Running over the coastal mountains between Cannon Beach and Portland, US-26 is known as the Sunset Highway. Climbing up from the coastal plain, two miles east of US-101, our first stop is the old-growth spruce and fir forest preserved in Klootchy Creek Park. Among the many huge firs and spruce trees is the “World’s Largest Sitka Spruce.” More than 215 feet high, almost 16 feet in diameter, and thought to be over 700 years old, the tree is pointed out by a sign along the north side of the highway.
About 10 miles east of US-101, an eight-mile side trip to the northeast, along well-signed (but unpaved) Saddle Mountain Road, will lift you quickly above the frequent coastal clouds and fog. Named for a geographical saddle that sits high above the surrounding forests, Saddle Mountain State Park surrounds the highest point in the Coast Range. A very steep 2.5-mile hiking trail climbs to the summit, with opportunities to view bleeding heart, Indian paintbrush, monkey flowers, and other rare plants and wildflowers. From the 3,283-foot peak, you can often see the mouth of the Columbia River and the spine of the Coast Range. On a clear day, the panorama may include 50 miles of Pacific coastline and Mounts Hood, St. Helens, and Rainier (with more than a few ugly acres of clear-cuts in between). Primitive campsites are open mid-April to October; RVs should avoid this narrow road.