Unlocking the Mysterious Oregon Coast Tide Pools
These sites offer premier guided viewing of tidepools filled with anemones, starfish, sea urchins, tiny crabs, and other intertidal life.
Tidepools reveal a hidden world of colorful marine creatures when low tide leaves water-filled depressions in the stone floor of rocky shorelines. Viewing is best when tides reach the minus point. Tide tables are available from visitor centers and businesses all along the Pacific Coast Highway, U.S. 101, which runs the length of the Oregon Coast.
The following sites offer excellent exploration of intertidal life with guides or visitor center naturalists to answer questions, and in most cases, hiking and sea bird spotting nearby.
Fragile ecosystems abound in Oregon tidal pools and safety tips include a heightened understanding of the delicate sea creatures that reside in the pools as well as an awareness of times for low and high tides and dangerous sneaker waves. Learn more about where to find tide pools in Oregon with information from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.
Visiting the Tide Pools on the Oregon Coast
In addition to whale watching, eating fresh seafood, and going to the sand dunes park, a favorite thing to do on the Oregon Coast is to visit the tide pools. The Oregon tide pools are rocky pools just steps away from the Pacific Ocean. As the high tide comes in, the pools fill with water. The continuous movement of water provides fresh seawater to the inhabitants of the Oregon tide pools, providing an ever-changing landscape and a new adventure for families every time they visit.
Visiting the Oregon Coast: Creatures in the Magical Tide Pools
The Oregon tide pools are filled with a variety of sea creatures, including sea anemones, mussels, starfish, algae, sea urchins, crabs, and mussels. All of these creatures and more can all be found during a quick trip to an Oregon beach. Though they’re tempting to touch, it’s important to keep curious fingers out of the Oregon tide pools. They’re a fragile ecosystem, and moving or touching sea creatures can cause them to harm or even kill them. In addition, there are some guidelines to help visitors to the tide pools stay safe.
Oregon Beach Trips to the Tide Pools: Safety Tips
There are a number of safety tips to follow on Oregon beach trips to the tide pools. The rocks lining the Oregon Coast pools can be slippery. In addition, an awareness of the tides can help prevent getting washed out to sea by an errant wave. Sneaker waves that seem to come out of nowhere and wayward driftwood can be very hazardous during Oregon beach trips to the tide pools. The best time to visit the Oregon Coast tide pools is about an hour or so before low tide. The rocks surrounding the pools will be fairly dry, making it easier to hike around and maneuver between the pools.
Where to Go: Visiting the Oregon Coast Tide Pools
Visiting the Oregon Coast tide pools is easy since they are located up and down the state. Oregon beach trips to places like Seaside, Newport, and Brookings can easily include a quick trip to the tide pools. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department provides a detailed list of tide pools on the coast. The list includes information about the ease or difficulty involved in visiting each of the tide pool locations. In addition, the guide provides information about the Oregon Coast tide pools that have interpretive programs.
Haystack Rock is located offshore in Cannon Beach, just off U.S. Highway 101 an hour-and-a-half west of Portland via U.S. Highway 26.
The 235-foot monolith jutting out of the surf is a designated National Wildlife Refuge and Marine Garden. Tufted puffins and cormorants nest on the slopes of the rock, while below, intertidal creatures fill the tidepools at low tide.
Naturalists and volunteers from the Haystack Rock Awareness Program are available most summer mornings at low tide to help visitors identify various types of sea anemones, sea stars, urchins, tiny shellfish, and other animals and plants, plus explain the ecology of the intertidal world.
Naturalists bring spotting scopes, as well, to allow visitors an up-close view of nesting birds high on the rock.
Haystack Rock is surrounded by sandy beach, offering a day of beach-walking or play for kids after the tide covers the tidepools.
Designated an Outstanding Natural Area, this headland just north of Newport offers some of the best tidepooling on the coast.
Newport is located on U.S. Highway 101, about 110 miles south of Cannon Beach (above).
Like Haystack Rock, Yaquina Head is a Wildlife Refuge for nesting birds that occupy several high monoliths just offshore. Seals and sea lions bask at the base of these rocks.
A lighthouse on the site dates back to 1873.
The tidepools are reached by a long, steep staircase descending to a cobble beach from the parking lot at the top of the headland. At low tide, the rocky surface of the expansive marine gardens appears just beyond the cobbles. Rangers are usually onsite to answer questions and point out special sightings.
Yaquina Head also includes five short walking trails leading through a diversity of forest and beach, offering expansive vistas and wildlife viewing.
An interpretive center is open daily with displays covering the natural and human history of Yaquina Head.
A $7 per vehicle fee, good for three days, is charged for entering the site. Yaquina Head is located three miles north of Newport. Signs point the way from Oregon Coast Highway 101.
