Cape Lookout State Park Cape Trail

Distance 5 mi
Time 3 hrs
Elevation Gain 869 ft
Season Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Hike Info Hiker Info

Oregon’s Cape Lookout State Park is a beautiful spot, with dense coastal forests, spectacular views, moody waterfalls cascading into the ocean, and–at least in the winter months–seemingly endless stretches of sandy beach that you can pretty much enjoy all to yourself. Just south of the main park entrance, the aptly-named Cape Trail may be the best hiking option in the park. You’ll get everything this scenic stunner has to offer, along with whale watching opportunities in the late winter / early spring. And yes, there’s a spur trail for beach access, too.

One thing to note about this trail: it will take longer than you think. The trail itself is not very long, and it doesn’t have a lot of elevation gain, either. What it does have–in abundance–are tree roots. On the back half of this route, expect to be carefully navigating long stretches of complex root systems to avoid twisting your ankle. And if you’re hiking in the cooler months, also expect a lot of mud in that area. You will definitely want to wear waterproof shoes, and you may also want to just have a pair of dry shoes and socks in the car waiting for you just in case.

All that said, this is a really lovely hike with lots to enjoy along the way.

From the parking area, look for the prominent trailhead sign and walk straight ahead from the parking area right into the forest.

There is a spur trail to the north (again, aptly-named the North Trail) that will take you all the way down to the cabins and beach at Cape Lookout State Park. It’s about 2.3 miles one-way, but on this visit in late April, 2024, the trail was closed for construction.

Just a short distance from the trailhead, you’ll encounter a junction with the South Trail (again, great names here), which will take you down the steep coastal slope to a sandy beach below the cape. This trail is 1.7 miles one-way, and would be a nice add-on or optional route if you’re visiting on a rare warm & sunny day.

Today, though, we’re just going to the Cape, so head on straight ahead.

Initially, this is definitely one of those “Oregon Green Tunnel” hikes where pretty much all you see are scenes like this–but don’t be dismayed by your lack of vistas (as I am often guilty of doing!). Instead, take the time to pay a little closer attention to all the bright green around you. 

Look up to see impressive colonies of licorice ferns growing amidst the trees.

Look along the trailside to see all of the new growth springing forth from the many, many nurse logs.

And if you’re hiking in the springtime, definitely take time to keep an eye out for tiny wild roses and some comparatively enormous trillium blooms.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many trillium blooms as I did on this trail in late April. And some of these things were HUGE. Did I occasionally wander off on a spur trail, yelling “it’s a trillium forest!” Yes, yes I did. 

At about a mile in, the trail will start to make some sharp switchbacks as it drops a bit in elevation, dipping into some of the drainage basins on the cape. Here, if it’s rained recently, is where you’ll likely start to encounter mud and roots. In some spots, navigating these stretches of trail can be surprisingly challenging.

Definitely take your time maneuvering through these areas, especially if you’re not wearing hiking shoes with good grip. Those roots can be a lot more slippery than you’d expect!

As you hike closer to the southern edge of the cape, you’ll get a few breaks in the trees that will let you catch views of the coastline below.

These views do tend to get better the further along in the hike you get, so don’t feel like you need to squeeze your camera between branches for good shots on the early end of the trail. 

By the 2 mile mark, the trail is pretty much hugging the cliffside on Cape Lookout’s southern edge. There are a few sections of guardrails, but for the most part you’re not in any danger of sliding off except for a few more muddy and rooty stretches. 

You’ll reach the end of the trail at about 2.5 miles, where a small wooden bench looks out over the vast Pacific Ocean. You’ll have some slightly blocked views, but you’ll be able to gaze out in almost every direction, including north toward the Three Arch Rocks Wildlife Refuge.

When you’re done soaking in all the sea air and ocean views, return back the way you came.

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Accommodations near Cape Lookout State Park Cape Trail

Trail Conditions

The trail is well-established but does meander through dense sets of tree roots. In the wet months, much of the back half of the route is sopping wet with mud, so be sure to bring waterproof shoes and budget a little extra time for the slow-going.

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Camping Info

There is an established campground and beach a few miles to the north of this hike inside Cape Lookout State Park. The park offers year-round camping including RV sites, cabins, yurts, tent sites, and flush toilets with hot water showers. Reservations can be made 6 months in advance, and hike-in sites are available.


How to Get There

The Cape Trail trailhead is south of the main campground and beach access in Cape Lookout State Park. From Tillamook, head west on OR-131 for 4.8 miles, then take a slight left onto Whiskey Creek Road before Netarts. Whiskey Creek Road becomes Cape Lookout Road after you pass the entrance to Cape Lookout State Park. Look for the trailhead on the west side of the road about 2.7 miles south of the State Park's main entrance.

Driving Directions

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