Don Bain's 360° Panoramas of the
The Oregon coast is lush and green everywhere, rugged in many places, but in others mantled with soft sand dunes. It is enlivened by a string of interesting towns living on the bounty of the sea and the forest. Almost the entire coast is easily accessible, with Highway 101 never far from saltwater, accented by a series of beautiful historic bridges. There are lighthouses spaced along the coast, some on islands, others on mountainsides or at river mouths, and one stuck back in the dunes. There are no major cities.
The Oregon Coast Ranges are densely forested. Federal, state, and private lands are all thoroughly cutover, so the scenery is not too inspiring. The exceptions are pristine Saddle Mountain, rising far above the rolling sea of forest in the north, and the roadless Rogue River Gorge in the south.
The northern stretch of coast begins at the mouth of the mighty Columbia River, its treacherous bar infamous among sailors. This was also where the Lewis and Clark expedition first reached the western edge of the continent and saw the Pacific Ocean. A good direct road from Portland and the populous Willamette Valley sustains a busy tourist trade in tacky Seaside and classy Cannon Beach, both with magnificent sweeping beaches.
Highway 101 goes inland to the dairy center of Tillamook, the outer coast being accessed via the Three Capes Scenic Loop. Small towns and numerous coastal parks continue, with a notable developed stretch at Lincoln City. Next come the river mouth fishing ports of Newport and Waldport with their graceful high bridges. The road reaches its scenic high points at towering Cape Perpetua, and Heceta Head with its classic white lighthouse.
From Florence to Coos Bay the coast is smothered in sand dunes, largely forested and striped with long narrow lakes, protected (sort of) as Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The highway goes inland a bit to get around the deepwater harbor of Coos Bay, bypassing Charleston and Shore Acres.
The southern coast towns of Bandon and Port Orford are both worth a stop, and a seafood meal. The highway is mostly a bit inland along here, going through farmland and cranberry bogs. But it accesses superlative coastal scenery at Humbug Mountain, Pistol River, and the Samuel Boardman Scenic Corridor, plus the lighthouse at Cape Blanco.