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Cape Meares Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Cliffs north of Cape Meares (bobcat)
Pyramid Rock from Cape Meares Beach (bobcat)
Cape Meares Lighthouse (bobcat)
Pillar and Pyramid Rocks, Cape Meares (bobcat)
Octopus Tree, Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint (bobcat)
Cape Meares loop with road sections shown in green (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: National Geographic Topo


Hike Description

John Meares was a British explorer and merchant of some controversy who plied the North Pacific in the second half of the 18th century. The promontory honoring his name is part state park and part wildlife refuge (The refuge includes the hike from the beach and the Big Spruce, while the state park contains the Cape Meares Lighthouse and the Octopus Tree). The network of trails affords access to several sites, including the mudstone-backed beach at the little settlement of Cape Meares, some old growth Sitka spruce, the Cape Meares Lighthouse, and vistas to offshore rocks, including the massive Three Arch Rocks, bustling with sealions and seabirds.

The hike begins on the beach north north of the Cape. It is best begun one hour before the low tide point as the beach gets cut off at high tide. While all of the trails used to be connected, the path connecting the Big Spruce with the Cape Meares Lighthouse was destroyed by windstorms in the mid-1990s; now you need to do a couple of short road walks to complete the hike described below. You can also explore the most popular sights from the large parking lot at the Cape Meares Light Trailhead. Here are some shorter options:

From the Big Spruce Trailhead to the beach: 2.0 miles, 560' elevation gain.

From the Cape Meares Light Trailhead to the Cape Meares Lighthouse and the Octopus Tree: 1.7 miles, 305' elevation gain.

Start from the beach at low tide. The upper beach is driftwood-strewn. You can look back and admire the sandy expanses up the Bayocean Spit. Get views of Pyramid Rock off the point of Cape Meares. The beach is sandy at first heading south towards Cape Meares, then cobbly, then bouldery, and finally there’s a clamber over slick gray mudstone. This last part is difficult to negotiate at high tide. There are roots and old tree remnants sticking out of the eroded mudstone slope facing the beach. Past the gray mudstone, close to the end of the beach, you can see the arches and caves under the Cape Meares' cliffs. A rope helps you up a slick soft gully.

The trail heads up above a swamp fringed with alder and sword fern into the Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge, making seven short switchbacks to a trail junction. A marker shows the trail heading to the left is the high tide route. However, this trail has been buried under a muddy slide several yards farther on. From the junction, go right and make a wide switchback up. There are views of Bayocean Spit, the hills behind Garibaldi, Tillamook Head and Saddle Mountain. The trail drops slightly in a traverse and then switchbacks up in spruce and hemlock forest for more views north. The trail winds up through a salmonberry thicket and switchbacks to pass under a fallen spruce. There are four more switchbacks and then a traverse on a muddy section of trail. There’s another switchback as one heads up in lush forest with sword fern, deer fern, salal, and salmonberry. Reach a junction near the Big Spruce Trailhead, and go right for the Big Spruce.

This trail is graveled and heads up in old growth spruce and hemlock. There has been much blowdown. Salal is the principle understory plant. Then the trail drops to the Big Spruce, now Oregon’s biggest Sitka since the Klootchy Creek Giant fell in 2007. There is a little loop around the tree, which is snapped off at the top.

Back at the Big Spruce Trailhead, which has a map sign, walk the 0.5 miles down the road to the Cape Meares Light Trailhead. There is a bit of a shoulder on the left side, so head down facing the traffic. The forest is green and dense. On the right side of the parking area there’s a viewing deck. The cliffs across host nesting guillemots and a pair of peregrine falcons in season. There's also a bald eagle nest in the spruce forest. The largest colony of nesting common murres uses the rocks offshore. Puffins and cormorants also nest here from April to June. Take in the vista of cliffs and Pyramid and Pillar Rocks. A paved trail heads down through Sitka spruce and salal. There are two more viewpoints that look north to the cliffs and the rocks. The path switchbacks down to the small Cape Meares Lighthouse, whose Fresnel lens was damaged by vandals in early 2010. The lighthouse is open from April 1st to October 31st. It was built in the 1890s and sits 200 feet above the waves. The telescope here can be used to view the Steller’s sea lions at Three Arch Rocks. This is also a great whale watching site.

Take the narrow fenced trail up the south side of the cape. There are views to Short Beach, Maxwell Point, and Three Arch Rocks. The trail passes under a viewing platform next to the parking area. The first trail right leads to a grassy picnic area. The second trail right heads up to restrooms and then to the Octopus Tree. There’s also a spur here to a viewpoint. The trail continues up behind the Octopus Tree and then drops down along the high bluffs through Sitka spruce and salal with views of Short Beach. I enter deeper woods. The rooty trail crosses a creek on a footbridge and then rises to give more views of Three Arch Rocks. Hike up above a deep ravine. The trail levels and reaches the Three Capes Scenic Road.

Head up the road on the wide shoulder facing traffic and, in 0.4 miles, reach the Big Spruce Trailhead. From here, head down to the beach and your car.


Regulations or Restrictions, etc.

  • none

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Oregon Coast and Coast Range by William L. Sullivan
  • Trips & Trails: Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Exploring the Oregon Coast Trail by Connie Soper
  • 25 Hikes on Oregon's Tillamook Coast by Adam Sawyer
  • 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
  • Hiking Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • 50 Hiking Trails: Portland & Northwest Oregon by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • A Walking Guide to Oregon's Ancient Forests by Wendell Wood
  • Hike America: Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • 50 Hikes in Oregon by David L. Anderson
  • Oregon Coast Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Megan McMorris
  • Oregon's Best Coastal Beaches by Dick Trout
  • Oregon Coast Hikes by Paul M. Williams
  • The Oregon Coast Trail Guide by Jon Kenneke (eBook)
  • Oregon Coast Trail: Hiking Inn to Inn by Jack D. Remington
  • Fire, Faults, and Floods: A Road & Trail Guide Exploring the Origins of the Columbia River Basin by Marge & Ted Mueller
  • 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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