Road Trip: Oregon Coast
Ask any Oregonian for road trip tips and they'll tell you that the miles of open coastline along the Oregon Coast is a must-see for anyone visiting the state. Drive the scenic Highway 101 along coastal cliffs, through forests and sand dunes. We suggest three days on the Oregon Coast to get the most out of your Oregon Coast road trip.
- Good for: solo trips, couples, families, outdoor enthusiasts
- Best time to drive: spring and fall for fewer crowds; winter for storm and whale watching and peak Dungeness crab season
From Eugene, you can enjoy a leisurely 60 mile drive to Florence, then have your pick of where to anchor your stay: a cozy inn in Historic Old Town Florence, a beachfront hotel with an ocean view or a coastal campground to pitch your tent. Spend the next two days exploring the wonders of the stretch of the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway (Highway 101). Drive north along the rocky cliffs and south past rolling sand dunes. You'll see amazing panoramic vistas, landmarks and wildlife - and have the opportunity to kick back, relax and dig your feet into the sand while you watch the waves roll by.
Eugene to Florence
Head west out of Eugene on West 11th, which becomes Highway 126. From you here you can get to the coast in one hour; but since the journey is more than half the fun, we suggest taking your time and discovering some of the treasures you'll find along this route.
Just outside of Eugene you'll pass the small community of Veneta, known for being home to the annual Oregon Country Fair and Fern Ridge Reservoir, Eugene's go-to spot for boating, sailing, swimming, birding and picnicking. The lake stretches out to the north of Highway 126, bordered by wetland preserves. Stop at one of the wildlife viewing areas or at Perkins Peninsula Park to observe the thriving ecosystem. Birding is very popular here and you'll likely be rewarded with glimpses of sandpipers, mallards and herons. Fern Ridge's Richardson Park Campground is also a great spot for camping with young kids or first-time campers who want to be on a lake but since close to a metro area.
The other great feature of Veneta is its surrounding wine country. If you want to taste some of Oregon's famous Pinot Noir, plan to detour north on Territorial Highway. LaVelle Vineyards is only four miles off the main road, open daily after noon, and offers a labyrinth, a charming tasting room and outdoor seating with great vineyard views.LaVelle Vineyards by Thomas Moser
Continuing on along Highway 126, you'll pass several small farms. Keep an eye out for Morning Glory Farm and Espresso, where you can pick up a fresh cup of coffee and organic picnic supplies for the journey.
Next up is Wildcat Creek Covered Bridge, one of the area's historic covered bridges that you can still drive through. To get there, turn left onto Siuslaw Rd, then right onto Austa Rd. This is the perfect place to picnic if you picked up lunch.
You can also cross the highway and head to the Whittaker Creek Recreation Site for more shady hikes and leisurely strolls. For the more adventurous and prepared, seek the Kentucky Falls Trailhead from here. You won't have cell service and the directions to get there are notoriously difficult, so make sure to stop by a local visitor center or ranger station to pick up a paper map and expert advice. For an easier, more accessible waterfall hike, turn off the highway right before Mapleton on Sweet Creek Road to wander the 11 cascades at Sweet Creek Falls.
Immediately past the turn off for Sweet Creek Falls is the bridge over the Siuslaw River into Mapleton. If the river calls to you, consider making arrangements to stay at Lauren's Place, an idyllic Mapleton bed and breakfast with a private dock and kayaks.
By now, if you've stopped along the way, it may be late afternoon. Check into your Florence hotel and plan your evening. If there is still time, pop over to the Oregon Coast Military Museum for an impressive tribute to the local veterans. Or drive north through town on Highway 101 to see an unusual garden dedicated to Darlingtonia, a rare carnivorous flower.
There are many excellent dinner options in Historic Old Town Florence, or catch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean from the Surfside Restaurant on Heceta Beach. Wrap up your evening with a show at the Florence Events Center or a movie at City Lights Cinemas.
Florence to Yachats
After breakfast, head north on Highway 101 for an epic road trip of ocean vistas, rocky cliffs and mossy coastal forests. This is one of the most dramatic stretches of the entire Oregon Coast Highway, slowly rising to the highest point of the coastline at Cape Perpetua.
