How to find magic at Oswald West State Park
Details on quick, three-hour, and all-day versions of enjoying this iconic park between Cannon Beach and Manzanita on the Oregon Coast.
Oswald West State Park seems to have it all. Old-growth giants greet visitors, ushering them through a dramatic canopy of texture and light to a beach – an alchemy of sand, rocks, and drift logs. Creeks flow to the Pacific Ocean, and 14 trails meander the rugged topography. Most people rush directly to the iconic Short Sand Beach, but way more magic is possible.
This article provides all the information to enjoy a quick, three-hour, or all-day experience at Oswald West State Park.
Oswald West State Park — Quick Guide
|Features||Beach, old-growth forest, dramatic rock stacks, creeks, picnic area, footbridge, restrooms.|
|Operating hours||Open year-round, dawn to dusk.|
|Dogs?||Allowed on leash|
|Camping||Day use only|
|Parking||Several areas along Highway 101 — Free|
Oswald West State Park — Table of Contents
A brief history — what’s the meaning of the park name?
The park is named after Oswald West, the governor of Oregon famous for ensuring the 363-mile coastline would remain public land. The initial creation was started in 1931 as a cooperative effort between private landowners, a giant forestry company, and local and state entities.
When the Oregon Coast highway was slated to drive through the middle of this protected parcel, the state transportation division required that the area be logged to pay for the park. Luckily actions were taken to stop this approach, which saved a stunning area of old-growth Sitka spruce and western hemlocks — still enjoyed today.
Where is Oswald West State Park?
Oswald West State Park takes up 2,500 acres of pristine coastline between Arch Cape and Manzanita on the Northern Oregon Coast.
The location is approximately 90 minutes of driving time from Portland, Oregon, under standard conditions. It is well-positioned to integrate into an Oregon Coast Road Trip or a long weekend adventure while staying in Manzanita, Arch Cape, Cannon Beach, or Seaside.
Driving times from Oswald West State Park:
- Arch Cape: One minute
- Manzanita: 7 minutes
- Cannon Beach: 15 minutes
- Seaside: 25 minutes
- Tillamook: 45 minutes
- Astoria: One hour
- Portland: 90 minutes
- Seattle: 4 hours
Oregon Coast Road Trip – when you can’t see it all
The grandeur of the Oregon Coast commands a thoughtful time investment that reaps countless rewards in the form of improved health and well-being that comes from the ease of connecting with the natural world — for those paying attention.
But sometimes, selecting suitable options isn’t easy when planning a road trip along the Oregon Coast. I can help with that, so check out my ready-made itineraries or even meet with me via a zoom call to get your priorities set.
Oswald West State Park is recommended if you’re looking to put something together quickly. Both for visitors to the Northern Oregon Coast (Seaside, Cannon Beach, and Manzanita), or entire-coast road trippers will benefit from investing time in this vibrant 2500-acre park.
If you are planning a road trip along the Oregon Coast, check out my other articles designed to provide the best “local” information:
The best way to experience Oswald West State Park
Aside from the Leave No Trace 7 Principles, there are no right or wrong ways to experience nature. However, if you’re interested in my approach to integrating nature and spirit, the following sections are my recommendations for quick, moderate, or all-day experiences.
If you want to challenge yourself to dive deeper into the unseen realm of nature, where healing takes hold, review the six fundamentals to elevate your nature connection. This article offers concise steps, a pilgrimage of sorts, to deepening your unique relationship with Mother Earth — bringing more grounding, self-realization, and transformation.
Oswald West State Park is the perfect place for people of all ages and backgrounds to practice.
Quick stop — the essence of Oswald West State Park
1.6 miles — 90 minutes
The beauty of a quick stop at Oswald West State Park is the variety of experiences to enjoy. Fold in old-growth wonder with babbling creeks and a picturesque beach — all within a few steps of the parking area. If time is of the essence, it’d be worth cutting something else in your itinerary to spend more moments with the powerful energy of nature that exists here.
