Oregon’s coast is known as The People’s Coast. Thanks to the 1967 Oregon Beach Bill, all 363 miles of coastline has free public access. That’s fantastic, but we all know my priority – can Aspen come too? Short answer – yes. Well, the majority of the time.
Our trip started with a butt-numbing drive from Sacramento north to Portland for a visit with a childhood-friend. There were new baby cuddles while Aspen did her best to endure their toddler’s loving attention. The visit was an absolute delight, but after a couple days it was time for adventure. We loaded the car and followed the Columbia River out to sea. First stop – Astoria.
The view from atop Astoria Column is worth the visit, but by no means dog-friendly. Which is why we parked at Cathedral Tree Trailhead to take the long approach. Along this route we discovered big trees, banana slugs, and slick footing. The trail wound through the forest at first and then climbed the hill the column perches on; once we popped out of the trees the view opened up. We each took a turn racing to the top while the other walked around with Aspen before slip-n-sliding back to the car. I’d say it was slippery due to the recent rain, but isn’t that typical western Oregon?
Aspen’s favorite stops were at off-leash beaches. The first of which, was at Fort Stevens State Park. Aspen couldn’t care less about the shipwreck that’s been there since it ran ashore in 1906, but she loved all the room for zoomies.
After lunch and IPAs at Public Coast Brewing, we stopped at Cannon Beach for more zoomies mixed in with stick chasing. I’m reluctant to call it fetch, as that implies Aspen brings the stick back… There were a lot of folks wandering along the shore for a Monday in September, which makes me wonder how crowded it is in the summer. Oh and I stepped on the biggest booger I’ve ever seen. Or maybe it was a jellyfish, who knows.
Tillamook Creamery obviously wasn’t dog-friendly except for their outside seating, but Aspen knows how I feel about cheese and ice cream so she agreed to take a nap in the car while we popped in for a quick visit. I can confirm there are cheese samples and a wealth of ice cream flavors to choose from. I tend to go for a berry variety and the Marionberry did not disappoint. With our bellies full, we headed to Cape Lookout State Park for a night in the tent. We arrived at sunset, parked in our reserved site, and hastened to the beach. The sky was painted a brilliant orange as the tide retreated. Later, we walked back out for Aspen’s evening constitutional. Under the blanket of night we could hear the ocean pulsing, but walked what felt like a mile out to find it. The beach was ours.
Besides the cheese and ice cream, I was most excited about visiting Neskowin Ghost Forest. The link to Travel Oregon’s site explains the ghost forest and mentions some of the beach features, including a quick hike to the top of Proposal Rock. We arrived at low tide, but quickly dismissed the hike when we found a rope dangling down at the precipitous start. We forded the creek to reach the ancient sitka spruce, while it wasn’t deep I can confirm it was toe-numbing on our morning visit in September. I quickly put my socks and shoes back on wishing I’d brought a towel, Route stuck it out barefoot knowing we had to cross back over, and Aspen didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. The story behind the ghost forest was more interesting to me than the actual thing, but it was another off-leash beach and I found a giant dead starfish to include in photos. Which is a bit odd – if I found a dead squirrel in the woods I wouldn’t be excited to take photos of it… The difference a little natural taxidermy via salt water can make.
The next stop was Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, which reaches from the coastal headlands to the churning ocean. Explore the shoreline with caution, lest you fall in the drain pipe of the Pacific. The area offers 26 miles of trail, but we only had time for a mere taste. We hiked out to the West Shelter built by Civilian Conservation Corps crews that had views up and down the coast. While Aspen has no fear of heights, she doesn’t care for loud nature so when we made a quick stop at Thor’s Well she opted to stay in the car. Route and I took the short trail down to the craggy shore to watch the tide surge through the well. I hear the best time for a visit is just before high tide so you can observe the changes as the tide comes in, but low tide was still mesmerizing.
We paused our road trip for a few days to stay at Riley Ranch County Park with my family, zipping around Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area on OHVs (off-highway vehicles). The activity wasn’t dog friendly, but Aspen loved sniffing around the wooded campground. Plus a walk along the dune access road led to an expanse of sand that is only open to foot traffic and perfect for doggos to really stretch their legs.
Our next stop was Bandon at Washed Ashore – Art To Save The Sea. Aspen sniffed around Henry the Fish, but had to wait in the car while we explored the indoor exhibits. The exhibits were made from plastic that, you guessed it, washed ashore after floating around in our oceans. The plastic ocean creatures brought into sharp focus the amount of trash and consumerism in our world today. Actually in past years too, who knows how long the trash floated around before coming back to land…
A couple of blocks away we found Tony’s Crab Shack. I chose well with my smoked salmon sandwich – highly recommend. If you’re counting, that’s Aspen’s third nap in the car. Thankfully the coastal weather in September was mellow enough, plus Aspen came factory-installed with airplane mode so she’s down for nap in the car. A reminder if you want to leave your dog in the car for a bit – check the weather and know your dog’s temperament. We also liked to follow up down time for Aspen with beach visits. From Bandon we went about 10 minutes south to Devil’s Kitchen access point in Bandon State Natural Area. There are a lot of off-leash beach options along the coast, just be aware that some areas are closed to dogs to protect the Western Snowy Plover.
After our beach romp, we raced south to get a campsite at Harris Beach State Park, as their reservation season had closed. If we hadn’t been in such a hurry I would have loved to explore the trails of Humbug Mountain State Park. There are rainforest-lined trails from sea level to the top of Humbug Mountain. Sounds delightful, but potentially also lined with poison oak, so maybe it’s okay that we kept driving. Aspen probably appreciated our sunset romp along Harris Beach over a leashed hike anyway.
Our goal the next morning was Rainbow Rock, but the tide was too high to navigate around a rock outcropping so while we waited for it to recede we grabbed breakfast sandwiches from First Rise Baking Co. on rosemary bagels that I would drive back to Oregon for. We got them to go and drove back to the beach and sat on a rock as I took increasingly smaller bites in an attempt to lengthen the life of my sandwich.
The tide still wasn’t low enough so we drove north to Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor to see the natural bridges. We took a short walk on the main trail before it started curving away from the natural bridges, so we backtracked to what we debated on was a maintained trail or user trail. We spotted flagging tied to trees along the route and decided if it wasn’t maintained, they were planning on making it official soon. The ocean frothed beneath us as we determined we’d come as far as we felt comfortable with sheer cliffs to both sides on an increasingly-narrow stretch of land. We looked wide-eyed at the path clinging to the headlands that led to a precarious perch we were sure graced many an Instagram account. We headed back to the main trail on what we hoped was a loop until we spotted poison oak encroaching on the trail. That was not an appealing option, retracing our steps we noticed all the poison oak we’d been oblivious to on the walk out. Was that there 10 minutes ago?! Once back to the car we changed pants and shoes, quarantined those items in a plastic bag, wiped Aspen down with cleaning wipes best we could, and crossed our fingers that was good enough. Note to self – stay on the main path next time.
Back at the beach, the tide still wasn’t low enough to go around the rocks impeding our path so we scrambled over them to access Rainbow Rock. Mother Nature did some fantastic work here with geology and water erosion. This spot is not a state park or county park so information was hard to come by, but after seeing a traveling goat on Instagram venture into the cave I scoured the internet and searched Google Maps satellite view to find the beach access point. I have faith you can solve this puzzle too, if so inclined.
There’s the long answer – while Oregon’s coast is known as The People’s Coast, it’s pretty darn dog-friendly too!
Sea ya later,
Trails and Aspen