The Sea Lion Caves are an internationally-recognized destination for good reason. You can check the gift shop television monitor to see what is happening in the caves that day; even if the sea lions are out swimming in the ocean or lounging on the rock ledges, the cave itself – hailed as America's largest sea cave – is still stellar in itself. An elevator will take you 200 feet down into the cave. Afterward, stroll the sea cliff walk to spot sea lions, migrating whales and sea birds.
After driving over the Cape Creek Bridge you'll come to the Heceta Head Lighthouse. Before you reach the lighthouse itself, you'll see the Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint, popular with photographers who come to capture an iconic shot of the lighthouse surrounded by a sweeping view of the coastline. Once you arrive at Heceta Head Beach, take a short hike past the former Assistant Lighthouse Keepers' House – now a bed and breakfast – to the lighthouse. Seasonally, volunteers or Park Rangers may be on site leading tours.
Your next stop is at the Hobbit Trail near Washburne State Park. Parking is limited along the road, but if you're able to find a spot, this is a fun, easy hike. The short trail winds through damp, mossy woods that feel like an enchanted forest from a fairy tale before magically opening onto a wide, flat beach.
Finally, continue to the highest point on the Oregon Coast at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, where the forest meets the sea. Stop by the Visitor Center and learn about the 26 miles of trails with awe-inspiring ocean views, or look over the ocean and try to spot migrating whales. The easy 0.6 (41.8 km) walk on the trail from the visitor center will lead you to tidepools and Thor's Well, a natural spouting horn where you can watch ocean waves crash upward and then disappear through a hole in the rocky shoreline, as if sucked down a bathtub drain. Though easy to access, make sure to follow beach safety guidelines and avoid walking out onto the rocks, where the tide can change quickly. Never turn your back on the ocean and remember that even if a rock or sandy area looks dry, a powerful sneaker wave could surprise you there. Instead, relax and watch from the viewing platform as you take in the awesome display of the wild Pacific coastline.
From the Visitor Center parking lot, you can also drive to the very top of Cape Perpetua to an overlook with breathtaking views, picnic tables and some steep hiking paths. Gaze as the tiny ribbon of a road and vast ocean ripple across the horizon below you.
If you've called ahead for reservations, stop at C&M Stables in Florence and saddle up for a sunset horseback ride on the beach. This is the ultimate Oregon Coast experience and the family-owned stables take great care of their beloved horses.
Back in town, unwind from the horseback riding at the Three Rivers Resort & Casino. Plenty of gaming, headliner shows and three restaurants will keep you entertained.
Florence to Dunes City
Today you'll head south on Highway 101 after a leisurely morning exploring Historic Old Town Florence. Get coffee or tea to go at River Roasters and meander Bay Street and the boardwalk. Tour Old Town's murals, and shop for gifts, clothing, art, kitchenware, kites and fudge. The Florence Farmers' Market is here every Tuesday, 3 to 7 p.m. between May and October.
Just across the Siuslaw Bridge is the windswept South Jetty. Drive into the dunes along the Siuslaw River to where the dunes meet with the ocean. Fishing and sandboarding are popular sports here, or you can just enjoy exploring the sand hills and water views. You might even spot surfers and windsurfers out by the jetty.
Cleawox Lake is a classic Oregon Coast lake: it has sandy beaches, a roped-off swim area, and is adjacent the popular Jessie M. Honeyman State Park. Seasonally, vendors may offer canoe and kayak rentals here, or you may find some available at Siltcoos Lake further south on Highway 101. From Siltcoos Lake, paddle a three-mile river trail to the ocean. Please note signage and respect the endangered Snowy Plover nesting areas, which are restricted in spring and summer.
The best way to explore the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is to immerse yourself in the dunes and – as you'll quickly discover walking through sand – hiking is not an easy option! If you aren't hauling your own ATV, visit one of the dune buggy tour companies for a fast and thrilling or slow and scenic ride into the massive dunes landscape. Learn all about the habitat and the efforts to preserve this amazing natural wonder.
Sand Dunes Frontier Dune Buggy Tour by Michael Sherman