When driving southbound from Cannon Beach, park in the main lot, the second along Highway 101. (The first lot is for Cape Falcon Trailhead.) There are public (flushing toilet) restrooms here. Be sure to keep valuables out of plain sight in your vehicle.
Just beyond the restrooms, you’ll see trailhead signage. The Short Sand Creek Trail begins here and winds down under a bridge, preventing the need to cross the active Highway 101. Follow this itinerary:
- Short Sand Creek Trail — start very slowly, examining the ancient western hemlock and moss dripping from Sitka spruce.
- Cut to Old Growth Forest Trail — this is the trail to the left of the first fork. Don’t forget to look up.
- Necarney Creek Trail — stop along the way and spend some time listening to the churning power of the water flowing to the Pacific Ocean.
- Sitka Spruce Trail — fold back toward the main beach entrance and picnic area. There are also flushing restrooms here.
- Walk Short Sand Beach — be mindful of the tides and sneaker waves that can throw logs.
This 1.6-mile adventure is relatively flat. It includes old-growth giants, an exquisite rushing creek, and beach time — which could easily extend the distance to two miles or more. Although you could quickly rush this in under an hour, slow it down and spend 90 minutes or more absorbing all the colors, textures, and sounds of this Oregon Coast wonderland.
Once back in your vehicle, continue 1.2 miles south to the Neahkahnie Viewpoint. This offers a birdseye view of iconic rock stacks and the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. This stop, paired with the forest wander (mentioned above) provides an excellent beginner experience at Oswald West State Park.
Half-day adventure — Oswald West greatest hits
6 miles — 3+ hours
This version of exploring an iconic Oregon Coast park is well-suited for those in the area, whether in Manzanita, Arch Cape, Cannon Beach, or Seaside. Head out after breakfast and look forward to a yummy lunch in the late afternoon.
This itinerary combines all the old-growth goodness of the quick-stop guide (shown above) with the Elk Flats and Devil’s Cauldron trail. I like this combination because of the variety of features, from a beachfront view of frothy surf to dramatic cliffs taking the endless pounding of the Pacific Ocean.
My version of this itinerary lasts five blissful hours. Although you can drive it out in about two hours, why would you want to miss the magical benefits of a deeper connection to nature? Stop along the way and go slowly. Touch the bark of the Sitka spruce and hide in the towering salal. Then, enjoy a seat on the bench peering into Devil’s Cauldron, and let the salty air take you to another realm.
Begin in the same parking area mentioned above and enjoy the following:
- Necarney Creek Trail — stop along the bubbling creek and allow your heart rate to slow.
- Cross the wood footbridge to join up with Elk Flats Trail. Climb up switchbacks under the canopy of towering Sitka spruce.
- Elk Flats Rock — this isn’t on the trail map, but keep going past the turn-off for Devil’s Cauldron. Be careful on the steep decline to the cliff’s edge.
- Devil’s Cauldron — be careful of the edge.
- South Beach Access Trail — your chance to enjoy a relaxing walk on the beach before completing the day.
The out-and-back mileage for my version of this Oregon Coast hike is about six miles and 615 ft elevation gain. A realistic timeline to enjoy stops along the way would be between three and four hours. I usually add the beach walk at the end of the hike to better gauge energy and wetness levels.
Half-day adventure — Cape Falcon Trail
5 miles — 3 hours
The wild adventure of hiking out to the blustery Cape Falcon is the most popular trail at Oswald West State Park. In the summer you’ll have lots of company. The winter season will allow you to break in your new waterproof footwear — the trail is very muddy and wet. In either case, walking in the dense coastal forests infuses nature’s salve into the mind, body, and soul.
Whereas the Elk Flats trail (mentioned above) is one powerful ascent up the mountain, Cape Falcon Trail meanders through various ups and downs focused around rushing creeks. Giant veiny roots under a dense forest canopy make the hike more of a scramble in many places. Magic seems to lurk under every root ball of fallen trees.
