Home  •   Field Guide  •   Forums  •    Unread Posts  •   Maps  •   Find a Hike!
| Page | Discussion | View source | History | Print Friendly and PDF

Cape Meares Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

This page is marked as a Lost Hike. The "trail" may be dangerous and hard to follow and is not recommended for beginning hikers without an experienced leader. Carry detailed maps of the whole area and/or a GPS unit and compass.
TKO put tools to trail here.png
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

This approach to the popular tourist sites at Cape Meares is for the more adventurous. In fact, it makes use of an official section of the Oregon Coast Trail that rises from the beach near the community of Cape Meares. The caveat is that this trail passes near the same slow-moving landslide that has, seemingly permanently, closed the road from Tillamook Bay to the Cape Meares Lighthouse. The trail has not been maintained, so it can be brushy and rough in places, and there are probably downed trees. However, it does provide more solitude, involves a somewhat shorter driving approach, and is more of a hike than the Cape Meares Lighthouse Hike, with which it connects. The hike is best begun one hour before the low tide point as the beach gets cut off at high tide. You will also need to do a couple of short road walks to complete the hike described below.

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 and 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 Cape Meares' cliffs. The trail leaves the beach where a rope helps you up a slick soft gully.

The route 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. Then you'll hike up through a salmonberry thicket and switchback to pass under a fallen spruce. There are four more switchbacks and then a traverse on a muddy section of trail. Another switchback takes you up in lush forest with an understory of 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. Salal is the principle understory plant, and there has been much blowdown in the surrounding forest. 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. The trail that once led from here to the Cape Meares Light Trailhead was buried under piles of old-growth Sitka Spruce in February 1996, so you'll need to return to the Big Spruce Trailhead.

From this trailhead, which has a map sign, walk the 0.5 miles down the road to the Cape Meares Light Trailhead. There is a narrow 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 the inlet host nesting guillemots and a pair of peregrine falcons in season. You can also look for a bald eagle nest in the spruce forest. The largest colony of nesting common murres uses the rocks offshore, including Pyramid and Pillar rocks, and puffins and cormorants nest there from April to June. A paved trail heads down through Sitka spruce and salal, passing two more viewpoints that look north to the cliffs and offshore stacks. There's a single switchback down to the small Cape Meares Lighthouse, whose Fresnel lens was damaged by vandals in early 2010. The lighthouse, open from April 1st to October 31st, 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, and this is also a great whale watching site.

From the lighthouse, 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, a candelabra-shaped Sitka spruce with six trunks. From the tree, there's a spur 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. In deeper woods, the rooty trail crosses a creek on a footbridge and then rises to give more views of Three Arch Rocks. 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, return on the unmaintained Oregon Coast Trail segment down to the beach and your car.


Regulations or Restrictions, etc.

  • OCT section from Cape Meares Beach is unmaintained

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 & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon Beaches: A Traveler's Companion by John Shewey
  • 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.

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.