natural, scenic, and historic wonders. Tidepools teem with sea stars, barnacles, limpets, and hermit crabs. In an ancient rain forest, giant spruces bear witness to the past. Piles of discarded clam shells—some measuring 40 feet in height—provide the only remaining evidence of Indian habitation along the entire Oregon coast.

At Devils Churn far-off whales can be glimpsed through a telescope, while spectacular views can be enjoyed nearer at hand. Three miles north of the cape, the drive passes through Yachats, one of the few places in the world where sardinelike silver smelts come close to the shore to spawn. 13. Oregon Coast Aquarium About 28 miles north of Yachats, the excitement moves into the Oregon Coast Aquarium. At this state-of-the-art facility, you’ll delight in the antics of sea otters and sea lions as they play along the aquarium’s rocky shores, while tufted puffins frolic in the pools of one of the largest outdoor sea bird aviaries in North America. Encounter sharks and other deep-sea denizens in Passages of the Deep—a 200-foot undersea tunnel snaking its way through three marine habitats. Next door is the Hatfield Marine Science Center, which further explores and explains the mysteries of the sea.

14. Newport This picturesque port is a good place to get out of the car and take a stroll. Amble along the old bayfront to glimpse fishing fleets and admire fresh fish displayed by some of the best seafood markets on the coast. Saunter along the seashore in search of semiprecious agates washed in by waves. Or wander to the south end of town to the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, the only one remaining in Oregon that combines a tower and keeper’s quarters. Gulls, puffins, and cormorants nest on a nearby island, and whales cruise by offshore. 15. Otter Crest Loop For a short but especially scenic side trip, take Otter Crest Loop west to Devils Punchbowl State Park, so named because a collapsed cavern here churns with seawater at high tide. The drive continues to Cape Foulweather, where the visitor center—perched nearly 500 feet above the pounding surf—commands marvelous views of the nearby tiny hilltop towns. 16. Depoe Bay Home of one of the world’s smallest navigable harbors (only six acres), this cozy seaside village is a major port for sightseeing and whale-watching excursions. In stormy weather nature stages a spectacular show here, as seawater spouts skyward through crevices in the rocks along the waterfront. Nearby Lincoln City, a popular shopping and entertainment center, claims another miniature marvel—the world’s shortest river, only 120 feet long.

17. Cascade Head Like the silverspot butterfly that makes its home here, this 280-acre, privately owned preserve is ever so lovely—but all too fragile. The ecosystems found in this sanctuary are diverse yet delicate, so some areas are off limits and in others visitors must stay on designated trails to prevent damage to the landscape. Some of the trails meander through cathedral-like forests of Sitka spruce and red alder; others lead past wide-open fields rippling with goldenrod, wild rye, and Indian paintbrush; and a few end at a grassy headland with striking views of nearby shores and far-off hills. A variety of wildlife can be seen here, including black-tailed deer, great horned owls, snowshoe hares, Pacific giant salamanders (among the largest in the world), and two rare plants, the Cascade Head catchfly and the hairy checkermallow.