How To Drive The Three Capes Scenic Loop on the Oregon Coast

Looking for a short weekend trip from Portland? We’ve got just the thing for you!

Found between Pacific City and Tillamook, Oregon, the Three Capes Scenic Loop Drive is a great way to enjoy the natural scenery and charming towns of the Pacific Northwest.

While it’s no longer a loop (due to road closures), the Three Capes Scenic Loop Drive is still one of the best scenic drives in the PNW and only takes a few hours to complete (unless you stay somewhere overnight–which we also recommend!).

Pack the car with snacks, put on a good album or podcast, and get ready for a lovely drive through the beautiful coastline of Oregon!

Where is the 3 Capes Scenic Loop?

The 3 Capes Scenic Loop is a gorgeous drive in the northern Oregon coast, between Pacific City and Tillamook, Oregon. Its main attractions are Cape Kiwanda, Cape Lookout, and Cape Meares. The coast are just the beginning though -there’s over 40 miles of beautiful views and fun activities.

It’s one of the best ways to experience the Oregon coast in a short amount of time!

Read More: 10 Adventurous Oregon Spring Break Destinations

Three Capes Scenic Loop - Cape Kiwanda Stop

Three Capes Scenic Route Map (Driving Directions)

Since the Three Capes Scenic route is a loop, you can begin anywhere along the drive! However, the most popular places to start driving the Three Capes Scenic Loop are in Pacific City, Oregon and Tillamook, Oregon.

If you’re driving from Tillamook, you’ll pass through Oceanside and Netarts, Oregon and head toward Cape Meares.

Once you reach Cape Meares, you can stop at the Cape Meares Lighthouse and other attractions in the Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge. After your visit at Cape Meares, you can drive the loop south on Highway 131 and Whiskey Creek Road toward Cape Lookout, Pacific City, and Cape Kiwanda.

If you’re starting in Pacific City and Cape Kiwanda in the south, you’ll drive north through Tillamook and Cape Lookout to Cape Meares and back down. You will drive along the beautiful US Highway 101 and have many opportunities to enjoy the more farm-like views of the Oregon Coast.

Here’s a Three Capes Scenic Loop map to guide you on your drive:

Three Capes Scenic Loop Map

NOTE: Sometimes there can be road closures due to weather and the road getting washed out.

Sadly, the route just north of the Cape Meares Lighthouse is currently closed and there have not been signs of repairing it lately. If this is still the case, some minimal backtracking may be necessary (as depicted in the map above). While this makes the scenic drive no longer a “loop,” it’s still a worthwhile drive!

Oceanside at sunset along the Three Capes Scenic Loop

When is the best time to drive the Three Capes Scenic Loop?

One of the best things about the Three Capes Scenic drive is that it’s great year-round!

Lots of people choose to drive the Three Capes Scenic Loop in the summer if they want to go hiking, because the trails are less muddy this time of year.

Another great reason to drive the Three Capes Scenic Loop in the summer is because the summer season is best for spotting migrating and resident whales.

Regardless of what season you drive the Three Capes Scenic route, you’re guaranteed a fun time of seeing gorgeous scenery and wildlife, enjoying the charming towns of central and northern Oregon, and tons of fun things to do in the area.

Read More: 35 important things to include in your Oregon Coast packing list

Emily Mandagie taking photos at Cape Meares along the Three Capes Scenic Loop Drive

How to Drive The Three Capes Scenic Loop (Route Ideas)

The most common starting point for the Three Capes Scenic Loop is in Pacific City, Oregon, but you can also start in Tillamook Oregon. Really, you aren’t limited to where to start–you can start anywhere along the loop!

It will take you a few hours (without stopping) to finish the entire loop route, but to get the most out of your trip in this area, you’ll want to make at least a few stops at some iconic Oregon photography locations.

We recommend blocking off an entire morning or entire afternoon to drive the Three Capes Scenic Loop. This way, you can take in the beauty of each cape, their unique features, and fun things they offer.

You could also make it a weekend trip, spending an entire day at each cape! This way, you can book a few unique Oregon coast cabin rentals or stay at a northern Oregon coast campground and experience this cozy way to see the coast.

