Best Coastal Road to Plan a Road Trip Around: Route 101 in Oregon
Route 101 in Oregon is a fantastic road to plan a road trip around – people swoon over the spectacular scenery and breathtaking view of the coastline. For many who have traveled both Rt. 1/the Pacific Coast Highway in California and Rt. 101 in Oregon, 101 is actually their preference as its less winding (better for those with motion sickness issues) and more of the route lies directly on the coastline. To top it off, much of the Oregon coast is public land, so that means lots of beach access (some beaches have daily fees).
Plan a Road Trip on Route 101 – Day One
Historic Astoria is the perfect place to start your vacation – there’s so much to see and do! There are historic homes and sights, the renowned Columbia River Maritime Museum, great micro-breweries and wineries, old forts, waterfront areas lined with great seafood restaurants, and gorgeous parks. Plan to spend a day (and evening) here before hitting the road.
Plan a Road Trip on Route 101 – Day Two
Cannon Beach – Tillamook – Cape Meares State Park – Newport (OR)
On Route 101 from Astoria to Cannon Beach, you won’t see much in the way of shoreline views, but after that you’ll have the pleasure of driving right alongside the coast. As soon as you see the ocean again, you’ll be stopping at Cannon Beach. Not only is it one of the most beautiful seaside villages you’ll ever see, you’ll get to view some dramatic coastline – particularly Haystack Rock, a enormous rock formation featured in many nature photos and posters.
From here you’ll be riding directly along the coast and getting gorgeous views all the way. Next stop along Rt. 101: Tillamook, for its famous cheese factory. This area has many dairies and the cheese is exceptional.
In downtown Tillamook, take a right on Netarts Highway West (and another right after that onto Bayocean Road) to take a side trip from Rt. 101 out to Cape Meares State Park. The remarkable views, lighthouse, and popular Octopus Tree – an ancient tree dating back to the time of Christ – make this a great detour (plus entrance is free!)
Back on 101, you’ll head a little inland again before returning to the shoreline. Stop in Newport for the evening and stay in this bustling seaport.
Plan a Road Trip on Route 101 – Day Three
Newport – Cape Perpetua – Sea Lions Caves (OR)
Spend an hour or two in the morning at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport (Free Willy’s orca, Keiko, used to live here). This wonderful small aquarium has many great exhibits including touch pools, where you get to touch starfish, urchins, and other sea creatures, and Passages of the Deep, where you get to walk through a clear tunnel surrounded by sharks and other fish, and some playful and cute sea otters. Head outside afterward to visit the harbor area and you’ll see more marine life in the wild including sea otters and even migrating whales (March through May is whale season and there are many whale-watching tours available launching from the harbor).
From this point to Florence, you’ll be driving on one of the most spectacular stretches of road in the U.S. with many wide ocean views that will inspire you to pull over and take photos. Stop in Cape Perpetua, just below Yachats, for an afternoon of hiking or driving to see this areas dramatic rugged coastline with its ancient volcanic lava flows. Highlights include the Devils Elbow, the Cape Perpetua Trail, and the most-photographed lighthouse in Oregon: Heceta Head Lighthouse. This functioning lighthouse is also a B&B, so if you’re interested in a unique place to stay during your road trip, book a room here. The breakfasts are known to be delicious and there’s even a resident ghost!
Be sure to stop at the nearby Sea Lion Caves to check out this natural sea grotto which comes complete with a loud population of sea lions (pack your ear plugs if you have sensitive ears). If you’re not a climber, no worries – an elevator takes you down into the cave. It’s right along Route 101, so it will be easy to visit.
Stay in Yachats (or that cool lighthouse) for the evening before continuing your road trip.
Plan a Road Trip on Route 101 – Day Four
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, OR
The next stop on your road trip is to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area near Florence which boasts miles of gigantic dunes, beautiful lakes, forests, beaches and marshland. A popular activity here is to rent ATVs and zoom around on the dunes.
Depending on your interest in nature or outdoor sports, you can spend anywhere from a day to several days here enjoying the area’s offerings including hiking, canoeing, swimming, sailing, and fishing. You can camp in the park or stay at a nearby inn before continuing on your trip.
Plan a Road Trip on Route 101 – Day Five
Bandon and Brookings, OR
Spend the next day continuing down 101 to Brookings and stopping as often as you please at the many towns along the road. This area is also gorgeous (you might as well get used to it by now). A good halfway stopping point is Bandon, a charming town that’s a bit of golfer’s Mecca. If you’re a golfer, you might want to add a day to your road trip in order to play this area’s links.
Continue along 101 to Brookings and overnight in this town that will put you in a tropical frame of mind as it’s in Oregon’s "banana belt" – an area that stays warm enough for palm trees to grow and live through the milder winters. If you’re here in May, be sure to visit the town’s Azalea Park which has a 1,100 azalea plants that burst into bloom in late May every year.
Plan a Road Trip on Route 101 – Day Six
Redwoods National Forest, CA
Continue your road trip on Route 101 into California and end at Redwoods National Park. This park – actually, there are many parks featuring redwoods in California – is huge and there are many sections to see. A popular drive through the woods is from Crescent City, taking a left onto Elk Valley Road and then a right on Howland Hill Road, which will take you right into Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Though winding (pay attention or you’ll hit a redwood!), this route is a great way to see the giant redwoods from your car. You can also get out at various points and hike.
If you’ve got to (I just have to, but that’s me), drive down to Leggett, CA and go to the home of the drive-thru Redwood trees. The one must-do drive-thru tree is the Chandelier Tree. I’ll never forget the first time I saw a postcard as a child that showed that tree with a car driving through it - that may have been the moment when I became addicted to road tripping!
The best time to plan a road trip along Rt. 101 is in May or September (after Labor Day) when the traffic along this famous route slows to a trickle. During the summer, the traffic can be fierce (so be prepared). The winters can harsh and road closures in the winter and early spring are common. This road trip will take a total of at least 6 full days. You can cut or add days depending on what things you’re more interested in seeing and doing.
If you're determined to plan a road trip on this route in the summer when the traffic and crowds are at their height, there's a major silver lining! Unlike most coastal destinations where two-night minimums at hotels are the norm, hotels along this stretch very rarely have this requirement. The lone exception to this is Cannon Beach. This perk makes this route even more of a perfect road trip route as you can stop here and there for a night with ease.
This is a naturally beautiful U.S. route to plan a road trip around and one that leaves even seasoned travelers awed by its combination of dramatic scenery, great sightseeing, and natural wonders.
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