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photo by Gary Hayes
The Pacific Northwest coast offers abundant whale watching locales. Many are easily accessed by car, while others can be arrived at solely by the power of one's own. Tillamook Head, Cape Falcon and Cape Lookout are three of the region's most impressive view-producing hikes, presenting opportunities for not only spying the world's largest mammals, but also for meeting flora and fauna of the terrestrial variety. Lace up your boots, grab some binocs and head out for a spout-spotting adventure.
Tillamook Head is the headland situated between Cannon Beach and Seaside. Pick up an interpretive map at the trail head (located at Indian Beach in Ecola State Park) and learn as you travel through healthy rainforest of Western Hemlock, Sitka Spruce, and occasional Western Red Cedar. A steep 1.2-mile trail presents numerous extraordinary views along the way, while a dirt road will more quickly deliver you to the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse viewpoint. Both paths also lead to a hiker's camp and the remains of a World War II radar station. Another trail from this point directs ambitious hikers an additional four miles up and over the headland, concluding at a trailhead near Seaside.
Cape Falcon, the north promontory of Oswald West State Park, is located 10 miles south of Cannon Beach. From the park's northernmost parking area, a moderate 2.5-mile hike through rich, lichen-encrusted woodland presents several magnificent views of Short Sands beach and the Pacific coastline to the south. Old-growth trees and mammoth snags tower above, while Huckleberry and Sword fern blanket the earth. Winding through a labyrinth of Salal, you'll arrive at a spectacular 240-foot perch atop the cape. Gulls and cormorants soar below, and whales (hopefully!) can be spotted just offshore.
Cape Lookout is the central headland of the Three Capes Scenic Route, just west of Tillamook. This easy-to-moderate trail winds 2.4 miles through wet coastal forest and along the ominous rock cliffs of the cape. Woodpeckers, chickadees and ground squirrels are commonly encountered in this lush wonderland, and the cape's end is complete with a bench for resting as you enjoy the payoff of an astonishingly expansive panorama.
NOT IN THE MOOD FOR A HIKE?
The Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay is an incredible resource, offering enough whale info to sate the appetite of any budding marine biologist. Experts are available to answer questions and help spot whales from the center's convenient vantage point. The center is open daily during the summer season (Memorial Day through Labor Day) from 9am to 5pm; September through May hours are 10am to 4pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Call (541) 765-3304 or click here for more information.