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Home > Close-Ups > U.S. Highway 101 Travel Tips

 

 

Travel Tips on U.S. Highway 101

(Northern California to Washington)

 

 

I've traveled the full length of the Oregon Coast, all 363 miles of it, perhaps 20 or 30 times in my life.  I even used to live on the Oregon Coast -- thus explaining my pale complexion and webbed feet.  The drive on U.S. Highway 101 from northern California to the Washington border is one of my absolute favorites in the U.S.  Here are some of my favorite "Sites of Interest" along U.S. 101, listed from south to north.  

 

I also have an accompanying page called Highway 101 Camping Tips:  Northern California, Oregon, and Washington, which describes some of my favorite campgrounds on this route.

 

 

Sites of Interest

 

CALIFORNIA

 

  • Avenue of the Giants (north of Garberville):  A definite “must see” in Northern California and one of my favorite drives in the U.S., this two-lane paved road is actually the old Highway 101 and parallels the current Highway 101 for about 20 miles as it winds through seemingly endless groves of redwood trees.  There’s an interesting Visitor Center about halfway through the drive at the Burlington campground.  You can stop in Weott and see the “High Water” sign from the flood of 1964, sitting atop a telephone pole.  Avenue of the Giants is a slower but much more interesting route than the parallel Highway 101.  However, if you need to, you can access Highway 101 on both the south and north ends and at several points along it.

  • Redwood National Park Visitor Center (near Orick, north of Arcata):  Interesting displays and good beach access.

  • Newton Drury Parkway (near Orick):  A five (+/-) mile alternative to Highway 101 (it's actually another stretch of the old Highway 101).  The Parkway goes right by Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, the “Big Tree”, and an interesting 3-mile drive on a dirt dead-end road called the Cal Barrel Road, which slowly winds through the redwoods.  Also, a few miles north of Klamath, there's a nice two-mile drive to Requa off Highway 101 with a good viewpoint of the mouth of the Klamath River -- a great place to eat lunch.

  • Trees of Mystery:  The Trees of Mystery and Sea Lion Caves near Florence, Oregon are probably the two most famous tourist traps (oops, I mean tourist "attractions") on Highway 101.  Actually I shouldn't say anything bad about it, since I've never forked over the admission price and haven't actually walked through it... but from the outside, and from all the billboards, it seems like a pretty hokey place.  

 

2-3689_Truck_at_Pullout.jpg (56591 bytes)    2-3681_High_Water_Mark.jpg (40199 bytes)   

Above left:  At a pullout along the peaceful "Avenue of the Giants," south of Eureka.  My Toyota truck had just turned over 250,000 miles, so I had to pull over and take a picture of it.

Above center:  This used to be downtown Weott, California, which was wiped out by a mammoth flood of the Eel River in 1964.  This high-water mark is about all that's left of Weott.

Above right:  A lofty Paul Bunyan and his sidekick Babe at the Trees of Mystery, near Crescent City, one of the more "memorable" sights along U.S. 101.

 

OREGON

 

Note:  Many Oregon day-use state parks charge an admission fee of $3.  However, the permit is good in all state parks for that day.
  • Brookings (pop. 5,400):  Brookings is a nice town with an interesting harbor area on the south bank of the Chetco River.  The Fred Meyer store on the west side of Highway 101 is a good place to get restocked.  There are speed traps on Highway 101 sometimes south of town. 

  • Cape Sebastian State Park:  This viewpoint, about a half-mile west of Highway 101, offers one of the best views of the Oregon Coast.  Don't take RVs or large trailers, though, because the access road to it is steep and narrow.

  • Gold Beach (pop. 1,900):  Not much of interest in town and I’ve never spent much time here, but the nearby Rogue River Mail Boats (jet boats that dash through the rapids) are interesting, if you like that sort of thing.

  • Port Orford (pop. 1,100):  This is my favorite town on the southern Oregon coast.  There’s a nice vista and large parking area (with restrooms) on the south end of town on the west side of Highway 101, with a sign there describing “Battle Rock” – a good place for a snack break.  Also, you can drive down to the nearby “marina” and watch the fishing boats being hauled out of the ocean.  At Port Orford State Park, just off the 90-degree bend in Highway 101 here, you can visit an old Coast Guard station – and, for a few dollars, get your own dog tags made.   Also, there's a good IGA grocery store on the north side of town.

 

    2-3651_Hauling_Out_at_Port_Orford.jpg (36748 bytes)    2-3615_Tahkenitch_Creek.jpg (28133 bytes)

Above left:  Breakfast stop at Cape Sebastian, which offers one of the best views on the Oregon coast.  Cape Sebastian is one of the 70 state parks that line Oregon's 363-mile coast.

