Guest post by Mark Joy
The Oregon Coast is a beautiful drive for any traveler, but it can also be an ideal trip for those who are traveling with their camper van. The coast has many different sights to see and explore, including Cannon Beach, Cape Disappointment, and Florence. If you’re looking to take your time exploring this picturesque coastline in the Pacific Northwest of America, then these are some of the places you will want to stop at along the way!
What Do I Need to Explore the Oregon Coast with a Camper Van?
Before you start your trip, you’ll need to prepare for it by making sure you have the necessary items. For this guide, I’m estimating this trip will take about 7 days to complete, but packing a little extra might be a good idea if you want to stay in one place a bit longer than another.
Preparing for your trip includes packing your essential camping gear, as well as making sure your camper van is ready for the long journey ahead. You’ll also want to make sure you know where all of the best places are to stop and camp along the Oregon Coast by reading this guide ahead of time.
One of the most important things you will need for this trip is obviously the camper van. If you already own a camper van, you’re all set. If you don’t own a camper van, here are a few options to explore:
- Buy a camper van that’s already been converted (either used or new)
- Buy a camper van and have it customized to your needs by a professional
- Rent a camper van. Here are a few places in the PNW for renting a camper van:
- Buy a van, and get a DIY camper van conversion kit to install yourself (if you’re handy and have the time).
Campgrounds are in high demand these days and it may be necessary to get a reservation at the state parks recommended in this guide put together by Trekers. Be sure to check for campsite availability and make a reservation for each destination so that you have a place to rest your head each night.
This adventure mainly takes you along Highway 101. Depending on where you’re coming from, you can start this trip with the first stop at either Florence (South), or Cape Disappointment (North).
Please note that I’ve ordered the trip from South to North.
I’ve added campsite options for your overnight stay in each area. Here’s a map to take a quick look ahead at the route:
I’ve also included food, drink, and other activity stops on this route. And of course, you can go anywhere that looks interesting along the way!
Popular in Florence are its sand dunes. You can rent sandboards, toboggans, ATVs, or horses to explore the dunes. Check out these links for more information:
- Sandboard Rentals – Jessie M Honeyman Memorial State Park
- Toboggan Rentals – Sand Master Park
- ATV Rentals – Torex
- Horse Rentals – C & M Stables
Hike up and down the dunes if you prefer to travel on foot:
Cleawox Lake at Jessie M Honeyman Memorial State Park also offers day-use for swimming, picnicking, and kayak and paddle board rentals.
Other points of interest:
- Hobbit Beach – one mile hike through trees to a private beach
- Sea Lion Caves – yes, see the sea lion’s up close, sometimes hundreds
- Heceta Head State Park – a great lighthouse, with a 3 mile hike if you’re up for it
- River Roasters – breakfast joint loved by the locals
Campgrounds to stay at:
From Florence, mosey on over to Cape Perpetua, a 23 mile (1/2 hour) drive along the 101…
Cape Perpetua is known for its amazing views of the coastline and its wildlife. There are plenty of trails to explore, as well as a visitor center with exhibits on the area’s natural history.
Check out these areas of interest while you’re staying in Cape Perpetua:
- Cook’s Chasm & Thor’s Well – Cook’s Chasm contains Thor’s well, which has a view of the ocean crashing in and out of a sinkhole, and Spouting Horn where water shoots into the air during high tide
- Devil’s Churn – a beautiful narrow ocean inlet
- Cape Perpetua Overlook – stunning views seen 800 feet above the ocean. Hike up from Cape Perpetua Campground along the St. Perpetua Trail to access the overlook
- Amanda Trail – a difficult but rewarding 7 mile hike from Cape Perpetua Overlook with stunning views
- Giant Spruce Trail – short hike to an outstanding 550 year old, 185 foot tall Sitka Spruce tree
Campgrounds to stay at:
- Toppers – Ice cream shop in Yachats
- Green Salmon Coffee Company – lunch spot, or java for a pep up
- Yachats Brewing and Farmstore – local brews, kombucha, food, books, garden supplies, and more
From Cape Perpetua, jump in your van and head 35 miles (1 hour) on over to Newport…
Newport is a coastal beach town. It is one mile from Yaquina Bay and hosts many restaurants, shops, galleries, museums and parks in the downtown area. Newport is the largest town on the trip.
Newport areas of interest and activities:
- Seal Rock Lookout
- Ocean Beaches Glass Blowing
- Oregon Coast Aquarium – aquarium with a fantastic deep sea exhibit
Campgrounds to stay at:
- Local Ocean Seafood – as the name implies: local oysters, crab, and fish
- The Fish Peddler’s Market – casual seafood dining
- Rogue Brewing – popular craft brewery with a taproom located on the water
After wrapping up your overnight stay in Newport, hit the dusty trail and make your way to Manzanita, 95 miles (2.5 hours) away…
Manzanita has small town charm. It has some shops where you can grab a souvenir for yourself or someone back home! You may want to spend 2 days in Manzanita because there’s a ton to do, or work these in on your way to Fort Stevens. From Newport to Manzanita, you should take a slight detour to see the Three Capes Scenic Route.
