Unlike most Oregon coast towns, Cannon Beach (pop. 1,702) is hidden from the highway, but it’s one place you won’t want to miss. Though it has long been known as an artists’ colony and has grown considerably in recent years thanks to its popularity as a weekend escape from Portland, Cannon Beach retains a rustic quality, a walkably small size, and a coastline that rates second to no other in the state.
The Sunset Highway
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 25-acre Klootchy Creek County Park. Among the many huge firs and spruce trees was the Seaside Giant Spruce. More than 215 feet high, almost 16 feet in diameter, the tree was snapped in two by a storm in December 2007. Safety concerns caused officials to cut down the tree, but the huge stump and fallen sections have been left in place to show how massive the old-timer really was.
About 10 miles east of US-101, a seven-mile side trip to the northeast, along well-signed 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 Natural Area surrounds the highest point in the Coast Range. A steep 2.5-mile hiking trail climbs to the summit, with opportunities to view bleeding heart, Indian paintbrush, monkey flowers, and other rare wildflowers and other plants. From the 3,290-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 Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Rainier (with more than a few ugly acres of clear-cuts in between). Ten primitive campsites (503/368-5943 or 800/551-6949, $11) are open April-October on a first-come, first-served basis; RVs should avoid this narrow road.