Just north of Cannon Beach, a mile south of the junction between US-101 and US-26 from Portland, the rainforested access road through Ecola State Park (503/436-2844, day use only, $5 per car) leads to one of the most photographed views on the coast: Looking south you can see Haystack Rock and Cannon Beach with Neahkahnie Mountain looming above them. Out to sea, the sight of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse to the northwest is also striking. Operational from 1881 to 1957, the lighthouse is now used as a repository for the ashes of people who’ve been cremated.
The rest of Ecola State Park protects a series of rugged headlands stretching for nine miles along the coast, with many forested hiking trails, including some of the most scenic portions of the Oregon Coast Trail system. The park also marks the southernmost extent of Lewis and Clark’s cross-country expedition. Clark and a few other members of the Corps of Discovery expedition traversed the area in search of supplements to their diet of hardtack and dried salmon. The word ecola means “whale” in the Chinookan tongue and was affixed to this region by the Lewis and Clark expedition, who found one of these leviathans washed up on a beach. They happily bought 300 pounds of tangy whale blubber from local Native Americans, but these days you’d better bring your own lunch to picnic atop bluffs with sweeping views of the rock-strewn Pacific.
The view from the top of Tillamook Head, which rises 1,200 feet above the sea at the heart of the park, was memorialized by explorer William Clark as “the grandest and most pleasing prospect” he had ever beheld.