Look out for signs for the Three Capes Scenic Route. Stop to check out the capes:
- See one of the three haystack rocks on the coast at Cape Kiwanda
- Check out isolated beaches with sea glass at Cape Lookout
- Take in stunning lighthouse views at Cape Meares
Areas of interest:
- Yaquina Head Natural Area – see the tallest lighthouse in Oregon here
- Devil’s Punchbowl – a sinkhole at a rock formation with glorious ocean activity
- Depoe Bay – take a hike on the boardwalk, and if you’re visiting mid-December through mid-January, you may be able to see some gray whales migrating to Mexico
- Cape Lookout Hike – 5 mile hike along Cape Lookout (see Three Capes Scenic Route)
- Jacobsen Salt Factory – try their infused salts
- Tillamook Air Museum – World War II blimp hangar with over 20 aircraft and other exhibits
- Tillamook Cheese Factory – popular dairy products the world over (make sure you get the cheese ends)
- Blue Heron – small French cheese company with cheese and wine samples
- Oregon Beach Rides – sunset horseback rides
- Neah-kah-nie Mountain – 5 mile hike with scenic views
- Wheeler on the Bay – kayak rentals
- Hug Point – stop here at low tide to walk out and see fantastic ocean views
- Oswald West State Park – watch the surfers hang ten
- Cannon Beach – DO NOT MISS THIS! A beautiful beach with yet another haystack rock
- Ecola State Park – famous for filming of the movie The Goonies
- Clatsop Loop Trail – 3 mile hike with bunker views
- Seaside Helicopters – helicopter tours of the coast starting as low as $55
Campgrounds to stay at:
- Pelican Brewing: Pacific City – craft brews and a great lunch spot
- Left Coast Coffee
- Horn Public House
- Restaurant Beck
- Buttercup – ice cream shop located in Nehalem
- Fish Peddler – roadside oysters and fish to go
- Bread and Ocean – great pastries for breakfast, or sandwiches for lunch
- Crepe Neptune – both sweet and savory crepes for lunch or desert
- Pelican Brewing – their second location
- Schwietert’s – Salt water taffy
- Cannon Beach Bakery – tasty bread, marionberry turnovers, and butter sugar cookies
- Sleepy Monk – coffee joint
- Sealevel Bakery
After exhausting yourself from all of the activities in Manzanita, motor over to Fort Stevens, a 40 mile (1 hour) trek…
Fort Stevens park is located on the Northern tip of Oregon. It was used in World Wars I and II, but it also served as a military outpost until 1953! The fort includes interesting exhibits detailing its history and what life would have been like for soldiers who were stationed here.
Things to do here:
- Razor Clamming Grounds – rent gear at the nearby KOA campground to perhaps find your dinner
- Peter Iredale Shipwreck – check out this shipwreck on the Fort Stevens beach
- Columbia River Maritime Museum – head to Astoria to see this cool museum
Campgrounds to stay at:
- Fort George Brewery
- Buoy Beer Company – this place has a glass paneled floor, through which you can sometimes spot sleeping sea lions
- Pilot House Distillery
When you’re finished up at Fort Stevens, you can continue on to the great state of Washington to see Cape Disappointment. Drive across the Astoria-Megler bridge on the Columbia River to get there. It’s technically not on the Oregon coast, but it’s so close (30 miles, 1 hour away) and worth adding to this trip…
Cape Disappointment is home to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, as well as Radar Hill. The interpretive center is a great place to learn about the Corps of Discovery’s journey along the Columbia River, and there are lots of interactive exhibits for kids (and adults). It’s not disappointing, I promise!
- Cape Disappointment State Park – hiking and 2 miles of beaches
- North Head Lighthouse – guided tours about the turbulent water at the mouth of the Columbia River
- Goose Point Oysters – crack your own oysters on the deck that overlooks the water and fishing boats nearby
- Roots – adorable cafe for breakfast, lunch, or drinks with healthy foods
- Streetside Taco – bright yellow food truck with delicious little tacos
An amazing trip
This is an amazing trip and I would highly recommend it to anyone. The scenery is beautiful and there are so many things to do and see. If you’re looking for a great road trip, the Oregon coast is definitely one of the best places to explore with your camper van in the Pacific Northwest! Thanks for reading!
About Mark Joy
Mark Joy is the owner of markjoyblogs.com, where he works to empower people to find their outdoor passions. He proudly lives in the Pacific Northwest in the Seattle area, where he enjoys the salt sea air, and sweeping mountain views. Feel free to contact him if you want to get in touch.