The 50-mile stretch of Highway 101 between Florence and Newport can be broken into two somewhat distinct segments: (1) Florence to Yachats and the numerous points of interest on the coast and within the Suislaw National Forest and (2) and Yachats to Newport, which is sprinkled with seaside shops brimming with glass art, saltwater taffy, and steaming bowls of clam chowder.
Florence to Yachats
After you have fully explored Florence and its historic Victorian charm, head in the direction of Yachats. Shortly after passing the northern expanse of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, you’ll pass through a small community of farms and homes near the Sutton Creek Recreation Area. If you are interested in riding a horse on the beach, this is the place to look for a stable with rentals and trail rides.
As the road really starts to wind, look for the pull off to Sea Lion Caves, a privately owned wildlife preserve and bird sanctuary in and around the world’s largest sea cave. Visitors ride an elevator down to the cave floor with the hopes of spotting sea lions in their natural habitat.
Visible from Sea Lion Caves is Heceta Head Lighthouse, the most photographed lighthouse in Oregon. The operational lighthouse stands on a rocky outcropping 250 feet above the Pacific Ocean. Look for turnoffs on the right-hand side of the road shortly after passing through the tunnel and Cape Creek.
The beach below Heceta Head is a lovely place to hunt for sand dollars and enjoy a picnic lunch. A wide path leads up past the keepers’ quarters to the lighthouse; about a one-mile round trip hike.
Just past Heceta Head, but before Carl G. Washburn State Park is a spot popular with locals and nature lovers: Hobbit Trail and Beach. As the name implies, hikers are enveloped in a thick and magical canopy as they make their way to the ocean front.
Make sure and stop at the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center where an 800-foot high vantage point offers sweeping views of the coast. Park rangers and volunteers are happy to provide information, answer questions, and help guests look for whales from the large windows facing the oceanfront.
Within walking distance of the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center are three unique rock formations where the basalt meets the ocean: Spouting Horn at Cook’s Chasm, Thor’s Well, and Devil’s Churn. All are unique and breathtaking and best visited at high tide.
A popular vacation destination, Yachats is a small (population: 700ish) community of Oregonians living at the edge of the Yachats River. With a small grocery store, a wine shop, and several options for dining, Yachats is a good stop if hours of hiking and climbing have worked up your appetite. Families will find a few different playground options around town. If you stop here, look for elk feeding near the river in the early morning and late afternoon.
Just north of Yachats, Smelt Sands State Park is an easy place for whale watching. A two-mile hiking path hugs the shoreline, connecting Smelt Sands State Park with Yachats State Park.
Yachats to Newport
Continuing north, the towns of Waldport and Seal Rock offer different lodging and dining options ranging from vacation rentals to RV parks and state park campgrounds. Waldport has both a golf course and heritage museum.
If you carry binoculars in your car, stop at Seal Rock State Recreation Site (read more here). Visitors can either follow a path down to the beach or spot wildlife from the comforts of a wooden viewing platform just off the main parking lot.
Round the bend and head into Newport, a commercial fishing hub with popular tourist attractions ranging from award-winning aquariums, craft-brewery tours, and the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium.