A stretch of highway known as the Three Capes Scenic Drive along the northern Oregon coast offers a smorgasbord of activities, from hiking on trails that offer cliff-side views of the Pacific Ocean to visiting a lighthouse to marveling at the mysterious "Octopus Tree."
From Highway 101 that parallels the coast, turn west and head off on the Three Capes Scenic Drive to Pacific City and Cape Kiwanda State Park.
While the northern Oregon coast is notorious for being cold and windy, Cape Kiwanda — a mountainous rock and sand formation — blocks some of the wind and provides a sheltered place to wade in the water and explore tidal pools.
More adventurous people can climb the cape. Clamber up the sand side to the top for panoramic views of the ocean, or veer off to the left to explore the cliffs. If you're lucky, you may see chunks of cliff plummeting into the ocean like ice falling from calving glaciers.
Remember to stay back from the cliff edges since they are eroding under pressure from constant, massive waves.
To take a forested hike on the second cape, leave Cape Kiwanda and travel north until you see a sign for the Cape Trail that will take you out on Cape Lookout. (If you reach Cape Lookout State Park, you've gone too far. That state park offers a flat beach.) Unlike the mostly bare Cape Kiwanda, Cape Lookout is covered in trees, brush and ferns. A hiking path leads out 2.3 miles to a lookout over the ocean. You don't need to make the full 5.6 mile round-trip hike to see views from hundreds of feet in the air.
Clear days are enjoyable, but don't automatically cancel a Cape Lookout hike if there's fog. Walking on the cape above fog that has settled over the ocean offers a view that is similar to looking out an airplane window at the clouds below. Somehow, looking off the edge of the hiking path into an unknown, fog-covered abyss can be more awe-inspiring than actually seeing the ocean twinkling in the sunlight far below.
To visit the third cape, get back on the Three Capes Scenic Drive and travel north to Cape Meares State Park.
The "Octopus Tree" is a short 0.1 mile walk from the parking lot. The tree, a Sitka spruce estimated to be 250 to 300 years old, has no central trunk. Instead, it's thick branches curve out to the side and then rise up, dwarfing the people who walk around it, wondering about its strange form.
To see the Cape Meares Lighthouse that was built in 1890, return to the parking lot and walk downhill 0.2 miles. The lighthouse is actually quite short, only a few stories tall, but visitors can climb a spiral staircase to reach the one-ton crystal lens inside that's made of rows of prisms.
In days past, three lighthouse keepers worked to keep the kerosene light burning inside from sunset to sunrise. They wore soft linen aprons to avoid scratching the lens that made the light visible 21 miles out to sea.
For more information about the Three Capes Scenic Drive, visit pacificcity.org/3capes/drive.html.
Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or email@example.com.