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 map and the elevation profile 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 our Mapmyride 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 won’t recognize it, so our map begins on the other side of the closure.   The mileages and elevation totals for the ride for this ride are my own, not Mapmyride’s.

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 Moore’s route sheet and missed the R onto Netart’s Bay Rd.  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 Deleting Miles just below.

Deleting Miles: You could ride this as a long out and back, and it would all be worth seeing twice.  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).  But if time is short or you don’t have a shuttle I would seriously consider three shorter versions of the route: 1) riding the miles from Tillamook to Short Beach as a plumb 24-mile out and back;  2) staying on Hwy 131 through Netarts and following it east, then north as it loops back to Bayocean Road near where you started; or 3)  taking 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.

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.

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