Standing at the tip of Cape Falcon is rewarding indeed. Be sure to allocate enough time to soak up the powerful waves smashing against rock stacks, and be careful with the dramatic cliffs (see safety tips later in this article).
At the time of this writing (January 2023), the bridge on the trail connecting the two parking lots is washed out. While the Alltrails map indicates Cape Falcon Trail can be made as a loop, you’ll need to choose one parking lot and go in and out there to avoid walking on busy Highway 101 (which is NOT advised).
Using the main parking lot with the restroom (my preference), follow the trails mentioned above in the “quick loop.” The picnic area overlooking the beach with the restroom is also a trailhead to the Cape Falcon Trail. I generally suggest waiting until the end of the hike to play on the beach, but you may want to consider the tides.
Most challenging — all-day event
9.6 miles — 6 hours (or) 8 miles — 5 hours
There are two versions of an all-day exploration at Oswald West State Park.
- The challenging and rewarding option offers spectacular views from Neahkahnie Mountain, adding to the itineraries mentioned above. More specifics from Alltrails.
- Add the scenic Cape Falcon Trail to the itineraries mentioned above.
Both can use the same large parking lot mentioned above as the starting point. They also allow as much beach time as desired, which I highly recommend is saved until the end of the day.
The Neahkahnie Mountain option is spectacular but be prepared — it rises 2,700 vertical feet. The itinerary winds through the terrain included in the Elk Flats and Necarney Creek Trails and then adds serious hiking once crossing Highway 101. A shorter version also begins at Highway 101 — use the Neah-Kah-Nie north trailhead.
The Cape Falcon option combines two hikes that reach about 600 verticle feet each.
I’d suggest starting in the morning with Elk Flats and then enjoying lunch on Short Sand Beach in between before venturing on the Cape Falcon Trail.
Leave no trace
Please help ensure Oswald West State Park can remain pristine and finish your experience with no trace that you were here. While the official seven principles offered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service include many camping considerations, these are the most applicable for day use:
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your day-use areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter. This includes things like orange peels and pistachio shells.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them.
- Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Please do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
Safety while hiking Oswald West State Park
This is a wild and rugged country. Please be respectful of Mother Nature and follow these safety tips:
- Pack water, snacks, and first aid supplies appropriate to the length of the hike.
- Cell service is unreliable, so download offline maps or snap a photo of the trails ahead of time.
- Research the tides to know when it’s best to walk on the beach when the tide is going out.
- Always pay attention to the surf — sneaker waves and tossed logs are regular occurrences.
- Short Sand Beach is #20 on the Coast Guard response location. You’ll notice giant yellow signs with black numbers that give the location. Keep this in mind (or any other number) if you need help.
- Stay on the marked trails, especially near the rock stacks. People die falling off the cliffs — don’t push the edge!
- Update yourself with Oswald West State Park advisories.
- It violates federal and state laws to harass, disturb, touch or feed marine mammals.
- Logs can be unstable and shift — be very careful walking on them.
What to bring & wear for Oswald West State Park
Like the rest of the Pacific Northwest, the weather varies by season and time of day. These are items for any hike on the Oregon Coast. When I drive on a hike on the coast, I always bring a second pair of footwear and a change of dry clothing for the onward journey.
- Layered clothing. The temperature (and your activity) changes along the way. Shorts work in summer, but the marine layer can still be chilly.
- Sturdy waterproof footwear. It can be muddy in places and generally wet year-round. Flip-flops are not advised for hiking (or walking on logs).
- A waterproof coat or outer shell. This is a rainforest, after all. Even if the weather appears mild, have some kind of protective option readily available.
- If rain is expected and you plan to be in the elements for more than 30 minutes, I highly advise wearing waterproof pants. Also, note that outerwear marked “water-resistant” will disappoint you in wet weather.
- Umbrellas are generally not practical.
- A towel for changing and to use on seats.
- Walking poles. Optional but helpful.
- Camera, water, sunscreen, bug spray.