Exploring the northern California, Oregon and Washington coasts in the late fall

Seattle skyline taken from the Bainbridge Island Ferry.

 

Klalock Beach, just below Klalock Campground with 170 lovely sites, is one of the gems of the Olympic National Park in Washington.

Exploring the northern California, Oregon and Washington coasts in the late fall can be quiet, scenic and intoxicating.  Gone are the maddening crowds of summer, and weather in November and early December can be sunny, with crisp, clear days. It can also be wet, as we discovered along the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.

Rugged Oregon coast, just off Hwy. 101, looking north in central Oregon.

On your way to Northern California’s redwood coast, we were stunned by the myriad of state and national parks set aside to preserve our “big trees heritage”.  You pass thousands of tall trees, fast-flowing river canyons, rugged coastal views and ancient wilderness; though a large part of the fun of this trip are plenty of quaint, small towns dotting the landscape.

North of Leggett on Hwy. 101 are numerous state parks and reserves celebrating portions of the once extensive old growth redwood forests.  When serious logging began in the 1850s, two million acres of old growth redwood forests covered the river valleys and mountains; today only five percent of that remain (35% of the remaining old growth forest is protected in Redwood National and State parks).

Haceta Head Lighthouse guards the south central Oregon coast for ancient and today's mariners.

This stretch of the highway has a string of state and private campgrounds, homey lodges and motels, many beside towering redwood trees and picturesque rivers.  The parks offer a wide array of diversity, from coastal surf crashing upon secluded shores, tall mountains shrouded in fog and massive redwood forests reaching to the skies! Here is home to Coast Redwooda; Sequoia Sempervirens is a close cousin to the Giant Sequoia and the tallest trees in the world.

Chandelier Tree in the California Redwoods area allows vehicles to pass through the hollowed out huge trunk (photo courtesy Blair Hake).

Three nearby towns of particular interest are the well preserved company logging town of Scotia on Hwy. 101, another company mill town, Samoa, further north and the quaint town of Ferndale (preserving scores of Victorian homes, a favorite of shutterbugs), three miles west off Hwy. 101 near Fortuna.  Stop and admire the old Scotia Hotel and nearby logging park, in Samoa, make time for a sumptuous lunch at the Samoa Cookhouse, which has been continuously serving meals, first to resident mill workers, then to the public, for over 120 years (it’s adjoining museum is worth the stop)!

We were now bound for the legendary Oregon coast (and had to pass quickly through other coastal cities with unique allure, including Eureka, Arcata, Trinidad and Crescent City). Oregon had the wisdom to set aside most of its coast in public trust, so access is unbeatable compared to California or Washington. Our first stop was Harris Beach State Park on the northern edge of Brookings, OR (a town with an active fishing harbor, tourist amenities and great seafood).  Harris Beach was the first of Oregon state campgrounds to receive an A rating from us, with electric, water, cable, free showers, and, right on the ocean.

We spent the next night at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park (the historic lighthouse now part of a Coast Guard station), where gray whales, up to 53 feet in length, migrate 10,000 miles just off-shore each year, from December to January, returning February through March.

Headed north, we passed scenic Haceta Head Lighthouse, high on a bluff above the Pacific, and stopped at Cape Perpetua Visitor Center, which explains the history of the coast and provides telescopes from the deck – popular with whale watchers.  Along the parking lot we picked Oregon blackberries…yum.

Historic Carson mansion in Eureka. Also check out Ferndale, just off Hwy. 101, featuring many stately Victorians and a delightful, historic downtown area (photo courtesy Blair Hake)

Just south of Newport on Yaquina Bay, we overnighted at South Beach State Park, another pristine park, hiked along the ocean beach and heard nearby harbor seals bellowing throughout the night!

Mo's and Mo's Annex in Newport, OR (photo courtesy Blair Hake).

Newport is, aguably, the quintessential Oregon coastal town, with a dynamic fishing fleet, scores of shops and restaurants, and, home to the original Mo’s and Mo’s Annex Restaurants (on the harbor). Entering town, you cross the graceful Newport Harbor Bridge and turn right to the active fishing harbor.  We dined on Mo’s clam chowder, fresh fish and seafood salad sandwiches, with a view of the busy harbor outside the window. You’ll find other Mo’s at Cannon Beach, Lincoln City, Florence and Otter Rock (seasonal).

Space precludes insight on many more Oregon coastal towns headed north, like Florence,
Yachats, Lincoln City and Depot Bay.  Each offer unique attractions, wonderful vistas and marvelous seafood to fuel your trip.

We crossed the Columbia River into Washington on Hwy. 101 at Astoria, and soon passed Fort Columbia State Park, home of the Chinook nation and their chief Concomly.  Captain Robert Gray dropped anchor nearby in 1792 after his discovery of the mighty Columbia. It served as a fort to guard the fur trade in the early 1800s, and as a coastal fort guarding the Columbia from 1896 to World War II.

Nearby is the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, offering insights into the camp where Lewis and Clark’s expeditionary force wintered after their cross-country expedition.

Touring north we skirted Willapa Bay, where the quaint town of Oysterville preserves the area’s past as supplier of Washington oysters to the state and all the way south to San Francisco.

Our final coastal destination was the Olympic Peninsula, where we had tent-camped numerous times when our kids were much younger. We stopped inland at one of the national park’s campgrounds, where rain hammered us for the evening and night.  The next day dawned hazy, becoming bright, and we reached Klalock Lodge on the ocean for a delicious lunch.  It’s just a few miles south of Klalock Campground, with 170 camp sites right on the ocean. We walked along the gorgeous coastline, all the more wonderful because the sun was peeking through the clouds.

In Olympic National Park, we admired the Lake Quinault Lodge and the Lake Crescent Lodges, both exuding history and cozy accommodations, vowing to return.  Now heading east, we took the Bainbridge Island Ferry, only $25.30 including our little trailer, right into downtown Seattle!

How to get there: From Stockton, Redwoods National Park is about 380 miles and 8 hours; heading north on Hwy. 1; Hwy. 1 eventually intersects Hwy. 101, continue north on 101. Brookings, OR, is about 3 hours further north on Hwy. 101

For more info: Redwood National Park, CA, www.nps.gov/redw,  phone  (707) 465-7335. For Oregon travel, traveloregon.com, (800) 547-7842; for Washington travel, experiencewa.com, (800) 544-1800. For Olympic National Park, WA, ww.nps.gov/olym/, (800) 833-6388.

Contact Tim Viall at tviall@msn.com. Follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in the west!

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