In 1929 Samuel Boardman, 55 years removed from his childhood in Massachusetts, was assigned the new post of Parks Engineer for the Oregon Highway Department. The Great Depression was just beginning to sweep across the land and local governments everywhere were slashing budgets and squirrelling away funds. Boardman saw the financial crisis differently. The Oregon coast had yet to see much development and he knew land prices there would never be so cheap again. He proposed the issuance of $500,000 of state bonds to acquire coastal land.
Boardman received little political support but the zeal with which he spread his conservationist vision inspired an outpouring of private donations and eventually public funding. The State of Oregon had 4,070 acres scattered in 46 small parks when Sam Boardman began his career. When he retired in 1950, the number of parks had increased to 181 and the acreage to 57,195. And every grain of sand along Oregon’s 363 miles of coastline was open to you - and your dog.
Ambitious canine hikers with about a month to spare can experience all of Oregon’s sandy beaches and spruce-shrouded headlands up close on the Oregon Coast Trail that begins at the mouth of the Columbia River in Fort Stevens State Park and concludes at the California state line. Most travelers, however, will choose to sample the craggy Pacific shoreline with their dogs from numerous waysides, picnic areas and parks sprinkled along the spectacular US 101 coast highway. You can stop just about anywhere and and find a solitary beach walk with your dog but here are some of the standouts, from north to south...
Oregon’s North Coast is dominated by dramatic cliffs and the resort towns of Cannon Beach and Seaside. Seaside is near the site where Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery joyously reached the beach in 1805 after two years of crossing the continent and not too many decades later Oregon’s first seashore resort began taking shape. Today you can take a long hike with yoru dog on the wide sandy beach or use the famous 1.5-mile Promenade that fronts the beach behind a concrete balustrade. Originally platted on boards int he 19th century, the wide, strolling path was redone in pebbly concrete in 1920.
Cannon Beach, an artists’ colony-turned-upscale resort, got its name when the naval vessel USS Shark ran aground and split in half. The part of the deck with a cannon attached washed ashore. You will want to bring your dog to the town beach for a sitting with Oregon’s most-photographed landmark - the 235-foot Haystack Rock that looms only a few yards offshore. The monolith is one of the largest free-standing rocks in the world.
Just north of Cannon Beach is your first must-see park along the Oregon Coast. Ecola State Park boasts conifer-speckled cliffs with many trails leading to the water. An easy 3-mile round trip hike at the park’s Indian Beach takes your dog to a scenic bluff 150 feet above the sea and panormaic views of the Pacific Ocean. If you arrive in winter and spring keep a look-out for migrating gray whales. South of Cannon Beach, water-loving dogs will love a stop at the Hug Point Wayside where frisky waves bang up against a rocky cove.
Moving south, your next target is the Three Capes Scenic Route, a 30-mile alternative to US 101 that links a trio of breathtaking headlands. Before you exit the main road, however, treat your dog to the tallest waterfall in the Coast Range in the rustic Munson Creek Falls State Natural Site, six miles south of Tillamook. Another short trail leads to the world’s second-tallest Sitka spruce, one of the four titans of the Pacific rainforests along with western red cedars, Douglas firs, and western hemlocks.
The first of the three destination capes is Cape Meares where parallel trails lead to the 38-foot Cape Meares Lighthouse tucked on a bluff, one of seven Oregon coast lights you can visit. Next up is Cape Lookout where your dog can romp on expansive sand beaches. Waves crash around a sandstone bluff at Cape Kiwanda - this is a surfer’s hangout and the turbulent waters will test the mettle of any dog looking for a swim here.
Back on US 101, the next state park you come to is Devil’s Punch Bowl, site of a collapsed sea cave. The circular beach thwarts most of the big waves, making htis a good choice for an inexperienced sea-swimming dog. Your next must-stop highlight lurks just down the road.
Perched more than 800 feet above the waves, Cape Perpetua is the highest viewpoint you can access by car on the Oregon Coast. In 1966 almost 3,000 acres were set aside here by the federal government as a scenic Area where the temperate spruce rainforest transitions to the sea. The St. Perpetua Trail switches back and forth here up 700 feet in over a mile to reach the “Best View on the Oregon Coast.”
When your dog tires of the 75 miles of coastline visible in either direction you can sample Cape Perpetua’s other 26 miles of foot trails. Many slip quietly through old growth forests, including the mile-long, mostly level Giant Spruce Trail that leads to a 500-year old Sitka spruce. Others lead down to the rocky coves where your dog can explore tide pools and dodge the sea spray from the Devil’s churn.
Situated roughly at the coastal mid-point is the Super Bowl for canine play - 40 miles of beach in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. These mountains of sand extend inland for 2.5 miles and are the tallest dunes in North America. The star canine hike in this vast alien landscape is at the Tahkanitch Area where a five-mile loop crosses the open oblique dunes, explores the inter-dune forest and reaches the Pacific Ocean where you can enjoy an isolated beach for as far as your dog’s eye can see. For a quicker way to experience the dunesland consider the John Dellenback Dunes south of Reedsport that deposits your dog amid towering sand piles and island of trees.
Oregon’s South Coast is the stronghold of working fishing boats, classic bridges spanning exhausted rivers spilling into the Pacific Ocean and pocket beaches embraced by rocky alcoves. Bullards Beach, near Bandon, is one of the best places here for long walks on a dune-backed beach here. The coarse sand at Ophir Beach is another good choice. Swimming dogs will enjoy a pit stop at Merchant Beach on the south end of twisty Seven Devils Road. Stop at Samuel H. Boardman State Park to pay tribute to the architect of Oregon’s coastline only without a time schedule - you will need to pry your dog from the pulsing waters of Whaleshead Beach.
Your last chance to enjoy the Oregon beaches with your dog comes at Harris Beach, north of Brookings. The Pacific surf here is squeezed by offshore rock formations so there is good fetching to be had. Look around the massive driftwood on the constricted beach - you’ll know your Oregon beach journey has ended at redwood country and the forests of Northern California.
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