How to get there:
Leaving Salem, head west on Highway 22 toward the coast. When you reach Valley Junction (just prior to Spirit Mountain Casino) you’ll turn right on Highway 22, also known as Hebo Road. If you see signs for Tillamook, you’ll know you’re heading in the right direction. Hebo Road/Highway 22 is very scenic and parallels the Little Nestucca River. It is also a bit curvy, so be careful on your trip home if it is dark.
At the junction for Pacific City, stay to the right and continue heading toward Tillamook. When you reach the little town of Hebo, turn north on Highway 101. Continuing north, you’ll pass through the town of Beaver. Take a left at Sandlake Road and watch for signs to Cape Lookout State Park; it’s hard to miss.
Distance and elevation gain:
It’s an easy hike heading down to the beach but it can be a bit difficult on the return trip, since the climb spans 800 feet in elevation. If you have weak knees, this is probably not the hike for you. Total length round trip is 3.6 miles, but can be lengthened considerably if you walk along the beach.
Fees and permits:
There are no fees to park here and the trail is open all year. It is dog friendly and there is a portable toilet in the parking lot.
What to see and do:
Since I prefer to hike in places that are less known and less populated, it is surprising that I recommend this hike since Cape Lookout is a very popular destination. It is claimed to be one of the best spots along the Oregon coast to view migrating gray whales in the spring and winter months. But the majority of hikers who come to Cape Lookout head out to the tip of the cape and never set eyes on the beach below.
The quiet and secluded beach is the destination of this hike.
It begins at the west end of the parking lot, just beyond the state park signboard with trail maps and park regulations. The trail leads west for about 50 feet and then branches off to the south and begins a gradual descent through a dense forest of old Sitka spruce, hemlock and western red cedar. The understory is thick with native sword ferns, salal and salmonberry and through the forest you can see the ocean waves lapping on the beach. I imagine more people do not venture to this beach because of the steep trail, but thankfully, the numerous switchbacks make it attainable. Just go slow and enjoy the view and the sounds of the crashing ocean waves. I don’t want to scare you away from this hike, so I will repeat, it is a very gradual descent/ascent and well worth the effort.
Three-quarters of the way down the trail, there is a little wooden bench with names and dates carved into it. It’s a perfect spot to rest and view the cape and beach below. Cape Lookout is actually part of an old lava flow from Eastern Oregon, dating back 15 million years, according to scientists. These massive basalt flows created our beautiful, rugged Oregon coastline. If you have never hiked out to the tip of Cape Lookout I would definitely recommend it, for the entire trail is relatively easy and the views are spectacular. Be prepared for lots of people traffic at this time of year, however.
When you finally descend all the way to the beach, which doesn’t take long, head over to the cape. If the tide is out, you’ll find a small tide pool area with barnacle-covered rocks and plenty of sea creatures. It’s fun to explore and search for the sea anemones, starfish and hermit crabs, but be careful. The rocks can be slick and the waves are unpredictable. The only other access to this beach is from the Sand Lake campground, over 2 miles south, so expect few people and lots of peace and quiet as you stroll the beach. The return trip is back up the trail you came down; just take it slow and enjoy.