From Barns to Beaches on the Tillamook Coast

by Bobbie Hasselbring  | Photo © Edmund Trussel Shutterstock

Bookended on the north by Cape Falcon and on the south by Cascade Head, Tillamook County boasts some of the most spectacular coastal scenery on the Oregon Coast. But this largely undeveloped and wild country offers much more than pretty pictures. Perhaps you like active adventures like fishing, hiking or kayaking. Or maybe gallery or museum hopping, or exploring lighthouses or farmer’s markets is more your style. Here are some of the top activities for your itinerary when you visit beautiful Tillamook County

Paddle It. Being on the water alters one’s perception of a place. On the Tillamook County Water Trail System, you can kayak or paddleboard 250 miles of coastal bays, rivers, forested sloughs, backwater channels and fresh water lakes with guides from Kayak Tillamook ( These guides know the area’s natural attributes and you’ll likely see river otters, harbor seals, mink, elk, raptors and plenty of seabirds.

Seeking Sand. Cape Kiwanda, just north of Pacific City, stands 240 feet high, making it the tallest sand dune on Oregon’s coast. It’s a magnet for visitors who love to scramble up and run or slide down. The view at the top is worth the effort, especially when the Dory Fleet is in action. For more than a century, shallow draft dory fishing boats have launched into the surf from the beach just south of the big sand dune to fish the waters off Cape Kiwanda. Once they have their catch, they race headlong back onto the beach, landing perfectly. If climbing dunes is not your thing, you can watch all the action over a meal and a beer at Pelican Pub and Brewery, right on the beach.

See the Light. Cape Meares Lighthouse is the northernmost lighthouse open to the public in Oregon. And, at 38 feet, it’s also the state’s shortest. But the Cape Meares Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge (, is definitely worth a visit for the lighthouse’s antique Fresnel lens and amazing opportunities for whale spotting, observing colonies of seabirds, and taking in the cliffs and crashing waves. While you’re there, be sure to take the trail to Big Spruce, Oregon’s largest Sitka Spruce, and the Octopus Tree, an Oregon Heritage Tree.

Fish On! There’s nothing better than catching a big spring or winter steelhead or Chinook salmon in Tillamook Bay, a six-mile-long estuary that’s fed by five rivers and protected from crashing Pacific Ocean waves. At Garibaldi Marina (, beginners and veteran fishers alike can hop aboard a charter with experts like Capt. John of JB and Water Sportfishing ( They provide bait, gear, instructions and even snacks.

Get Cheesy. Who hasn’t heard of Tillamook Cheese? The Tillamook Cheese Factory (in Tillamook), is not only a dairy farmers’ co-op with deep roots in the region, but also the Disneyland of cheese and ice cream making. You’ll go on a self-guided factory tour, taste free samples, browse a gift shop and end up in an ice cream parlor with a dizzying selection of flavors. Stop for lunch at the plant’s Creamery Café and check out the grilled cheese sandwich menu (naturally!). Then peruse the ice cream case and order up a big scoop (or two). Are you a chocolate lover? Order Tillamook Mudslide.

Giddy Up. A unique way to explore the beach is from the saddle. Green Acres Beach and Trail Rides (, located in Pacific City, will saddle you up with a horse perfect for your experience level. Choose a 1-hour relaxing beach ride or a more challenging 2-hour ride into the dunes. For riders who bring their own horses, Nehalem Bay State Park, just south of Manzanita, offers horse camping corrals and riding trails.

Pass the Salt. When explorers Lewis & Clark traveled to the Oregon Coast in 1805, they created a salt works to extract salt from seawater. More than 200 years later, Jacobsen Salt Company (, located at Netarts Bay, is the first to make salt commercially on the coast, including many flavored varieties. See how the salt-making process works and sample and purchase their acclaimed salts in their tasting room.

Bovine Beauty. Considering all that cheese and ice cream, Tillamook County must be the land of cows. On the Tillamook Eco Adventures ( Dairyland Tour, you’ll visit a dairy farm for an up-close meet and greet with some of the county’s famous bovines. On this “moo-velous” family-friendly tour, you’ll learn how these ladies have kept Tillamook’s dairy farmers in business for so long and still keep the local economy churning.

Trail Time. Tillamook County has plenty of hiking trails to choose from, ranging from easy to strenuous. One of the easiest is the 0.3-mile trail through old-growth coastal forest to Munson Creek Waterfall ( that, at 319 feet, is the tallest in the Coast Range. Oswald West State Park ( offers 13 miles of trails, including many with spectacular coast views. For serious hikers, try the challenging 10.8-mile Elk Mountain-King’s Mountain Loop Hike in the Tillamook State Forest (

Go for the Burn. Tillamook County is well known as an area that’s experienced plenty of large forest fires, including four huge fires that began in 1933, dubbed the Tillamook Burn. The Tillamook State Forest Center (, on Highway 6, tells the unique story of a forest ravaged by multiple fires and brought back to life. The bright and airy exhibit hall, made to look like a 1920s sawmill, explains how, between 1949 and 1973, the forest was replanted by the state and local communities in the largest reforestation project of its kind. Today, the 364,000 acres that’s now the Tillamook State Forest boasts trees towering at least 80 feet. You can climb a giant fire lookout and hike nearby trails.

Get Crabby. The Northwest is famous for uber-sweet and succulent Dungeness crab. You won’t find any fresher than the crab boiled up at Kelly’s Brighton Marina (, north of Rockaway Beach. You can rent a small motorboat (no captain’s license needed) with crab rings and bait (two hours for $85), try your luck from the dock (ring and bait, $10), or just kick back with a cool one on the deck while Kelly and his crew cook up fresh crab, clams and oysters for your lunch.

Maritime Immersion. In the fishing village of Garibaldi, the Garibaldi Museum ( explores the area’s maritime and timber history. Exhibits include the original bow of the Morningstar, a sailing ship wrecked here in 1814, and a display about Captain Robert Gray, the first non-native American to discover (and name) the Columbia River in 1792.

Art Appreciation. Spend an afternoon exploring art galleries in the art-centric village of Manzanita. Start at the Hoffman Center, a community arts center that offers summer art and drama camps for kids, and clay workshops for adults, live musical performances, film screenings and readings from nationally recognized authors. Then, enjoy original artworks in galleries like Polaris, 4th Street Studio and Gallery, Bad Women Gallery, Coast Gallery, Sea Level Gallery and Osborne Studio & Gallery. You can also meander through fun, one-of-a-kind shops like Toylandia, The Frugal Cow, Overboard (a game board store) and The Cloud and Leaf Bookstore.

Quilt Crazy. Tillamook County is so crazy for quilts they’ve painted more than 100 giant quilt squares on barns and buildings throughout the county. Find a Quilt Trail map online at and spend the day searching out (and photographing) these colorful icons. At Tillamook’s Latimer Quilt and Textile Center (, you can admire the real thing—around 400 handmade quilts dating back to the 1700s.