Continuing south on Highway 101 from Newport, the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area is located about 28 miles south of Newport. This is a large protected area of headland and forest with more than 20 miles of hiking trails, ocean vistas, crashing surf, ancient forest and wildlife, as well as tidepools.
Tidepools are reached via the Captain Cook Trail, which begins near the Cape Perpetua Visitor Information Center. Rangers are often onsite during morning low tide to help visitors identify and interpret the intertidal life.
The Visitor Center is open daily and offers guided naturalist programs, walks, and interpretive displays. Summer hours for the center are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The Visitor Center can be reached by phone at 541-547-3289.
Tidepool creatures occupy specific zones in the intertidal area. When tides are moderately low, some creatures, such as starfish are visible, while others only reveal themselves at the lowest of tides.
Tidepooling is a rich experience, revealing seldom seen sea life. But caution is necessary for safety. Rocks are usually slippery with wet seaweed, so care is necessary to avoid falls. Visitors are also cautioned to never turn their back on the ocean, as tides or “sneaker waves” can come in quickly and unexpectedly.
Visitors must also be careful not to damage the life underfoot. Collecting intertidal plants or animals is prohibited.
Pacific Coast Tide Pool Animals
Low tide on the Pacific Coast uncovers a magical world of little sea creatures: animals that look like flowers or plump round pincushions; crabs that carry snail shells on their backs, orange starfish; ancient armored chitons; and oddly shaped seashells, mostly occupied.
The rocky intertidal zone – the portion of the beach between high and low tide – is a tough place to live. Alternately covered by the sea and exposed to rain and the drying sun, creatures must also withstand the force of inrushing tides and the coast’s fierce salt winds.
Nevertheless, the array of animals that thrive here is abundant and varied.
Anemones, Starfish & Mussels
Green anemones wave tentacles like flower petals in pools of seawater, holding tight to the rocks where they remain stationary. Nearby, thorny purple sea urchins graze the tidepools.
Starfish, or “sea stars,” are a favorite of children exploring the rocky intertidal zone. They move slowly across the rocks on suction feet, which they also use to pry open mussels for supper. Pacific starfish range from bright orange to purple.
Mussels are tough shellfish that attach themselves to rocks, sometimes in large colonies. Blue mussels, with deep blue or black shells, are common in Pacific waters, as are the slightly larger California mussels. California mussels have bright orange flesh when cracked open.
Colorful Nudibranches, Crabs & Chitons
Some animals move freely through the tidepools. One type carries the common name “sea slug,” although they can be so beautifully colored the name seems an insult. Nudibranch is the formal name for sea slugs, whose soft bodies range from lemon yellow to white and bright red, often with stripes, dots or borders. They come in all shapes from elongated to round, flat or plump. Some have feelers on their backs that sway gracefully as they move through the water.
Tiny crabs scurry along the bottom of tidepools or hide in crevices or under rocks. One crab, the hermit crab, can be seen dragging a snail shell on its back.
Chitons are flattened, oval animals with overlapping plates for armor. They have a prehistoric look. They cling to the rocks where they scrape off algae for food. While most are small, the giant gumboot chiton can grow to almost a foot and hides its plates beneath a thick reddish-brown outer coating.
Limpets, Sponges, and Hydroids
Limpets are a common intertidal dweller, easily identified by their cone-shaped shells. There are several species, some preferring the ocean-side edges of the low-tide line, others surviving high on rocks where only the salty sea splash reaches them. Their tiny, “Chinese hat” shells often wash up all along the wet beach sand.
Some animals look more like moss or the branches of tiny plants. Encrusting sponges form cushions of red and purple on the rocks. Hydroids often grow in clusters like bushes with waving tentacles or on stems with branches resembling fans.
Tiny fish seen swimming in tidepools are probably sculpins. There are several species, but most have slender bodies and broadheads. Colors range from brown to red, often mottled.
When exploring tidepools, remember that removing animals from their natural location usually means death for them. Life here depends on an exacting balance of tidal reach and chemistry within each stage of the intertidal zone.
Wet intertidal rocks are slippery. Falls can result in cuts and scrapes from sharp rocks and shells. When exploring, remember to walk carefully to avoid falls and to avoid damaging the delicate marine life.
- Tidepool & Reef: Marinelife Guide to the Pacific Northwest Coast, byRick M. Harbo (Hancock House Publishers Ltd.)
- Exploring Pacific Coast Tidepools, by Vinson Brown (Naturegraph Publishers)
- Between Pacific Tides, by Edward Rickets and Jack Calvin (Stanford University Press). This is a classic of marine biology with more than 600 pages.
- Seashore Life of the Northern Pacific Coast: An Illustrated Guide to Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, by Eugene N. Kozloff (University of Washington Press). This is a comprehensive guide to intertidal life.