Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Day Trip: Oregon Coast - Smugglers Cove & Cannon Beach

Discovering that the weather forecast for the Northern Oregon Coast called for 61 degree and sunny this past weekend, my wife and I decided to hit the road. Being Super Bowl Sunday, we also hoped for lesser crowds than usual on sunny weekend at the coast.

I have been eying the neighboring Kings Mountain and Elk Mountain hikes, both among the most strenuous hikes in my guide books, located off hwy 6 in the coastal range, so this is the route we took out to the coast. I wanted to get a glimpse of their trailheads.

Hwy 6 spills you out at Tillamook, one of the nation's cheese capitals (and boy, you know it when you get there due to the ubiquitous cow manure odor lurking in the air here). From here, we went northbound toward the quaint "Carmel-by-the-Sea-like" town of Manzanita, the wild Oswald West State Park, and the artsy and touristy town of Cannon Beach.

Our first real stop was in Rockaway Beach, a small beach town north of Tillamook. Here we stretched our legs on the beach and made friends with the gulls.

Rockaway Beach (m)
Seagull on Rockaway Beach (m)
Reluctant to leave the beach but eager to get to an even better one, we continued north through the quaint towns of Nehalem Bay: Wheeler, Nehalem, and Manzanita. My wife and I adore this part of the coast. We were too busy taking in the charm of this area to stop and take any photographs of the towns themselves, but I will in the future. We both agreed that to one day retire in one of these towns, especially Manzanita, would be absolutely wonderful.

Again reluctant to leave, this time downtown Manzanita, we drove out of the Nahalem Bay area and up into Oswald West State Park. There are several places to pull off the 101 to take in views of the bay and Manzanita down below. The photo below is an example of what to expect from the views you'll get from these hwy 101 turnouts.

Manzanita and Nehalem Bay from a turnoff on hwy 101
Finally, we arrived at one of our main destinations: Cape Falcon and Short Sand Beach (aka Smugglers Cove). A short and very easy path along a creek and through old-growth Sitka spruce leads to Short Sand Beach, a picture perfect place to beach bum, watch surfers, wade in both the ocean and the mouth of a creek, and have a picnic.

The most intriguing and romantic thing about Smugglers Cove, however, is that legend has it (and apparently, it is more than just legend and actually true) that Sir Francis Drake, the Englishman who first ventured north of California along the Pacific, buried treasure that he pirated from the Spanish (who pirated gold from the Aztecs and Incas) somewhere in Oswald West State Park, namely somewhere up on Neahkahnie Mountain (which towers over Smugglers Cove). They came ashore via Short Sand Beach! So not only is this place naturally breathtakingly scenic, but there is also the looming wonder for all who visit as to whether or not there really is Incan and Mayan gold, pirated first by the Spanish and then by the English, burried somewhere in the area. There is something about this place that reminds me of The Goonies, which coincidentally was filmed not 40 miles to the north of Short Sand Beach in the gritty, wind-blown fisherman's town of Astoria, Oregon.

Here is Short Sand Beach / Smugglers Cove, as well as the path that leads one to it:

A towering old-growth Sitka Spruce along the path to Short Sand Beach
The path leading to Short Sand Beach
The path leading to Short Sand Beach
Surfers on Short Sand Beach - Smuggler's Cove
Short Sand Beach - Smuggler's Cove
Short Sand Beach - Smuggler's Cove
The intent was to hike out to Cape Falcon, which is apparently among the best coastal hikes in Oregon, with outstanding views of Smugglers Cove and Neahkahnie Mountain, but alas, we encountered wet mud puddles thick and gnarly enough that we agreed not to continue on (the day was hardly half over, and neither of us wanted to spend the rest of the day in wet, muddy shoes). If you look to the left of the picture below (thanks to William Sullivan and you will see Smugglers Cove, Short Sand Beach, and Cape Falcon. The dotted line is the trail that I will have to save for another, drier day.

