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Cape Lookout Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

TKO put tools to trail here.png
Looking southward toward the beach (Steve Hart)
One of the many boardwalks, Cape Trail, Cape Lookout (bobcat)
Morning fog on Cape Lookout (Steve Hart)
Salmonberry blooming, Cape Trail (bobcat)
At the viewpoint on the western tip of Cape Lookout (bobcat)
Grey whale navigating around the tip of the cape (cfm)
The hike to Cape Lookout (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: National Geographic Topo
  • Start point: Cape Lookout TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Cape Lookout
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Out and Back
  • Distance: 5.0 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 930 feet
  • High point: 855 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes, but take care near steep cliffs at the end of the hike
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes


Hike Description

Cape Lookout is the best spot on the coast for whale watching (without getting in a boat). As the migrating gray whales parallel the shoreline in fall and spring, they need to detour around this two-mile long peninsula, the remains of an ancient lava flow from the Columbia River Basalts of the Miocene epoch. There are views south and north taking in long stretches of beach, and the highest cliffs on the cape tower more than 800 feet. You be hiking through a lush, wet (and muddy) coast forest of Sitka spruce, western hemlock, salal, and large leathery polypody ferns. In addition to the possibility of spotting gray whales during their migration periods, there is a good chance of seeing sea lions, seals, and various seabirds, such as murres, pelicans, scoters, and gulls. Orcas and dolphins have also been seen from Cape Lookout.

Start at the Cape Lookout Trailhead, and hike westward through a lush old-growth forest. At a trail junction a few feet from the lot, continue straight ahead (the trail on the left leads to South Beach). The massive trees here are Sitka Spruce, whose thick limbs are laden with moss and huge primeval ferns. These northwest maritime conifers grow only in a narrow strip on the Pacific Coast from Alaska to southern Oregon. The undergrowth consists of salmonberry, salal, sword fern, evergreen huckleberry, and red huckleberry. The trail is slightly downhill, and often muddy with occasional boardwalks to span the worst sections. After about half of a mile of hiking, you will come out of the trees for a view south of the sweeping expanse of beach that extends to Sand Lake; farther south are Cape Kiwanda, Cascade Head, and Cape Foulweather. The viewpoint is near the site of a B-17 bomber that crashed here in 1943. There are reports that some of the plane fuselage is still present in the area, but the underbrush is so impenetrable, it would be very difficult to find. A plaque set in a boulder along the trail records the event.

You will reenter the forest for most of the remainder of the hike. The trail keeps dropping, and there are also short boardwalks. Make two short switchbacks down, and then walk along a boardwalk to a saddle where it’s especially muddy. The trail rises, and there’s a view north to Maxwell Point and Cape Meares. Continue up on a stepped boardwalk, and then undulate along the narrowing peninsula, still among the spruce thickets, with one window open for a view to the south. After another boardwalk, the trail drops through salal and evergreen huckleberry thickets. Descend on more boardwalks, and then switchback up along the south side of the cape as views open up again over a glorious expanse of ocean. The slopes drop almost vertically to the sea and are cloaked with hairy manzanita and kinnikinnick. Now the path drops gradually to the cabled-off viewpoint and bench. From here, you can scan the open sea for whales, sea birds, and sea lions lollygagging about in the swells 350 feet below.


Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 100 Hikes: Oregon Coast by William L. Sullivan
  • Oregon's Ancient Forests: A Hiking Guide by Chandra LeGue
  • Oregon Hiking by Matt Wastradowski
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Craig Hill & Matt Wastradowski
  • 25 Hikes on Oregon's Tillamook Coast by Adam Sawyer
  • Beer Hiking: Pacific Northwest by Rachel Wood & Brandon Fralic
  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • 50 Hiking Trails: Portland & Northwest Oregon by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • I Heart Oregon (& Washington) by Lisa D. Holmes
  • 120 Hikes on the Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson
  • A Walking Guide to Oregon's Ancient Forests by Wendell Wood
  • Hiking Oregon by Donna Lynn Ikenberry
  • Best Hikes Near Portland by Fred Barstad
  • Take a Hike: Portland by Barbara I. Bond
  • Hike America: Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Trail Running: Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • The Oregon Coast Trail Guide by Jon Kenneke (eBook)
  • Siuslaw Forest Hikes by Irene Lilja & Dick Lilja
  • Portland HIkes by Art Bernstein & Andrew Jackman
  • Best Hikes With Kids: Oregon by Bonnie Henderson & Zach Urness
  • Best Hikes with Children: Western & Central Oregon by Bonnie Henderson
  • Trips & Trails: Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Oregon Coast Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Hiking Oregon's Geology by Ellen Morris Bishop
  • The Dog Lover's Companion to Oregon by Val Mallinson

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.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.