Above center:  The "marina" at Port Orford, Oregon is a busy place.  There's no harbor here, so every afternoon all the boats are hoisted out of the ocean and carted ashore.

Above right:  Tahkenitch Creek, during a hike across the Oregon dunes on the central Oregon coast. 

  • Bandon (pop. 2,800):  Becoming popular with retirees, Bandon is a bit artsy but retains a maritime industry.  Face Rock State Park is interesting -- it's south of town a few miles west of Highway 101 on a parallel coastal road.  Old Town, down by the marina, is also pretty cool.  The Bandon Cheese Factory, on the east side of 101, offers free cheese samples and great ice cream.

  • Coos Bay / North Bend (pop. 25,000):   Mostly a lumber town, so there’s not that much of interest here, although the Fred Meyer store on the south end of town is a good place to get restocked.

  • Umpqua Lighthouse State Park:  Located a couple miles west of Highway 101, south of Winchester Bay, the lighthouse is open for tours in the summer.  There’s also a great viewpoint here of the Umpqua River bar.

  • Oregon Dunes Overlook (north of Reedsport):  There’s a great viewpoint of the Oregon sand dunes here from the parking lot area, which is well worth a stop.  If you have an hour, you can hike a mile across the sand dunes to the beach.  If you have a couple hours, you can make a nice 3-mile, triangular roundtrip hike to the beach and back, one of my favorite hikes on the Oregon coast.

  • Florence (pop. 7,200):   This is probably my favorite town on the central Oregon Coast.  The Old Town section on the riverfront has lots of interesting shops and restaurants.  There’s a Fred Meyer store on the north edge of town for supplies (as you can probably tell, I'm a big Fred Meyer fan).

  • Darlingtonia State Park:  This is located just north of Florence on the east side of Highway 101.  A two-minute walk from the parking lot leads to a small marsh filled with Darlingtonia, insect-eating plants that are something like Venus fly traps.  It only takes 10 minutes to pull off Highway 101 and see this entire park, and it's well worth it.

 

        2-3594_Darlingtonia.jpg (61301 bytes)

Above left:  At the Oregon Dunes Overlook, north of Coos Bay.

Above center:   Although the northern and southern Oregon coasts are rocky, the central coast is sandy.  Enormous sand dunes here stretch for dozens of miles and are lots of fun to hike down (but not so fun to hike up).

Above right:  One of the most interesting plants on the coast is Darlingtonia.  It's a carnivorous plant something like a Venus fly-trap.

  • Sea Lion Caves (north of Florence):  Actually, this place isn't as hokey as most people think, and the folks who run it are really interested in marine life, not just in making a buck.  After paying your admission fee, you take an elevator down to a large coastal cavern where you can watch sea lions lying on the rocks.  About a quarter-mile north of Sea Lion Caves on Highway 101, there’s a pullout on the west side of the highway with a great view of Heceta Head Lighthouse – one of the signature views of the Oregon Coast.

  • Devil’s Elbow State Park:  There’s a nice beach here.  Even better is the Heceta (pronounced "ha-SEA-ta") Head Lighthouse, which is open for free tours in the summer, along with the old lighthouse-keeper’s house.  I've visited all the lighthouses open for tours on the Oregon Coast, and this one is probably the most interesting.

  • Cape Perpetua:  There’s a nice Visitor Center on the east side of Highway 101 here that's worth a stop.  At nearby Devil’s Churn, you can watch ocean waves crash upon the rocks – kids really enjoy this place and it's definitely worth a 20-minute stop.  The Cape Perpetua overlook, a few miles east of 101, is one of my favorite stopping places on the Oregon coast and offers a great view of the coast.  If you go up there, be sure to hike the few hundred yards out to the CCC rock shelter for a great viewpoint.

  • Yachats (pop. 617, pronounced “YAW-hots”):  Yachats is a small, artsy/retirement community with a grocery store and a few gas stations.  Yachats State Park, just a few blocks west of 101 in “downtown”, offers a great view of the Yachats River, access to tidepools at low tide, and restrooms.

 

2-3586_Heceta_Head.jpg (37664 bytes)    2-3587_Heceta_Head_Lighthouse.jpg (27767 bytes)    2-3583_Truck_at_Yachats.jpg (35111 bytes)

Above left:  Lighthouse at Heceta Head.

Above center:  Here's the Heceta Head lighthouse again, one of the most notable landmarks on the Oregon coast.  Tours here are free... and for a hundred bucks, you can spend the night in the old lighthouse keeper's house nearby, which is now a B&B.