If you’re looking for more of an involved way to experience this loop, off-road driving or road biking is totally allowed and popular!

Ready to make it part of a bigger adventure? Plan an entire Oregon Coast road trip, from the north to south!

Stops Along The Three Capes Scenic Loop

Cape Meares

While the entirety of the Three Capes Scenic Loop offers visitors stunning views of the coast and inland forests, the most “scenic” views are at Cape Meares. One of the best places to get those classic PNW views is from the Cape Meares Scenic Viewpoint.

During this stop, you’ll want to visit the Cape Meares Lighthouse, which you can access via the Cape Meares Lighthouse Loop Trail (easy, 0.5-mile loop with 121’ elevation gain). This is a short Oregon Coast hike with tons of jaw-dropping views of the area!

Another fun attraction in Cape Meares is visiting the Octopus Tree–a unique Sitka spruce tree near the Cape Meares Scenic Viewpoint with lots of limbs! From here, you can continue driving down the hill and park to easily access Short Beach.

In Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge, Pillar Rock and Pyramid Rock are right off shore and are home to thousands of coastal nesting birds. Bring binoculars!

Stay a little longer: 10 Best Places For An Oregon Coast Picnic

Cape Lookout - Three Capes Scenic Drive

Cape Lookout

The second cape in the Three Capes Scenic Loop is Cape Lookout, which is a peninsula that sticks 2 miles out into the Pacific Ocean.

Long capes are known for their whale watching opportunities, and Lookout doesn’t disappoint in this department!

Cape Lookout has over 8 miles of trails and family friendly hikes with epic views. The most popular is the Cape Lookout Trail–a moderately challenging 4.7-mile hike with stunning ocean views.

Because the trail can get pretty muddy in the spring, be careful and bring a dependable pair of waterproof hiking boots!

Before or after your hike, make sure to stop by Netarts to grab some lunch! The Schooner Restaurant and Lounge has fresh seafood, and great water views.

Camping at Cape Lookout is one of our favorite places to go camping on the Oregon coast, especially because of its affordability and no-fuss camping spots. There are lots of tent and RV camping spots, but you can also pet-friendly rent yurts and deluxe cabins, too! Rates at the Cape Lookout State Park start at $23 per night.

Cape Kiwanda

The smallest, but most popular cape along the Three Capes Scenic Loop, is Cape Kiwanda–an area of delicate sandstone cliff sides on the edge of the ocean.

One of the coolest things about Cape Kiwanda is that the cliffs are constantly changing and eroding, due to the weather and constant motion of ocean waves.

Pacific City is right next to Cape Kiwanda, so the easiest way to park and explore the park is at the Pacific City Beach parking lot near Pelican Brewing (one of our favorite breweries in the area!). From here, you can rest on the beach or take the kiddos tidepooling!

A cool aspect of Cape Kiwanda is Pacific City’s Haystack Rock, which protects the beach from the rough elements–it’s hard to miss! Enjoy the sea stack with friends and have a beach bonfire with s’mores.

While in the area, climb up the Pacific City Beach’s tall dune (240 feet tall) and wander around the top–there are tons of viewpoints to discover!

During certain times of day, you can see two popular activities here: hang gliders and dory boats. Dory Boats are used as a traditional way to fish, and they are unique because they launch and land right on shore!

Pacific City Dory Boats

Pacific City Beach is also a popular stop for surfers. It’s popular year round because of the beginner-style waves. Haystack Rock and the shape of the cape makes these waters consistent and easy to master.

Other Places To Surf: Oswald West State Park

You’ll want to take a day or two at Cape Kiwanda during your Three Capes Scenic Loop drive!

Three Capes Oregon Conclusion

We hope you enjoyed our guide to the Three Capes Scenic loop in Oregon! It’s genuinely one of our favorite parts of a coastal road trip, day trip from Manzanita, or a morning drive from Pacific City.

The short distance between Portland and Tillamook makes this drive an easy day trip from Portland, but we really do recommend staying for a weekend getaway from Portland instead!

Have you ever planned a Three Capes Scenic Route fr yourself? Tell us all about your experience in the comments!

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