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Driving Oregon’s Three Capes Scenic Loop

By Allison Williams, author of Moon Pacific Northwest Road Trip
The 50-mile Three Capes Loop is a scenic detour with stops at particularly beautiful points on the Oregon coast.

Start: Tillamook, inland on U.S. 101

CAPE MEARES: 14 MILES (23 KILOMETERS)
In Tillamook, drive west on Highway 131 (this is called 3rd Street in town) and follow it northwest for 13.5 miles (22 kilometers) to Cape Meares Lighthouse (503/842-2244, Cape Meares, 11am-4pm Mon.-Thurs., 11am-6pm Fri.- Sun., closed 2pm-2:30pm daily, May-Sept., free). The short, squat lighthouse was built in 1889 and features a Fresnel lens. A short trail passes by interpretive signs, viewpoints, and the Octopus Tree, a 250-year-old Sitka spruce with limbs that bend at right angles.

Leaving the park, follow Bayshore Drive south for 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) to Oceanside, where the road becomes Cape Meares Loop. Turn right on Pacific Avenue and stop for a snack at Roseanna’s Café (1490 Pacific Ave. NW, 503/842-7351, 11am-8pm Mon. and Thurs.-Fri., 10am-8pm Sat.-Sun., $12-25), located in a century-old wooden building, with plenty of seafood to match the waterfront location. After lunch, continue walking north along Pacific Avenue to explore Oceanside Beach State Recreation Site (1790-1798 Rosenberg Loop, 503/842 3182, year-round). Walk up the beach and look for a tunnel in the rocks that leads to the next beach, the aptly named Tunnel Beach (only accessible at low tide).

CAPE LOOKOUT: 8 MILES (13 KILOMETERS)

Photo of the trail through Cape Lookout State Park.
The trail through Cape Lookout State Park. Photo © Linda Bair | Dreamstime.com
From Oceanside, follow Highway 131 south for 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) to the town of Netarts. Turn right on Netarts Bay Drive and follow it for 8 miles (13 kilometers) to Cape Lookout State Park (11645 Whiskey Creek Rd., 503/842-4981, $5 per vehicle). The park lies on a sand spit with quick beach access and more than 8 miles (13 kilometers) of trails as well as yurts ($47-68), a cabin ($96 110), and campsites ($21-45).

CAPE KIWANDA: 12 MILES (19 KILOMETERS)
Leaving Netarts, follow Cape Lookout Road south for a little more than 3 miles (4.8 kilometers). Turn right onto Sandlake Road and drive 8 miles (13 kilometers) to Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area (Hungry Harbor Rd. and McPhillips Dr., 503/842-3182, www.oregonstateparks.org), where Pelican Pub & Brewery (33180 Cape Kiwanda Dr., 503/965-7007, 10:30am-10pm daily, $11-30) marks your final stop on this detour. Grab a cream ale or an IPA and enjoy it on one of the patio tables outside. The microbrewery also serves yummy burgers, seafood, and pizza (in case your lunch has worn off).

End: Tillamook (25 miles/40 kilometers) or Lincoln City (20 miles/32 kilometers)

To complete the loop, return to U.S. 101 by taking Cape Kiwanda Drive south for 1 mile. Turn left onto Pacific Avenue, and then make an immediate right onto Brooten Road, just after the bridge. Follow Brooten Road for 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) to U.S. 101. Take U.S. 101 north for 25 miles (40 kilometers) back to Tillamook, or drive south for 20 miles (32 kilometers) to Lincoln City to continue exploring the coast.


About the Author

While growing up in Olympia, Washington, Allison Williams spent much of her childhood climbing trees and reading books at the top. Family vacations involved camping in the shadow of Mount Rainier or exploring the very dark, probably haunted tunnels of Port Townsend’s old forts.

Allison received her bachelor’s degree in biology and English from Duke University, with studies at Oxford University and an ethnobiology field school in Costa Rica. She worked as a writer and editor in New York City for eight years, including staff positions at Metro newspaper and Time Out New York. When the lure of the Northwest’s mountains, drizzle, and summer berry harvests became impossible to ignore, she relocated to Seattle. She has since realized two lifelong dreams: summiting Mount Rainier and poking sticks into the campfire without being disciplined.

Allison earned her MFA in creative writing at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where her fiction thesis won the Jason Wenger Award for Literary Excellence. Her journalistic work has been recognized with awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and a nomination from the City and Regional Magazine Association. As senior editor at Seattle Met magazine, she covers travel and the outdoors by hiking every trail and driving every road she can find on a map.

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