Three Capes Ride

Distance:  38 miles one way
Elevation gain: 2900 ft 

This ride is expertly covered in Jim Moore’s 75 Classic Rides Oregon (see the “Oregon” section in Rides by Region).

The Oregon coast is a legendary destination for touring cyclists, and it’s certainly leaps and bounds better than California’s coast—fewer cars, kinder motorists, far more towns for R and R and refueling, and only slightly less spectacular scenery.  But I’m not nuts about it.  Notice I only have two rides that explore it, and the other (Gold Beach Century) does it as much out of necessity as out of choice.  Perhaps it’s because I did my north coastal riding on the July 4th holiday, and the place was a zoo.  This is the best ride on the Oregon coast and is well worth doing, in large part because here Hwy 101 goes inland and the coastal riding is on smaller secondary roads.  The rewards keep on coming—four charming coastal towns, grand bays, miles of deserted beaches, grand ocean vistas, and one easy but delightful hike.

A word of warning:  the maps and the elevation profiles below are accurate as far as they go, but they fail to cover the entire ride—see below for an explanation.

(To see an interactive version of the map/elevation profile, click on the ride name, upper left, wait for the new map to load, then click on the “full screen” icon, upper right.)

By far my favorite part of the ride is the first 10 miles, from Tillamook to Short Beach, which aren’t on either our Mapmyride map or our RidewithGPS map (explanation follows).  Begin in Tillamook and head west on 3rd St.  Take a R onto Bayocean Rd. and roll along the very edge of Tillamook Bay.  It’s lovely and car-free out there.  Be sure to stop and read the large sign on your R headlined “City of Bay Ocean Park,” detailing the history of the community once built on the spit crossing the bay.

Meares Beach: worth the detour

Meares Beach: worth the detour

Now things get interesting.  As you ride along, you begin to see signs that read “Road Closed Ahead.”  These signs are insistent and intimidating.  I asked several locals if that meant the road was closed to bikes and they all said they didn’t know.  Ride on.  Stay right at the intersection, leaving the main road, and continue west to the tiny beach community of Cape Meares.  Ride as far west as you can, then walk the 50 ft to the beach.  White sand, lovely surf, and no people.  Enjoy.

Return to your bike, return to the intersection and go R, returning to the main road.  Go past the last of the “Road Closed” signs, and climb up to the ridge between the bay and the ocean.  At the top of the climb, you’ll find what all the closure signs are about: there is a large, permanent gate across the road preventing cars from continuing.  But you’ll have no trouble walking around it, and the road beyond, while having a few dramatic lengthwise cracks and a couple of very short dirt sections, is perfectly rideable and goes through beautiful woods.  Drop down the back side, walking around the similarly massive gate blocking car traffic at the south end, pass Cape Meares State Park, and enter Short Beach.

Anderson's Viewpoint overlooking Netarts Bay spit

Anderson’s Viewpoint overlooking Netarts Bay spit

Because this road is officially closed, Mapmyride and RWGPS won’t recognize it, so our maps begin on the other side of the closure.   The mileages and elevation totals for the ride are my own, not theirs.

The rest of the ride is an easy ramble down the coast, during which you will experience several small communities worth hanging out in—Short Beach, Oceanside, Netarts, and Pacific City—one killer vista point (Anderson’s Viewpoint at about mile 22.  Watch for it over your R shoulder—it’s just an unsigned dirt turn-out), an unmissable hike (the Cape Lookout Trail—see Afterthoughts below), one nice climb (up and over the Cape Lookout ridge), and lots of views along two shallow bays.

Climbing over the Cape Lookout ridge

Climbing over the Cape Lookout ridge

Once you reach the coast, the route is easy to follow—just stay as close to the ocean as you can.  I got lost once.  Leaving Netarts, I took my eye off the map and missed the R onto Netart’s Bay Drive.  If you do that, you’ll stay on Hwy 131 and climb an unnecessary hill to an inland intersection signed “Cape Lookout State Park” to the R.  Follow that R back to the coast and your route.   This is also the route you’ll take if you opt for Short Ride Version #2 in Shortening the Route just below.

Getting back to your car/Shortening the route: You could ride this as a long out and back, and it would all be worth seeing twice.  Or you can ride it one way, then jump on the bus that runs from Lincoln City to Pacific City to Tillamook (there’s a bike rack)—see Kevin’s comment below for details.  Or you could loop back on Hwy 101 from Pacific City to Tillamook, which would be 25 miles of trafficky shoulder riding (I haven’t done it and wouldn’t dream of doing it).  Or there are three shorter versions of the route: 1) ride the miles from Tillamook to Short Beach as a plumb 24-mile out and back;  2) stay on Hwy 131 through Netarts and following it east, then north as it loops back to Bayocean Road near where you started; or 3)  take Sandlake Rd. east from Cape Lookout Rd to Hwy 101 and heading north to Tillamook, making a loop of roughly 40 miles.  This leaves you with only about 10 miles of Hwy 101.

Adding miles: besides riding 101 back to Tillamook and the cut-off roads we’ve already discussed, the only option open to you is to continue south on 101.  Some riders keep going until they hit Mexico.

