Ecola State Park, north of Cannon Beach, is located off the historic Highway 101 along the Oregon coast. The park, as it is perched dramatically on the edge of a headland, provides some of the most breathtaking panoramic coastal views in the Pacific Northwest. The dramatic southern view includes Cannon Beach and its most prominent landmark, Haystack Rock. At times the scene is filled with mist and fog pouring down from the nearby coastal range which gives the scene a remarkable feel. The park is both rugged and accessible, making it one of the most visited state parks in Oregon, and for good measure, as it provides some of the greatest coastal scenery in Oregon.
Ecola State Park is part of the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Park, which includes state and federal parks associated with the Corps of Discovery expedition in Oregon and Washington. Part of the Clatsop Loop Trail and the trail over Tillamook Head follow in the footsteps of the Corps of Discovery where you can trace a route used by Captain William Clark. After more than 18 arduous months of exploration, the Corps of Discovery had yet to face what Captain William Clark would call “the steepest worst and highest mountain I ever ascended.” That mountain is Tillamook Head and Captain William Clark and 12 other expedition members, including Sacagawea, traveled through what is now the park in 1806 in search of a beached whale to gather much needed blubber for food and lighting near present-day Cannon Beach. The explorers found the whale near a Native American village and, after crossing a stream, which Clark later named Ecola Creek, using the Chinook Indian word for “whale.”
The entrance road to Ecola State Park winds thorugh a large Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock forest and opens up to the main vantage point and parking area. From here, the park stretches along 9 miles of coastline and offers many recreational opportunities such as hiking, tide pooling, beach combing, wildlife observation, photography, surfing, and picnicking. Many species of wildlife and birds call Ecola home. During the winter and spring, you can see migrating gray whales from one of the promontories overlooking the ocean. During the migration seasons, a popular whale watching program features trained volunteers to help visitors spot gray whales. The winter migration is short and quick and the spring migration is the most popular, due to better weather for visitors, but mostly because the gray whales come closer in to the shore so their calves can avoid being eaten by killer whales and great white sharks.
Ecola’s trails offer cliff-side viewpoints of secluded coves, forested promontories, and even a long abandoned lighthouse. The park’s network of trails include an 8 mile segment of the Oregon Coast Trail and a 2.5 mile historical interpretive route called the Clatsop Loop Trail. The loop starts from the main parking area, just behind the public restrooms. There is a small footbridge that leads to the part of the trail that meanders along the clifftops of Tillamook Head. The trail then takes you past the offshore Terrible Tilly Lighthouse. The north of the loop trail finishes at Hikers Camp which is a remote rest area for campers and backpackers. At Hikers Camp, there is a primitive camping area that has three small, Adirondack-style shelters that sleep four on wooden bunk beds. The cabins are free and available on a first-come, first-served basis. There is a large fire ring and central picnic shelter for small groups and makes an excellent stop for a much longer hike along the Oregon Coast Trail. There is a nearby vault toilet, but the camp has no potable water. In summer, the Tillamook Head is heavily used but in fall or winter, you can find solitude, especially on a weekday.
The park is home to two sandy beaches: Crescent Beach and Indian Beach; both are notable for their tide pools. The prettiest stretch of coastline is Indian Beach, popular with surfers and beach-goers. The beach is popular with surfers since it is sheltered from the prevailing NW wind and offers a year-round constant, albeit sloppy surf. Indian Beach is secluded and can be reached from Ecola Point by a 1.5 mile section of the Oregon Coast Trail connecting Ecola Point (main viewpoint parking area) down to Indian Beach. The trail is accessible year-round. Sea Lion Arch Rock is seen in the ocean from Indian Beach and makes for a remarkable photograph at sunset when the sun’s rays shine through the arch and onto the surrounding choppy and white-tipped waves.
Ecola State Park also offers birdwatchers a wide variety of environments that provide habitat for distinct communities of birds. With rocky shorelines and beaches, woodlands, thick rainforests, and estuarine environments, the park is a winter bird watching haven and is considered a top bird watching location in the state of Oregon. Many of the birds are simply passing through or only spend the winters in this mild coastal climate. Some are year-round residents such as bald eagles and peregrine falcons; these species may be much more visible during the winter. The beaches and rocky shoreline of Indian Beach at Ecola State Park can offer sightings of a large variety of shorebirds and seabirds. The most common shorebirds seen on the beach are wintering sanderlings, a small pale sandpiper that feeds at the water’s edge, occasionally in large flocks.
The prominent feature from the expansive view of Ecola State Park is Haystack Rock. This most often photographed rock has become an iconic landmark for Cannon Beach and is one of the most identifiable geological formations in Oregon. Located just 1.5 miles from downtown, this sea stack is 235 feet high and is adjacent to the beach with water separating it at high tide. The thin strip of rock and sand that connects it to the beach is accessible at low tide. The Haystack Rock tide pools are home to many intertidal animals, including starfish, sea anemone, crabs, chitons, limpets, and sea slugs. The rock is also a nesting site for many sea birds, including terns and puffins. The surrounding beach is popular for sunbathing and enjoying the surf and can be very crowded at times. Haystack Rock was granted Marine Garden status by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in 1990; collecting plants or animals is strictly prohibited. Climbing above the mean high tide level (barnacle line) disturbs nesting birds and is not allowed.
Ecola State Park is truly a sight-seers destination. The panoramic view from the main parking area, especially at sunset, of the craggy cliffs, coastal mountain range, and surf lines breaking along the shore of sea stacks and Haystack Rock, offers the viewer an image that is reminiscent of a woodblock print by the great Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hokusai. The scene is a well-balanced composition, both harmonious and impressionistic. Ecola State Park’s diversity with a multitude of scenic landscapes, wildlife, and recreational opportunities, along with its easy access for visitors, makes it a top destination in Oregon for hiking and photography.
For more pictures of Ecola State Park and the Oregon Coast, visit www.photographyoregon.com.
To Get There:
Drive along U.S. Highway 101 toward Cannon Beach and take the exit for Ecola State Park. The exit is clearly marked in both directions. Follow the signs to the park road which winds for two miles through the old Spruce and Hemlock forest to a parking area. There is a $5.00 per car fee for day use (an Oregon State Parks pass or Oregon Pacific Coast Passport is accepted) and no overnight stay is allowed.
Oregon Photo Guide™ features the landscape photography of Michael Skourtes, Portland Oregon photographer and avid outdoorsman. I venture throughout the state searching for the top destinations for Oregon hiking, backpacking, camping, and photography. I share my experiences and photography of Oregon on my guide. I encourage you to explore Oregon and make your own outdoor adventure.
For picture galleries featuring Oregon photography, or to contact me, visit www.photographyoregon.com.