Know Before You Go
If you missed the springtime Whale Watching Week (March 21–29, 2020), you can watch recorded live streams of the Oregon Coastline on Oregon State Parks’s YouTube channel.
Oregon’s whale watching season peaks twice a year: during winter (mid-December–mid-January) and spring (late February–May), when as many as 20,000 gray whales migrate between the icy seas of Alaska and their breeding lagoons in Baja California, Mexico.
To celebrate this migration (and teach folks more about whales and the ocean), Oregon Parks and Recreation hosts biannual Whale Watching Weeks, stationing volunteers at more than 20 sites along the coast during peak migration times. The dates of Whale Watching Week in 2020 are March 21–29 and Dec. 27–31 (though a couple hundred of these mammoth swimmers stick around the Oregon Coast year-round). During Whale Watching Weeks, trained volunteers are there to answer questions and provide information that can enhance your whale watching experience (check out their website and map to learn more).
Gray whales grow to 40–50 feet (12–15 m) long and weigh around 30 tons (27 metric tons). The best way to spot a whale is to scan the horizon with the naked eye for spouts, which can reach up to 12 feet (3.7 m). Once you’ve spied one, zero in on an active area with binoculars. Whether you visit during those weeks or any time in winter or spring, grab some binoculars and head to one of these spectacular viewpoints.
Neahkahnie Mountain Viewpoint
Thirteen miles (20.9 km) south of Cannon Beach on Highway 101 you’ll reach the turnoff for this coastal peak. (It’s between mile markers 41 and 42, just north of Manzanita.) Neahkahnie Mountain is renowned for its remarkable views, legends of long-buried Spanish treasure and numerous whale sightings. (If you’re hungry, we recommend fueling up with a couple of sandwiches from Manzanita’s Bread and Ocean Bakery.)
Cape Meares Lighthouse
Know Before You Go
The Three Cape Scenic Route is closed just north of Cape Meares. To access Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint and Lighthouse, do not follow GPS. Instead, follow Highway 131 through Netarts and Oceanside. From Oceanside, follow the signs for Cape Meares.
Pinpoint those blowholes from 200 feet (61 m) above the ocean at Cape Meares Lighthouse, erected in 1889. Admire Oregon’s largest Sitka spruce at the entrance to the park before enjoying a brisk walk to the lighthouse. If the whales don’t appear, the area offers conciliatory wildlife spotting. Check out the largest colony of nesting common murres (a penguin-like bird), as well as sea lions and seals. Since you’re in Tillamook, hit the famous Tillamook Cheese Factory and embark on a self-guided tour, complete with tasty samples.
Depoe Bay Whale Watching Center
If you’re up for a slightly longer trip, consider the 100-mile (160 km) drive to the Depoe Bay Whale Watching Center. Whale watching newbies will feel right at home as dedicated staff provides a wealth of tips and knowledge (along with plenty of binoculars). There’s even a heated indoor viewing area along the seawall to keep cold and stormy weather at bay. Bone up on your whale vocabulary as you observe these majestic beings blow, dive, spy hop (when a whale rises vertically above the water’s surface, revealing the top of its head) and breach. Humpback, orca and blue whales have also been observed here, so arrive ready to nerd out on all things whale. Stave off a chill at Gracie’s Sea Hag with a hot buttered rum alongside a bowl of velvety clam chowder.