Oregon has some of the most hiked trails and sought after landscapes, and yet has managed to maintain its rugged, laid-back charm. Characteristically known for its uninterrupted coastline and deep forests, Oregon is a state filled with adventure and diverse landscapes. With desert on the east, coastline to the west, snow covered mountains to the north and forests and waterfalls in the center, it’s a state unlike any other.
Needless to say, the hardest part of planning a road trip in Oregon is that there is so much to see, and never enough time to see it all. So when it came to figuring out a route, I struggled to cut down my lengthy bucket list. Like most, I headed to the internet to scour travel blogs and google reviews, and after hours of research I finally managed to put together a tentative route that we could then elaborate on throughout the trip. Here is our trip itinerary- what we ended up doing and what I would highly recommend. And if you too are knee deep in Oregon travel blogs and feeling a bit overwhelmed, just remember that the best part of doing a road trip through Oregon is that you really can’t go wrong- it’s all insanely beautiful.
Day 1: Portland to Nehalem Bay
Distance: 1.48 hour, 86 miles
Highlights: Cliff views, bomb bean burger, beach sunset on the dunes
Portland is a great place to start because you have easy access to different parts of the state, also our van rental company (Roadtrip Oregon) was located there so it made it an easy place to begin our trip.
Kick off the trip by heading towards the coast to Cannon Beach. After the 90 minute drive through the country roads, go straight to Pelican Brewing Company. Grab takeout and sit on the beach overlooking the iconic haystacks. (I have to say that both the beef burger and vegetarian burger were some of the best burgers we had EVER eaten. We still talk about it today, so 10/10 would recommend.) After that, grab groceries, fire wood and head to the campsite to set up for the evening.
Go to Nehalem Bay State Park for beautiful quiet beaches and sand dunes that go on for miles. It’s much less touristy than Cannon Beach and a great place to watch the sunset.
Where to camp: Nehalem State Park Campground– While this campsite was a bit on the pricier side, it was honestly worth the money. We had a hookup site right next to the beach access and the facilities were very clean. It was actually the only one of the three we stayed at that had a shower. Not to mention the amazing views were only a few steps from our camp site.
Day 2: Nehalem Bay to Yachats
Distance: 2.45 hours, 121 miles
Highlights: Cape Falcon Trail, Short Sand Beach, cliff side dinner
Start your morning by driving up the coast to an overlook and cook breakfast while taking in the beautiful panorama. Then head to Cape Falcon Trail for a hike on the edge of the coast. After the hike, drive a few minutes down the road to Short Sand Beach for a picnic lunch and watch the surfers . This a very popular and unique surf spot because the surfers have to walk through the woods with their surf boards to get to the bay.
You can either go straight to Yachats which is about a 2. 45 hr drive or you can take a detour (3. 30 hrs) and see the Three Capes Scenic Loop which include: Cape Meares, Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda. They all have short hikes and viewpoints. If you go that way stop by Pelican Brewery‘s other location in Pacific City that’s right on the dunes and from there you can walk up the massive sand dunes.
Once in Yachats, only a few minutes south of the town, is the Cape Perpetua overlook. This is an amazing spot to view where the road meets the ocean. From the top, you can either hike or just take photos and soak in the view.
From there, head back to town and eat at one of the amazing restaurants or, do what we did, and cook dinner at a scenic overlook. We cooked up some dinner in the van while watching the sunset and it was for sure a highlight of the trip.
Where to camp: Tillicum Beach Campground– Some of the spots are right on the beach, but those sites are booked pretty far in advance. This campground doesn’t have a shower, but it was still a great place to be and pretty close to town.
**Yachats has some interesting hours so double check that places are open before you finalize your plans
Day 3: Yachats
Wake up to the sound of the ocean at Tillicum Beach Campground and then head into town for breakfast at the Green Salmon Kitchen or Bread and Roses Bakery. One of the most notable views is of Heceta Head Lighthouse and you can see it either by driving there or hiking from Hobbit Beach. The Hobbit Beach trailhead is just right off the side of the road a few minutes south of Yachats and the hike itself is truly one-of-a-kind with the lush forest and ocean cliffs going all the way to the lighthouse.
There are also the Sea Lion Caves located 15 miles south of Yachats. It might look a bit touristy from the outside, but it’s an incredible experience and a great activity to do if the weather is bad or you just need a break from hiking.
After that, it’s time for lunch and some exploring in town. We went to a free beach access spot, swam in the icy cold pacific and made some lunch. The rest of the day we spent in the town stopping in the quaint rock stores and eating pizza at the cosy Drift Inn Cafe.
* Day 3 is where you can choose if you want more time on the coast or inland. We went back and forth about about this, but ultimately decided to spend two nights in Yachats . If you go during the off season and have the flexibility of going to a first-come-first-serve campsites, you can definitely just play it by ear.
Day 4: Yachats to Willamette National Forest
Distance: 3.08 hr, 155 miles
Highlights: Drive through the forest, Tamolitch Blue Pool
First things first: breakfast. Grab coffee and breakfast at one of the great spots in town before hitting the road. On the way up the coast, you can stop at Rogue Brewery in Newport. Then go straight to Tamolitch Blue Pool and hike the 3-ish mile trail to the magnificent blue pool. The hike is full of moss covered rocks, little bridges over streams and endless amounts of Douglas Firs. It was raining when we went so while we did see the Sahalie and Koosash Falls from the overlook spots, we weren’t able to hike the trails around them. There is also the Clear lakewhich has some nice trails as well.
Where to camp: Ice Cap Campground– Once you get closer to the campground there is no service or stores for about 30 miles. It’s a very primitive campground without showers and only drop toilets, but it’s close to the falls and very peaceful.
Day 5: Ice Cap Campground to Portland
Distance: 4.19 hr, 206 miles
Highlights: Sisters Coffee Co., Smith Rock
Get an early start and head to Sisters Coffee Co.in Sisters, OR which took us about 40 minutes. It is such a picturesque mountain town and the drive there is stunning with the South Sister mountains on one side and Mt. Washington on the other.
After a great breakfast, make your way to Smith Rockalso about 40 minutes away. Smith rock is known for its amazing climbing and deep river canyons and is a great spot for a picnic before you get back on the road and head back to Portland. On the way back you’ll see Mt. Hood in all its glory so make sure to keep an eye out for it.
Things to bring for a van trip:
Quick drying towel
Layers- Oregon’s climate always changes so it’s good to have a few different options available
Water- Some places don’t have potable water so its always good to keep extra in the van
Lantern or magnetic string lights- Great for inside the van or at your campsite
Cards or backpacking cribbage- This came in handy our last night when it was raining
Well that’s it for now! Click HEREto see an Instagram reel from our trip.
I hope this itinerary helps with your planning and happy travels!