Afterthoughts: As you leave the coast to climb over the Cape Lookout ridge, you’ll pass the prominent Cape Lookout Trailhead on your R.  From this trailhead a beautiful hiking trail heads out to the cape itself.  It’s 5.2 miles round trip, all gentle downhill going out, gentle uphill coming back, through rare and magnificent old-growth Sitka Spruce to a spectacular ocean overlook.  By no means do you need to walk all of it.  Even a short jaunt takes you into a very special and spiritual place.

10 thoughts on “Three Capes Ride

  1. Mark J Cook

    I just did this ride today (June 28, 2018) and was grateful for your notes about the road closure. I too had trouble finding anyone willing to say bikes could get through but it was no problem—I didn’t even have to get off to ride between the gate and concrete block to the side. As you say, the road closure makes the first 10 miles to the Cape Meares Lighthouse virtually traffic-free. Amazing. Sadly (from a cyclist’s view) they seem to be working on a plan to fix the road so do this fantastic ride ASAP!

    One other note. I am staying in Pacific City for a few days and wanted to do the “one way” ride from Tillamook back to Pacific City. I found out there is a local bus that makes four runs a day between Lincoln City and Tillamook and has a bike carrier on front for two bikes. It was great. I left PC at 7:00am and got to Tillamook at 7:45 to start the ride. Obviously you could do the reverse and start in Tillamook and ride to Lincoln City and bus back. A way better alternative to biking north on Hwy 101.

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      I love the bus idea—thanks for sharing. Lincoln City is 22 miles south of Pacific City by way of Hwy 1. See Kevin’s tip below on how to skip the leg to Lincoln City.

      1. Kevin

        According to the bus schedule, The Lincoln City bus makes a stop at the Pelican Pub in Pacific City, so no need to go all the way to Lincoln City. We may do the ride by dropping our car in Pacific City and taking our bikes to Tillamook via bus. Then we’ll ride down to Pacific City with some cold beer waiting at the Pelican Pub.

  2. Mark Juhasz

    Thanks for the detailed ride description. I rode the first section of this ride today, from Tillamook to the Cape Meares lighthouse, and found your description, especially of the closed section of road, to be spot on.

    I’ll add that Bayocean Dike Road is a gravel road that turns off the route just before the community of Cape Meares, and runs north on a narrow strip of land between the ocean and Tillamook Bay. This could be an interesting section for bikers who are up for adding several miles as an out and back on unpaved road.

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      Bayocean Dike Road has a fascinating history, detailed on a large billboard by the road entrance.

  3. Bill T.

    The stretch of Bayshore Drive from the lighthouse to the town of Cape Meares is still closed from the washouts west of the town of Cape Meares, but someone has tacked up a “Bike OK” sign below the detour sign at the end of Bayocean. There wasn’t any hint that they are working on fixing the road.

  4. Lowell

    I just did the Three Capes ride this weekend. Everything is still very much as described in this wonderful writeup. Google says that the closed stretch of road is supposed to re-open this autumn, but I saw no sign of road work as I rode along it so that seems doubtful to me.

    If anyone is interested in making this a bikepacking trip, I camped at Whalen Island County Park just a few miles before Pacific City and just off the route. It has a nice, flat 1-mile walk out to a secluded beach where you can watch the sunset. The hiker/biker rate is $20 and you can call a couple days ahead to let them know you’re coming. They’ll save a spot for you next to some trees to block the wind coming in from the coast. No showers but they do have drinkable water and clean, flushing toilets.

    When I came up to Anderson’s Viewpoint, I was delighted to see some paragliders setting up to take off from there. It was really cool to see them leap out into the air from just a few feet away.

  5. Jack Rawlins Post author

    A user writes: Rode the Tillamook to Pacific City route Friday and the closed section between gates by Cape Meares had accumulated leaves on it but no branches or trees—I didn’t have to clip out. The bus from Pelican Brewery back to Tillamook worked just fine, too.

  6. George Thompson

    October 1, 2020

    Great write-up. My wife and I did version 2 on a tandem. A very nice though somewhat hilly loop starting and ending in Tillamook. Traffic and lack of a shoulder for a couple of miles near the end were not so great, but don’t let that stop you from doing the loop. The road is still closed to cars for a stretch (but open to bikes)—this made for a great car-free section. There were no signs of plans to fix the road—I say leave it the way it is. The Cape Meares lighthouse is worth a look—some pretty spectacular views are to be had, plus you’ll see Oregon’s shortest lighthouse.

  7. Jeremy Highsmith

    I just rode this on 10/9/2022. The road is still closed, with an electronic road sign flashing “Road Closed” and “No Hiking Access”. I was concerned and asked a couple on bikes who confirmed it was still passable. As you climb to the closed road gates, there is a logging operation on the left side with a truck warning that must be new (don’t remember back in 2021). Anyways, this is still a fantastic ride. I’d recommend the typical coast gear given it can go from fogged wet and cold to sunny and warm in a mile or less. Weekend traffic (especially on a holiday) can get annoying at times.


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