Above right:  Eating lunch and enjoying the view in Yachats, one of my favorite stops on the coast.

  • Waldport (pop. 2,050):  An interesting, new (and free) visitor center at the south end of the bridge describes the history of the Oregon Coast bridges, many of which date back to the 1930s.

  • Newport (pop. 9,500):  The best part of Newport is the fascinating Old Town section along the waterfront, north of the Yaquina Bay bridge.  There’s an interesting old seafood restaurant on the waterfront called Mo’s, which serves great clam chowder – a very informal, funky, and fun place to eat.  The aquarium south of the bridge was the former home of Keiko the killer whale.

  • Depoe Bay (pop. 1,100):  A small, interesting harbor -- this area is worth a few minutes stop.  On the west side of Highway 101 at the bridge, you can walk down near the harbor entrance and watch the boats navigate through the narrow harbor entrance.

  • Otter Crest Loop:  This is another scenic coastal alternative to Highway 101, which cuts inland here for a few miles.  The loop offers access to some interesting state parks, including Cape Foulweather, which was discovered by Capt. Cook in the 1700’s and which offers a nice view.  Part of the loop was closed the last time I visited, though, back in 2002.

  • Lincoln City (pop. 7,400):  One of my former home-towns, Lincoln City is actually a nice place once you get away from the kitsch and strip-developments along Highway 101.  D River State Park, located on the west side of Highway 101, is usually packed and frankly isn't that great.  Barnacle Bill’s seafood stand, on the east side of 101 in the middle of town, is a good place to get smoked salmon and shrimp cocktails.  Hobie's Adobe, on the west side of 101, has great Mexican food.  Road’s End State Park, on the north side of town, is my favorite place to hang out in Lincoln City, with good beach access and a nice beach walk to scenic Cascade Head.

  • Three Capes Scenic Loop (near Pacific City):  This is a scenic coastal alternative to Highway 101, which cuts inland here for several miles.  The dory fleet at Pacific City launches boats from the beach through the surf, and Cape Meares State Park has a couple of interesting sites, including the “Octopus Tree” and the Cape Meares lighthouse and gift shop, which is usually open in the summer.

  • Tillamook (pop. 4,500):  The Tillamook Cheese Factory north of town is Oregon’s second-most visited tourist attraction.  It’s pretty interesting and has a nice gift shop, museum and café, where you can get some great Tillamook ice cream stuffed in a crispy waffle cone.  There’s also a Fred Meyer store in Tillamook for supplies.

  • Cannon Beach (pop. 1,600):  An artsy community with a quaint downtown.  Too rich for my blood, though.

  • Ecola State Park:   Ecola is a "must see" on the northern Oregon coast.  There's a fantastic view of the Oregon Coast here -- in fact, it's one of the most photographed sites on the coast.  Ecola is a little hard to find but it's definitely worth the effort. 

       

Above left:   Depoe Bay, Oregon....

Above center:  ... and it's "world's smallest harbor."

Above right:  View of Otter Crest and the central Oregon Coast from Cape Foulweather.  The cape was sighted and named by the English explorer, Captain James Cook, in 1778.  

  • Seaside (pop. 5,800):  This is Oregon’s version of Atlantic City (minus the casinos), for better or worse.  Like my former hometown of Lincoln City, it’s a little tacky.  O.K., it's a LOT tacky.

  • Astoria (pop. 9,700):  This is probably the most interesting city on the Oregon Coast.  Astoria is kind of run-down, but there are a lot of things to see and do in and around town.  Fort Clatsop National Monument (Lewis and Clark’s 1805 winter encampment) is located just west of the city.  The National Park Service has reconstructed Fort Clatsop and offers “living history” demonstrations with interpreters, who are dressed in appropriate costumes, firing old rifles and demonstrating other interesting things.  There’s also a nice Visitor Center here.  Also in Astoria, you can climb up to the Astoria Column (free) and from the top, you can see for miles -- an exceptional viewpoint.  There’s also a fascinating Maritime Museum near downtown with a lighthouse ship docked nearby -- a great place to spend a few hours.  Fort Stevens State Park is also nearby.  By the way, Astoria was the setting for several movies, including Kindergarten Cop, The Goonies, and Short Circuit.

 

        2-3571_Lightship_Columbia.jpg (33945 bytes)

Above left:  Ecola State Park on the northern Oregon coast.

Above center:  Here's Fort Clatsop near present-day Astoria, Oregon, the 1805-06 winter home of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.   It rained almost every day during their 4-month stay at Fort Clatsop (imagine that, rain in Oregon!).  

Above right:  This is the "Columbia," a lightship that operated at the mouth of the Columbia River until 1973, the last operating lightship in the U.S.  It's now part of the Maritime Museum in Astoria. 

