Unlike most Oregon coast towns, Cannon Beach (pop. 1,749) 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.
Note: US-20 runs farther south, across the center of the state, ending up at the coast at Newport, which is covered in the Pacific Coast road trip. Cannon Beach is also part of the trip along scenic US-101’s winding route.
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, 2 mi (3.2 km) east of US-101, our first stop is the old-growth spruce and fir forest preserved in 25-acre (10 hectares) Klootchy Creek County Park. Among the many huge firs and spruce trees was the Seaside Giant Spruce. More than 215 ft (65 m) high, almost 16 ft (5 m) 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 mi (16.1 km) east of US-101, a 7-mi (11.3-km) 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-mi (4-km, one-way) 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-ft (1,000-m) 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 mi (81 km) 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 mid-April-October on a first-come, first-served basis; RVs should avoid this narrow road.