On the coast of Oregon just a short drive from either Cannon Beach to the south or Seaside to the north is the beautifully scenic Ecola State Park. Stretching along nine miles of Oregon coast, this 1,023 acre park is bounded to the northeast by the Elmer Feldenheimer Forest Reserve making the park itself seem even larger.
A day trip to Ecola State Park is a must if you're visiting Cannon Beach or this part of the coast, and what we loved most about it was the accessibility. This is not just a hiker's paradise, but can be enjoyed by anyone who wants to enjoy the gorgeous view when the weather cooperates, and even when it doesn't.
How to Get to Ecola State Park
Getting here is easy with ample signs showing the way from either direction to the entry point for day use at the south end of the park. Here a park ranger will provide a map of the park and a receipt to place inside your windshield when you park.
Entry fee for day parking is $5.00, but 12 and 24 month day parking permits are also available.
Park Hours - The park is open from 8am to 5pm and no overnight parking is allowed within the park, so plan accordingly.
Driving in the Park - The road in the park is quite narrow, down to a single lane in one place, and there are no turn around spots. Add some very tight turns to the winding up and down road and it becomes impossible for RVs and vehicles towing a trailer to get around in the park.
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Entering the park is like driving into a fairytale land with Douglas fir, red alder, western hemlock, and towering old growth Sitka spruce draped with hanging moss and clinging lichens. It’s easy to get caught-up in the beauty of this rain forest, but this is also prime habitat for deer and elk, and depending on the time of year and the time of day, they are seen more often than you might think.
Day Trip to Ecola State Park
Most travelers come on a day trip to take in the magnificent views, picnic, go surfing, or maybe do some light hiking. For photographers the park offers endless opportunities from the views of the coast to the amazing flora and fauna, especially the numerous species of sea birds along with Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons. The park is open year round making it possible to see migrating gray whales in the winter and spring.
What to Bring
Comfortable clothing and hiking shoes if you plan to hike
Camera, camera bag, and waterproof cover
Sunscreen and insect repellent
Where To Picnic And Take Photos
With it’s amenities and proximity to the park entrance, Ecola Point seems to get the most visitors. There are a few picnic tables here along with a picnic shelter that can be reserved for groups of 50 or less, except from July 1st through early September. That the only modern public restrooms in the park are also located here at Ecola Point puts the shelter in high demand during peak season. So during this time it is only available on a first come first serve basis. Of course, you're more than welcome to spread out a blanket on the grassy areas and enjoy your picnic.
Ecola Point overlooks Crescent Beach and is a mecca for photographers looking to get long distance shots of the rock stacks to the south at Cannon Beach which includes the gigantic Haystack Rock formation. We were staying at Cannon Beach but seeing these formations from a distance really gave us a perspective on how rugged and imposing they truly are.
These offshore sea stacks that dot the coast are part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. They provide secure nesting sights for many species of seabirds including common murre, pigeon guillemot, black oystercatcher, and even tufted puffin. California and Steller Sea Lions as well as Harbor Seals use these small rocky islands as places to give birth to their pups in the spring. We didn't see any seals but the noise from the hundreds and hundreds of birds was pretty wild.
From Ecola Point it’s a short drive on the narrow park road to the Indian Point parking area. This is a popular spot not just for viewing the rock stacks that dot the coastline here but also provides access to Indian Beach. Here surfers and beachcombers can reach the beach, but, like Ecola Point, parking is limited. There are a few picnic tables here and vault toilets, a modern take on the traditional pit toilet or outhouse. It’s definitely worth a visit for some different views of the coast or exploring the tidal pools along the beach. If you plan on going down to the beach be sure to check the tide tables. There was a really big high tide while we were there and that's a lot of water and spray coming onto the beach.
Once out on the point, there’s a clear view of the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse standing a little over a mile offshore. From when construction started, to when it first went into service in 1881, until it was officially shut down for good in 1957, “Terrible Tilly” has had a dramatic existence. After withstanding decades of storms and being battered by the sea, one of the strongest storms on record destroyed the lantern chamber and Fresnel lens in 1934. Always dangerous and expensive to maintain, it was abandoned and the lighthouse and rock on which it’s perched became a haven for nesting seabirds. The lighthouse is now privately owned and is part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We watched as waves crashed up and over the rock from the sea side, amazing since on this day the sea was fairly calm. I can't imagine what it must have been like to have been a watchman out there during a storm.
