From the parking lot of Cape Lookout State Park, hikers have three fantastic trail options. The North and South trails lead hikers through old growth spruce forests to quiet beaches below, while the Cape Trail, considered the most remarkable of the three hikes, leads hikers two and a half miles onto a narrow bluff perched 900 feet above the Pacific. While the majority of visitors walk the Cape Trail and surfers regularly access the South trail, fewer people utilize the steep North Trail, which is known for its impressive old growth.
During the spring and fall migrations, Cape hikers scanning the vast Pacific swells regularly spot the spouts of Gray whales. Sea lions, pelicans and cormorants also frequent the cold, protected waters south of the cape. Because the trail is perched so high above the ocean, binoculars are a necessity for quality wildlife viewing. The bluff is home to an ancient spruce and hemlock forest teaming with mushrooms, songbirds and woodpeckers. Shrouded in the thick forest of the Cape are the remains of a World War II-era B-17 Flying Fortress.
On August 2, 1943 airmen flying a B-17 on a training flight from Pendleton became disoriented in the fog and clipped the tops of the Cape’s giant conifers at 200 miles per hour. Nine of the 10 crew members were killed on impact and one crewman, Bombardier Willie Perez, was thrown from the aircraft into the trees. After getting stuck on a branch, Perez fell to the ground and clicked into survival mode. The next day a Navy blimp flying out of Tillamook spotted the aircraft’s vast wreckage field and 36 hours later, Perez was rescued. Evidently there are still pieces of the B-17 corroding on the forest floor but the land is overgrown and the fragments remaining are in a deep ravine, so off-trail exploration is highly discouraged. A quarter mile into the hike there is an elevated metal plaque commemorating the crew. For those of you who hike with your heads down you will walk right by this plaque. At least for the first quarter mile of the hike, keep your eyes up.
Of all of the coastal trails I have walked on Oregon’s Central Coast the Cape Lookout Trail appears to receive the most foot traffic. This is likely due to the trail’s proximity to Tillamook and Pacific City, its magnificent ocean views and to the gentle layout of the terrain. There is very little elevation gain on this trail; however, there are potential impediments awaiting hikers. First of all, because of the frequent rains and the number of boots on the trail, a significant portion of the trail is degraded. Mud puddles are common and erosion has exposed vast root fields that require a basic level of nimbleness to traverse. Second, the views of the Pacific Ocean from the Cape are exquisite but there are areas of the trail where the trail gets precariously close to the unguarded sheer cliff. I kept reminding my wife (a much braver soul than I) to back away from the precipice. If you plan to bring an untrained dog or rambunctious children with you on this trail be cognizant of the steep cliff. Vertigo sufferers beware!
From my eavesdropping on trail conversations and through friendly small talk, I detected a variety of different nationalities enjoying the cape. In the few hours that my wife and I spent on the trail we detected English (of the English and Scottish variety), German, Japanese, Dutch and Indian languages. As residents of Lincoln County, we undoubtedly realize how beautiful this place is but I don’t know if we fully understand that this region’s beauty rivals some of the finest destinations in the world.
Along with the beauty of Cape Lookout and its important wildlife habitat, the bluff’s remnant old growth forest is a part of a network of forests that scientists have proven are sequestering large amounts of Earth-warming carbon. A study by the US Forest Service shows that forests in Washington and Oregon store about 2,100 million metric tons of carbon. This amount of carbon is equivalent to 24 percent of the carbon emissions produced by those states annually. Just by their very survival the forests of the Pacific Northwest serve the vital purpose of helping to cool the planet.
Cape Lookout State Park’s parking area is only 10 miles from Tillamook; so if you are stuffed from visiting the creamery and looking to walk off some of that free cheese and ice cream, take the family to the coast for a memorable hike and when you return home, tell others about this special place. Oregon’s coastal forests could always use more advocates.
Cape Lookout state Park is located at 13000 Whiskey Creek Road. Follow Highway 131 west from Tillamook.