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Cape Kiwanda Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Haystack Rock from the base of Cape Kiwanda (bobcat)
View to Haystack Rock and Cape Kiwanda from the Pacific Avenue Trailhead (bobcat)
Ascending the Great Dune, Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area (bobcat)
Haystack Rock from the Great Dune, Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area (bobcat)
The hike to the viewpoint and Great Dune (bobcat) Courtesy: National Geographic Topo
  • Start point: Pacific Avenue TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Great Dune
  • Trail log:
  • Hike Type: Lollipop loop
  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 230 feet
  • High Point: 220 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: Year round
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes


Hike Description

The brilliant sandstones of Cape Kiwanda are one of the Oregon Coast’s most dazzling features. Offshore is the monolith that has protected the soft strata of the Cape from being extinguished by ocean weather, the “other” Haystack Rock, a classic basalt sea stack. Behind the Cape is the Great Dune, a massive hill of mudstone and sandstone layers cloaked in drifting sand with a toupée of salal and stunted Sitka spruce. Views from here extend north to the spectacular headland of Cape Lookout. On the beach, there is plenty of action on a sunny day at Oregon’s main dory launch site. This walk can be combined with the Nestucca Spit Loop Hike for a longer day. You can also begin the beach hike at the vast and popular Cape Kiwanda Trailhead, but starting at the Pacific Avenue Trailhead gives access to a stretch of beach where no vehicles are permitted.

From the parking area at the west end of Pacific Avenue, walk up the dunes to get commanding views and then drop to the beach. The mile between here and the main access point to the beach farther north is vehicle free. Get great vistas of Haystack Rock to your left. As you walk north, the rock’s little ponytail on its north face comes into view. Seabirds roost and nest here—it is part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge—and you may see sea kayakers heading out to circle the rock. Haystack is 90 feet higher than the Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, but is also much farther offshore. It used to be named Chief Kiawanda Rock, after the leader of the Nestucca tribe at the time Euro-Americans settled here.

As you near the Cape, watch also for Pacific City’s dorymen launching their boats in the waves or surfing in after a few hours fishing. Cars can park on the beach in the dory launch area, accessed from the Cape Kiwanda Trailhead. The Cape’s brilliant orange and yellow sandstone layers loom ahead. They have survived the onslaught of the ocean because of the “shield” of Haystack Rock. At low tide, spend time on the rocks at the base of the cliffs or checking out the soft sandstone for fossils. Then plod up the sand to the crest of the Cape. A fenceline here protects sensitive areas from ugly human defacement, but you will probably see numerous tracks that have crossed the barrier. Walking along the fenceline to the Cape Kiwanda Viewpoint, look down to rocky cove and cave below Cape Kiwanda’s forested crest of stunted Sitka spruce and salal. Oystercatchers may be poking about on the rocks and surf scoters bob on the swells. It is not unknown for a gray whale or two to linger here into the summer. At the end of the fenceline, you will be looking at a brilliantly-hued, elongated sandstone stack that partially conceals the peninsula of Cape Lookout and the beach at Tierra del Mar.

A sign at the end of the fence tells you to take care if venturing farther. Soft cliff edges can fall away into deep coves at any time. There is a way to the top of the Great Dune up its north side, but to be safe head back along the side of the dune and make your way along the sandy slopes to the summit (Trying to get through the Dune’s thickly vegetated crown will cause you much grief).

A couple of Sitka spruce snags jut from the dune’s crest, a favorite family photo spot. You can see along Tierra del Mar’s beach to Sand Lake and Cape Lookout’s magnificent cliffs. A sandy saddle allows access to the beach north of the Great Dune, described in the Sand Lake-Cape Kiwanda Hike, or you can plunge step, slide, or roll down its steep side to return to Kiwanda Beach.


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Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Oregon Coast and the Coast Range by William L. Sullivan
  • Trips & Trails: Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Beer Hiking: Pacific Northwest by Rachel Wood & Brandon Fralic
  • Exploring the Oregon Coast Trail by Connie Soper
  • 120 Hikes on the Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson
  • Day Hiking: Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson
  • Best Easy Day Hikes: Oregon's North Coast by Lizann Dunegan
  • Hiking the Oregon Coast by Lizann Dunegan
  • Oregon Coast Hikes by Paul M. Williams
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Megan McMorris
  • Oregon's Best Coastal Beaches by Dick Trout
  • The Oregon Coast Trail Guide by Jon Kenneke (eBook)
  • Oregon Coast Trail: Hiking Inn to Inn by Jack D. Remington
  • Hiking Oregon's Geology by Ellen Morris Bishop
  • Canine Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • The Dog Lover's Companion to Oregon by Val Mallinson
  • Oregon State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Jan Bannan

More Links


Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

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