The Three Capes Scenic Drive is a road once taken you’ll never want to leave.
When winter takes over, quiet times descend as eagles fly, waterfowl dive and the tide gently rolls on its timeless way.
Once taken, you will return to this route many times because it’s reminiscent of those Sunday backcountry drives that Dad might take his youngsters on.
I recall those adventures with great fondness, when my brother, sister, and I would be packed aboard the family’s Ford wagon and we would all unwind as we meandered along a favorite two-lane byway, the kind that snaked along some yet unexplored section of Oregon.
Head west out of Tillamook proper along Bay Ocean Road as it skirts the southern end of Tillamook Bay.
Soon you’ll come face to face with the site of Bay Ocean Park, a now-extinct community, a developer’s dream turned homeowner’s nightmare.
Construction of the subdivision began in the early 1900s, and it was coined “the Atlantic City of the West.”
It boasted homes, cabins, restaurants, and stores, even a centerpiece hotel with an indoor swimming pool. The trouble was that this sprawling concept was built upon sand--and sand is vulnerable to wind and tides:
To put it simply, sand moves! Yes, Mother Nature had other plans for Bay Ocean Park, and between 1932 and 1950 the ocean cut a half-mile swath across the spit and across the townsite. Slowly at first, and then with greater momentum, homes began to slip and slide into the deep blue sea.
Many people lost their lots, their homes and their money and were able to save only their possessions.
Today, Bay Ocean Spit is managed by the county as a park, and it’s great fun to stroll its five-mile length, even though all signs of the former community are long gone.
The route continues south and soon you reach Cape Meares State Park, situated on a 700-foot rocky headland named for British sea adventurer John Meares.
Meares came this way in 1788 and a lighthouse built in the 1890s marks the spot.
A nearby kiosk contains interpretive panels containing other facts about Cape Meares.
You can enjoy more than three miles of hiking trails and a mile-long walking trail that winds through old-growth spruce trees (including the uniquely-shaped Octopus Tree, a giant Sitka spruce with massive branches that radiate out from near the base.)
In winter and spring, this park is another excellent location for viewing whale migrations.
Don Best makes his living capturing the best moments the seascape offers – with a camera.
“You look at it and it just does something to you,” he said with a smile. “You go ‘Oooo-Ahhhh!’ Look at that, that’s a great picture!
Tillamook is made up of what – trees, cheese and ocean breezes. Well, here you have the ocean, the bay, the forest. It’s all so beautiful!”
Soon, it’s time to head south, skirting Netarts Bay, where clammers and crabbers like to play.
Carry a tide table and purchase an Oregon Shellfish License, (both are available at sporting good stores) and time your visit to the bay during an ebb tide.
Watch for clam diggers, armed with shovels and buckets, mucking about for bay clams across the tide flats. Join in and you’ll have a fair chance of catching your supper.
Nearby, Cape Lookout’s beauty may thrill you too. It’s a massive headland that juts out more than two miles into the sea.
Tucked into the north side of the cape is Cape Lookout State Park with 225 campsites, rental cabins and 13 Yurts.
Beachcombing is popular here, and I have heard it’s a fine place to find glass floats on the first high tide following a storm. More than eight miles of hiking and walking trails wind through a lush old-growth forest. Two walking trails--a nature trail and the Jackson Creek Trail--are perfect for a shorter jaunt.
Park manager Pete Marvin said that many people will be humming a ditty too: “Yurtin’ for Certain” as they make camp here for an overnight stay.
“This time of year you have a better chance to stay in a Yurt than the middle of the summer –you just need to bring your sleeping bag and that sort of thing and you’re ready to go.”
Yurts have been a featured part of Oregon State Parks for pretty close to twenty years and for less than thirty bucks they are pretty tough to beat.
Inside, you will find a futon that makes down, a bunk bed, plus a table and chairs.
There is indoor lighting and heating and you’re only a stone’s throw away from one of the most fabulous beaches along the northern Oregon coast.
“Cape Lookout is a wonderful place, added Marvin. “You can walk to your hearts content on the beach – once you get away from the campground, a mile or two and you’re not going to see a whole lot of people.”
In fewer than ten miles from Cape Lookout you’ll arrive at Cape Kiwanda, a sculpted headland eroded by time and tides and weather.
The roadway between Cape Lookout State Park and Cape Kiwanda to the south is unusual for the northern Oregon coast because tall shrubs, beach grass and then sand-dune crests mark it, with many overlooks for ocean spying.
This gleaming sandy shoreline has developed a faithful cadre of year-round sun worshippers and surfers.
It is also home to a small but dedicated angling lot, for this cape is one of the few places in the country where you can watch fishermen launch their boats off the beach into the foamy surfline.
Many people will also step inside a landmark destination, the Pelican Pub and Brewery – to satisfy both thirst and appetite.
“We are a brewery, we have a world class location and a beautiful view,” noted the Pelican’s Brewmaster, Darron Welch. “It’s always been our aim that the beer and the food and the service live up to the world class location that we’re blessed with here. We want folks to come back time and time again – not just for the view but for our food and service.”
To the south, the narrow, winding roadway at the south end of Pacific City, leads you to Bob Straub State Park where lonesome strollers search for secrets from the tides.
The park is a day-use site (no overnight camping allowed) with miles of open, unspoiled sand that invite you to explore, maybe for sand dollars, maybe glass floats, as you wander toward the mouth of the Nestucca River.
You'll relish three Oregon State Parks for the price of one drive.
If you time your journey well, you can see it all on a brilliant winter’s day where sun beams and silence accompany your getaway across the western shores of Tillamook County.