Oregon Road Trip

The Solitary Coast

By Laura Dannen March 23, 2012 Published in the April 2012 issue of Seattle Met

Photo: Dennis Hallinan/Alamy

North Head Lighthouse

3 Days | 578 Miles Round Trip *

I PULLED UP to the edge of the world around seven o’clock. It was as dark as the inside of a trash bag, but thankfully, someone had left a light on—a big one. Cape Disappointment’s North Head Lighthouse twirled its beam just a quarter mile from my accommodations: a 110-year-old, three-bedroom home that once sheltered the lighthouse keeper and his family, but has since been renovated to outfit up to six guests.

But tonight it’s just me—and the ghost.

My Kia Sportage had been shaking like a popcorn maker all the way from Seattle, over uneven roads and up and down the hilly Pacific Coast Highway to the southwesternmost corner of the state. I didn’t panic until the car battery died right outside the lighthouse residence, with no cell reception and miles between me and another human being.

Sturdier souls would call this the perfect place for escape, quiet contemplation, and recuperation. I feel like I’ve checked into Tech Addict Rehab. The house is stately with its hardwood floors, crown molding, and tricked-out kitchen with an oversize Kenmore fridge that could hold a wild boar. Families arrive at the historic space with full grocery bags and their hiking boots, or with wedding planners and bouquets of flowers. I have half a turkey sub and a 24-ounce bottle of Corona from the gas station.

“Experienced a few bumps in the night,” reported one visitor in the journal on the coffee table. Another entry told of seeing a white flash fall from the lighthouse at midnight—allegedly the spirit of a woman who leapt to her death when she learned her love was lost at sea. Yet another more elaborate tale came from a man who recalled seeing the shade of a woman cradling a baby gliding down the stairs.

I slept with the lights on.

In daylight, Cape Disappointment is anything but. A gravel path cuts through a swath of ferns and Sitka spruces cling to the cliffside, where the North Head Lighthouse stands sentry. Grassy bluffs slope down to long, flat beaches, and, beyond that, miles of open water. A second, even older lighthouse is just south on the Columbia River. 

Photo: Darrell Gulin/Getty

Cape Meares

The car eerily restarts without a jump, and I head for Highway 101 into Oregon, looking for a crowd. The so-called Graveyard of the Pacific—because of its countless shipwrecks—is always to my right, along with views that rival California’s Highway 1. Towering Haystack Rock (aka Goonies Rock) appears suddenly on a turn near Cannon Beach, and a 300-year-old “octopus tree,” with eight limbs rising from its base, lures drivers off the beaten path to Cape Meares. But a rock and a tree don’t make good company.

I find the perfect spot: a surfer’s cove at Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City, 100 miles south of empty Cape Disappointment. Solace comes in a pint of Tsunami Stout from the beachside Pelican Pub and Brewery. With my feet in the sand—yes, you can haul your beer to the beach—I finally relax. There’s nary a ghost around.


Cape Disappointment Lighthouse Keepers’ Residence
North Head Lighthouse, Cape Disappointment State Park, Ilwaco, Washington,

Inn at Cape Kiwanda
33105 Cape Kiwanda Dr, Pacific City, Oregon,

Photo: Courtesy Pelican Pub and Brewery

Pelican Pub and Brewery


Pelican Pub and Brewery
33180 Cape Kiwanda Dr, Pacific City, Oregon,


Haystack Rock at Tolovana Beach
One mile south of Cannon Beach, Oregon, off Highway 101,

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Oregon Side Trips

Heceta Head Lighthouse Breakfasts are seven courses at this B&B, housed in buildings that date back to 1894. 92072 Hwy 101, South Yachats, Oregon, 541-547-3696;

Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad The steam engine does a scenic tour of the Tillamook Bay area, with some rides offering a four-course meal along the way. Garibaldi Depot, 402 S American Way, Garibaldi, Oregon, 503-842-7972;

Three Capes Loop Forty miles, three capes, two lighthouses, and one octopus tree: It’s a winding half-day break from Highway 101. Start at Cape Meares, 10 miles west of Tillamook, Oregon, off Highway 101, 800-551-6949;

*All distances measured from Seattle.

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