 

2-3581_Astoria_Column.jpg (26805 bytes)   Left:  Astoria has a lot of interesting sites, including the Astoria Column.  That's a mural on the outside depicting Oregon's history.   2-3577_View_From_Column.jpg (38086 bytes) Left Walking 133 steps up the Astoria Column is a cheap price to pay for one of the best views on the Oregon Coast.  In the far distance are Lewis and Clark's encampment at Fort Clatsop (left) and the mouth of the Columbia River (right).

   

 

WASHINGTON

  • Ilwaco (pop. 950):   Located at the mouth of the Columbia River, Ilwaco is a popular fishing town.  Fort Canby State Park, west of town, is a great place to camp and has a terrific and spacious museum on Lewis and Clark (who camped nearby in 1805) and maritime activities.

  • South Bend (pop. 1,800):  Located at the head of oyster-rich Willapa Bay, South Bend has lots of places where you load up on oysters and other delicious shellfish.  Just north of town, U.S. 101 cuts inland but you can turn west onto State Route 105, a coastal, scenic alternative.

  • Aberdeen / Hoquiam (pop. 25,000):  The boyhood home of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, these are lumber towns which have seen better days.  The older downtown area is interesting to poke around, but it Smells Like Teen Spirit (a little Nirvana humor).  Actually, it smells like a pulp mill.  With a population of 16,000, Aberdeen is the largest city on the western Washington coast.

  • Humptulips (pop. 216):  Nothing very interesting here, but it has one of the funniest names in the U.S. 

  • Amanda Park / Quinault River (pop. 430):  The massive Olympic National Park begins bordering U.S. 101 on the east here.  You can turn east and head up the Quinault Rainforest on a paved road.  A little farther north on 101, you can turn east and head up the Queets Rainforest on a bumpy, gravel road.

  • Kalaloch:  Pronounced "Clay-lock," this is the first place in Washington where U.S. 101 hits the Pacific Ocean.  There's a NPS campground here that straddles a narrow strip of land between noisy Highway 101 and the ocean (though with all the logging trucks that scream down 101, I've always wondered why people camp here).  North of Kalaloch, there are lots of National Park turnouts on the west side of Highway 101 providing great access to the beach.  The best turnout, though, is north of here at Ruby Beach just before Highway 101 once again turns inland.

  • Forks (pop. 3,500):  A small logging town renown for abundant winter rainfall.  In fact, it's one of the wettest spots in Washington.  The rain forests in Olympic National Park, including Hoh south of town and Sol Duc north of town, are definitely worth exploring, though.  Forks is about the only place between Aberdeen and Port Angeles to get restocked with groceries and supplies.

    2-3568_Ruby_Beach.jpg (53819 bytes)    2-3553_On_Hoh_Hike.jpg (65326 bytes)

Above left:  The oyster-filled town of South Bend.

Above center:  Ruby Beach, north of Kalaloch.

Above right:  Hiking on the mossy Hoh River trail in Olympic National Park.

  • Sappho:  This is the turnoff for State Route 113, a long, dead-end highway leading to the Indian fishing village of Neah Bay on the extreme northwestern tip of Washington.  Even more interesting is the Ozette Lake area of Olympic National Park, with a great 3-mile hike to a remote stretch of rocky coast and the westernmost point in the contiguous 48 states, Cape Alava.

  • Port Angeles (pop. 19,000):  Port Angeles is the largest city on the Olympic Peninsula and it's the best place to get restocked with supplies.  The harbor area is interesting to poke around and a ferry here goes to Victoria, British Columbia, but there aren't many good motels in town.  Be sure to turn off on the Hurricane Ridge road east of town for a spectacular 30-minute mountain drive up into Olympic National Park and an awesome view of the glacier-covered Mount Olympus.

  • Sequim (pop. 4,300):  Lying in the rainshadow of the Olympic Mountains, Sequim (pronounced "Squim") is the driest city on the west coast north of Santa Barbara, California.  It's a pleasant, laid-back town catering largely to retirees.

  • Olympia (pop. 43,000):  Along with being the the capital of Washington, Olympia is the official end of Highway 101.  Now that the Olympia Brewery south of town is closed, there isn't much to do in Olympia -- but it's a good place to turn around and drive Highway 101 all over again.

  Left:  Rialto Beach, west of Forks.   2-3535_Falls.jpg (52151 bytes) Left:  The spectacular Sol Duc falls in Olympic National Park.

 

For my tips on camping along Highway 101, see

Highway 101 Camping Tips:  Northern California, Oregon, and Washington.