Our Favorite Hiking Trails
Indian Beach Trail
Presently (as of July 2018) you can’t hike from Ecola Point to Indian Point - part of the Indian Beach Trail was washed out in 2017 and is closed for repair. But you can hike part way to incredible overlooks high above the southern extent of Indian Beach. We decided to hike this part of the trail starting at the trailhead near the Ecola Point parking lot and were glad we did. Here’s something that will get your attention - at the trailhead there's a bright yellow sign that warns to be mindful of cougars frequenting the area. Cougar sightings have increased in recent years but there were none on this day.....that we know of anyway!
Although a little steep in places it’s an easy hike along the well-worn trail, and the rewards are worth it. From the viewpoints on this part of the trail you can get a great view and great pics looking back at Ecola Point and the sea stacks jutting into the sea off the point. And a bonus is a clear view of Sea Lion Rock Arch a bit farther out.
Tillamook Head Trail
If a longer hike is what you enjoy, the park has a lot to offer. Dedicated in 1972 as a National Recreation Trail, the Tillamook Head Trail runs six miles from the trailhead just south of Seaside to Indian Beach (it’s also a segment of the Oregon Coast Trail).
Tillamook Head is the high point, literally, on the trail and follows the route used by Captain William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1806. Looking south from Tillamook Head, Captain Clark described the view this way:
Clatsop Loop Trail
The Clatsop Loop Trail, a segment of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, is a rather steep 2 1⁄2 mile loop which starts at the Indian Beach parking area, passes through a Sitka spruce forest to Hikers’ Camp, and loops back to the starting point via the Oregon Coast Trail. There are plenty of places to stop along the route for amazing views of the coastline. We didn't have time to do this one during this visit and that's okay. We were already pretty tired from exploring all day.
If you'd like to do some camping in Ecola State Park or are backpacking on the Oregon Coast Trail, Hikers’ Camp at Tillamook Head is a good place to stop, but it's not a park-and-camp overnight area. This is a rustic campsite with three Adirondack type shelters, a vault toilet, and no water. Collecting firewood is prohibited but can be purchased here. Look for the short trail from the camp leading to a the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse viewpoint looking directly out at the lighthouse a little over a mile offshore. We were mesmerized watching waves breaking up and over the rock.
From Oregon State Parks - Safety First
Be alert to unexpected waves and incoming tides when exploring caves, offshore rocks and cliffsides. Never turn your back on the ocean!
Stay on the trail; do not take shortcuts. In addition to being unsafe, this causes erosion and damages plant life.
Cliff edges may be unstable. Stay behind fences and railings. Keep children safely at your side and pets leashed with a maximum 6-foot lead.
No matter when you go, take a day trip to Ecola State Park - whether you're staying in Cannon Beach, the Tualatin Valley, or Portland. It’s hard to do justice to the austere natural beauty of this place. The coastline with sea stacks lend to the mystique of the area. It probably looked no different centuries ago. If we could hear the voices of those magnificent Sitka spruce trees, we would know that answer. Even on an overcast misty sort of day it would be so beautiful.
Where To Stay In Portland, The Valley, And The Oregon Coast
Where to Stay in Cannon Beach (10 Minutes to Ecola State Park)
Cannon Beach has a rustic, beachy feel which extends to much of the lodging, from beachside bungalows to local hotels. We stayed at The Hearthstone Inn, a homey lodge-style inn built with local cedarwood, which is part of the Cannon Beach Hotel lodgings group. The Inn is set on Hemlock Street, the main street that runs through town, but we found it to be very quiet, even during the busy summer season. It was perfect for two people and we loved the fireplace next to the comfy bed. Check rates and availability.
Where to Stay in the Tualatin Valley (1 Hour Drive to Ecola State Park)
We absolutely loved our stay in the quiet town of Forest Grove, at McMenamins Grand Lodge (read our review). It's centrally located so you can explore the best of the Tualatin Valley, from wineries and scenic countryside to great restaurants and taverns. The hotel may be THE coolest hotel we’ve ever stayed in. It's perfect for romantic getaways and a great place for families. Check rates and availability.
Where to Stay in Portland, Oregon (2 Hour Drive to Ecola State Park)
We were so impressed with our stay at McMenamins Grand Lodge in Forest Grove that we were eager to see what other McMenamins properties were like. We booked a last minute room at McMenamins Crystal Hotel, which was a perfect choice to be in the heart of Portland. It's walking distance to parks, great restaurants, craft breweries, and has an amazing turn-of-the-20th-century subterranean soaking pool that’s a highlight for visitors to soak in. Check more details and availability.