Photo thanks to W. Sullivan and

Here are some photos of the beginning of the trail out to Cape Falcon, and an example of the mud puddles that forced us to turn around.

The trail to Cape Falcon
Typical mud puddles encountered in the coastal range during the rainy winter months
The trail to Cape Falcon
The Picnic area at Short Sand Beach has to be one of the best places on earth to have a picnic. My wife and I were regretful for not stopping at a market in Manzanita for a make-shift picnic to bring here. From now on, whenever we come out here, we will bring lunch with us. It's that perfect.

Smuggler's Cove
Short Sand Beach
We returned to our car hungry and ready for some sort of seafood lunch, so we head just slightly north on a very scenic section of the 101 into Cannon Beach, a quaint, artsy beach town that is typically very crowded with tourists, and rightly so. Today, however, the Super Bowl kept many Oregonians indoors, making Cannon Beach a lot quieter and calmer (and therefore even more enjoyable) than I had remembered it. But then again, I had only ever visited on Spring weekends.

Oh, and why is it called Cannon Beach? Because a cannon from a shipwrecked Navy schooner washed up onto the shore here in 1846. How badass is that? You really understand the force and power of the ocean when you realize it can toss around a freaking cannon.

My wife and I made a break for Ecola Seafoods in downtown Cannon Beach across from the Visitor Center, which William Sullivan, author of my Oregon Coast guidebook, highly recommended. It was, to say the least, just what we needed. We ate phenomenally fresh seafood at typical yet reasonable prices. We ordered smoked mussels, a bowl of clam chowder, and a Fisherman's Platter (a glorified fish and chips that came with cod, salmon, shrimp, scallops, and oysters). Everything was absolutely outstanding, right down to the homemade cocktail sauce. I assure you, readers, that every trip to Cannon Beach from here on out will include a purchase from this establishment, whether it be hot food to be consumed on the spot, or some of their own canned, smoked seafoods, salmon jerkies, etc.

I'll admit, I could've sat there and ate seafood for the next two hours, regardless of how full I felt.

One of the greatest things to do in Cannon Beach is to walk up and down the main street, Hemlock Street, and take in the galleries, shops, confectioneries, wine shops, etc. We did just this after lunch to burn up some time before the main event: a sunset behind Haystack Rock. My wife started foaming at the mouth when she saw salt water taffy for sale at Bruce's Candy Kitchen, which has been around since the 60's, so we made a point to fill up a bag to take home.

But shortly after om-nom-nomming several pieces of salt water taffy each (I fancied the huckleberry ones, myself), it was finally time for one of the most beautiful sights you'll ever set your eyes on: a sunset over the pacific ocean at Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock. I have been trying to find the words to describe how magnificent a sunset is from this beach, but am having difficulty doing so. Rather, I'll let some photos speak for themselves, below. These photos are not photo-shopped, enhanced, or edited in any way: this is, in its rawest form, what is like to watch the sun set from Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Sunset at Cannon Beach, Oregon
Sunset at Cannon Beach, Oregon
Moon over Cannon Beach homes
Sunset at Cannon Beach, Oregon

Few sunsets the world over rival the one witnessed from Cannon Beach. Today's hike made me yearn for the coming Spring, where temperatures on the coast are the best in Oregon, when wales return to Alaska from Mexico, and when the seafood you savor at restaurants can be eaten on outdoor patios.

The Oregon Coast is wild yet civilized, beautiful yet beastly, pristine yet gritty. You, viewer, will be seeing much more of the coast in its various forms in future entries. WCYK5A5GWKWW


  1. Looks awesome E! What a beautiful sunset. Can't wait to come visit....

  2. Amazing pics! Yes, the sunset looks incredible! Great blog!

  3. Beautiful photos! I'd love to get this post featured in the blog section of the Cannon Beach page on Dwellable. Please let me know if you're interested! My email is inna at dwellable dot com or you can find me on Twitter - @innab.