Pacific Coast Scenic Byway Follows 365 Miles of Spectacular Scenery
Highway 101 parallels the Oregon coast for nearly 400 miles, through some of the state’s most glorious scenery. Dozens of public beaches and state parks line the way.
Oregon possibly has more state parks and recreation areas than any other state its size. Nearly one hundred of these are found along Highway 101, the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, which winds its way the length of the state. In addition to the countless state beaches, parks, and waysides, tourists can also choose from numerous national and commercial sites.
The Oregon Public Beaches
Oregon’s shoreline property was being sold for private use until the 1913 legislature, under pressure from newly-elected governor Oswald West, declared Oregon’s tidelands a public highway. This effectively stopped the sale of oceanfront property. The same legislature created the state highway commission, which began purchasing land along state highways for park use.
There were more than 30 state parks along Oregon’s coast by 1950, and in 1965, the legislature re-designated the coast from a state highway to a state recreation area. Pressure from private interests continued to threaten public access, however, until governor Tom McCall signed the “Oregon Beach Bill” in 1967, guaranteeing public access to all of Oregon’s beaches.
Oregon’s State Parks Along Highway 101
Oregon’s extensive state park system is showcased by the parks along and close to coastal highway 101. The coast is divided into three sections, north coast, central coast, and south coast. The north section runs from the state border with Washington south to Neskowin, the central section from there to just south of Florence and the south coast section from there to the California border.
There are 19 parks in the northern section, 37 in the central section and 29 in the southern section, for a total of 85 parks (an average of more than 1 park every 5 miles). Of these, 19 provide overnight camping facilities, some on a first-come, first-served basis. For detailed information about the parks and campground reservation policy, visit the Oregon State Park web site.
Oregon’s state parks carry a variety of names, including recreation sites, scenic viewpoints, natural areas, corridors, and waysides. Some are little more than a rest stop along a spectacular stretch of ocean, while others may include acres of forests or beach. One of the more unique parks is the Darlingtonia State Natural Site, in the central coast section. This is the only Oregon park dedicated to the preservation and protection of a single plant species, the carnivorous (insect-eating) Cobra lily (Darlingtonia californica).
National Recreation Sites Along the Oregon Coast
In addition to the extensive state park and beach opportunities, there are national recreation areas for the tourist to explore. The largest of these is the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, which runs from Florence south to Coos Bay, an area that also includes several state parks. The Oregon Dunes are a sweeping range of shifting golden sand dunes, bordered both by the ocean and dense forests.
Other national sites of interest include Fort Clatsop National Monument near the mouth of the Columbia River on Oregon’s northern border and Yaquina Head Lighthouse on the northern edge of Newport. In addition, the state and national forests along the coast (Clatsop, Tillamook, Siuslaw, and Siskiyou) provide a wide range of recreational opportunities.
Activities Along the Oregon Coast
The Oregon coast offers a near-limitless range of recreational activities, including water-related sports such as boating, surfing, fishing, crabbing, and clamming. Coastal trails lead through fir forests to scenic outlooks, waterfalls, and historic monuments. Bicycling is popular along highway 101, and fall mushrooming is productive in the state and national forests. Pristine beaches offer uncrowded getaways as well as places to beach comb or search for agates. The often windy coastline offers first-class kite flying as well as whale watching, especially during the California gray whale migration. Numerous rivers and freshwater lakes line the coast, and a series of beautiful arched bridges are found in many of the coastal towns.
Two major attractions in Newport include the Oregon Coast Aquarium and Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center (free). Commercial activities include Myrtlewood factories and gift shops in the south, glass-blowing and seashell shops, wildlife parks, and sea lion caves. There are numerous motels and inns the length of the highway.
There are no big cities along Oregon’s coast, and Highway 101 is a rambling road that winds around rocky outcroppings and crawls through the small towns. This is not a route for tourists in a hurry, but rather for those who like to stop often and enjoy the many attractions and activities.