Tillamook Head

  • Easy (to Indian Beach)
  • 3 miles round trip
  • 400 feet elevation gain

  • Moderate (to WW II bunker)
  • 3-mile loop
  • 900 feet elevation gain

  • Difficult (shuttle across headland)
  • 6.1 miles one way
  • 1350 feet elevation gain

Tillamook Head rises 1000 feet from the ocean, with jagged capes and rocky islands. The Lewis and Clark expedition crossed this formidable headland in 1806 to buy the blubber of a stranded whale from Indians at Cannon Beach. At a viewpoint along the way Clark marveled, “I behold the grandest and most pleasing prospect which my eyes ever surveyed.”

Today the Oregon Coast Trail traces Clark’s route across the headland from Seaside to Cannon Beach. The headland itself is a tilted remnant of a massive, 15-million-year-old Columbia River basalt flow. Incredibly, the lava welled up near Idaho and flooded down the Columbia River to the seashore here.

Tillamook Head

From Highway 101, take the north exit for Cannon Beach and follow Ecola State Park signs 2 miles to the park’s entrance booth. A day-use fee of $5 per car is collected here. Dogs must be on leash.

For a quick sample of the park’s scenery, turn left at the booth, park at the Ecola Point picnic area, and walk 200 yards out a paved path from the far left-hand end of the parking lot. The railed viewpoint on a headland here was damaged by a 2015 landslide and is being rebuilt nearby, but still with a spectacular panorama from Cannon Beach to Tillamook Rock’s island lighthouse.

For a 3-mile hike, walk back to the parking lot and take an unpaved trail north 1.5 miles to Indian Beach. This route climbs around scenic bluffs past three of the best viewpoints in the park. Then a left-hand spur drops to Indian Beach, a good turnaround point. Ahead, the main trail bridges Canyon Creek to the Indian Beach picnic area parking lot. For the longer hikes at Tillamook Head it’s best to start at the Indian Beach picnic area. Drive there by turning right at the park’s fee booth for 1.5 miles. The trail starts behind the restroom on the right. After 200 feet ignore a footbridge to the left and keep straight on the main trail, an old roadbed that climbs relentlessly through an ancient spruce and alder rainforest. After 1.2 miles you’ll reach a trail crossing at a camping area for backpackers. Three open-sided shelters here have four bunks apiece, but no water and no stoves. The bunks are available for free on a first-come-first-served basis, although you’ll need a parking permit for your car for every day of your visit.

Hike straight past the camping area 0.2 mile to find the concrete bunker that housed a radar installation in World War II. Just beyond is a cliff-edge viewpoint, breathtakingly high above a rugged rock beach.

A mile to sea is Tillamook Rock, a bleak island with a lighthouse that operated from 1881 to 1957. Nicknamed “Terrible Tilly,” the light was repeatedly overswept by winter storms that dashed water, rocks, and fish into the lantern room 150 feet above normal sea level. The island was finally bought by funeral entrepreneurs who brought in urns of cremated remains by helicopter.

If you’re ready to return on the loop to your car, walk back to the camp shelters and turn right on a path 1.4 miles downhill to the Indian Beach parking lot.

If you’d prefer to continue across Tillamook Head, walk behind the camp shelters to find a trail that climbs and dips for 2.6 miles, passing some excellent views north (including the one Clark liked), before switchbacking down through the forest 1.7 miles to a parking area at the end of Sunset Boulevard. Boardwalks cross muddy spots along the way. To find this northern trailhead, drive Highway 101 to Seaside’s southernmost traffic signal, turn west on Avenue U for two blocks and turn left on Edgewood (which becomes Sunset) for 1.2 miles to road’s end.

This chapter taken from the book 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Oregon Coast & Coast Range.