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Best of the West: Hidden Gems of the Pacific Northwest
Hidden Gems of the Pacific Northwest: If you’re planning to visit the West Coast, chances are you’ll be taking a trip to the beach. And there’s no better place to experience the Pacific’s craggy, mystic allure than the Pacific Northwest. While travel sites offer great beach suggestions for out-of-towners, the masses of travelers who then flock to their picks often detract from the magic that first landed the spots on a list. Here’s a new list of the four most overlooked beaches of the Pacific Northwest, each so unruly in their unbridled and wild beauty that even the Internet can’t tame them.
Hobbit Trail, Florence, Oregon
Descend through a short series of eerie and moss-covered earthen tunnels in Florence, Oregon and you’ll find yourself at one of the quirkiest and most secluded beaches on the Oregon coast. Hobbit Trail is as whimsical as it is breathtaking, and is frequented by creative locals from the Eugene area who like to construct wildly imaginative sculptures from whatever natural objects can be found along the shoreline. Japanese-style rock gardens, mysterious stone figures, and eccentric carvings in sandstone are all likely pieces you’ll find in this seaside gallery. For the freer spirited, this hidden gem has one more trick up its sleeve. Hobbit’s Trail offers such a high degree of privacy that people often trot around au Naturelle—making it the coast’s closest answer to a nude beach. If that’s a sight that makes you uncomfortable, don’t fret; this spot is so isolated that you’re more likely to see hobbits than fellow beach-goers.
Neskowin Beach, Oregon
Just south of Pacific City lies the unspoiled beach community of Neskowin, a town comprised of vacation homes built in the 1920s and 30s that have seen amazingly little development since then. If the main beach is packed, lose the crowd by crossing the creek and walking toward the area’s mysterious and tree-topped Proposal Rock—where beauty turns fascination. Beyond the landmark are stumps that are approximately 2,000-year-old remnants of a once-thriving forest, slowly and eerily submerged into the surf by enormous geographic changes to the region. To our glee (and the glee of your great, great, great-grandchildren), saltwater has preserved the trees as ghosts for centuries to come. Spend the rest of the day canoeing and kayaking through Nestucca Bay or cycling through spruce forests along the bike trail at Cascade Head before returning to climb Proposal Rock in the evening. Tunneling trails at the top open up to spectacular hidden views of magnificent sunsets, the only way to end a day at Neskowin.
Lime Kiln Point, San Juan Island, Washington
Where in the world can you sit on the shore and get up close and personal with a family of Orcas? Lime Kiln Point, that’s where. Beautiful views toward Vancouver Island and hikes along both shore and forest trails make this spot an obvious choice for our list of gems. And the wildlife can’t be beaten. During the summer months (May-October) when salmon are running, porpoises, sea lions, seals, and eagles are joined by three pods of whales that can be seen within thirty feet of shore. Be sure to check out the lighthouse and talk to whale researchers while you view the latest whale sightings and postings. What are you whaling for? Pack a picnic lunch and a pair of binoculars and get moving!
Shi Shi Beach, Makah Indian Reservation, Washington
Tucked into the Makah Indian Reservation lies one of the wildest places in the world—and the last of our gems. As part of Olympic National Park, Shi Shi is home to some of the coast’s best tide pools and is considered the purest stretch of coastline in the Northwest. It has also, however, gained a reputation for being one of the most difficult to reach. Ten years ago, the area was only accessible to kayakers and adventurous hikers who successfully traversed 13 miles of slippery and muddy terrain that required rope and sand ladders built by park officials. Today that is thankfully no longer the case; the Makah tribe recently extended the trail south from Hobuck Beach so that more than the exceptionally daring can revel in the beauty of this 2-mile crescent-shaped oasis. Enjoy eagles, sea otters, gray whales, herons, and looming bluffs fringed with Sitka forests before picking up a backcountry permit and bear-proof canister to camp for a small fee. Those who do will be amply rewarded by the truly rugged coastline experience that Shi Shi has to offer: rich, wild, untainted Pacific Northwest nature at its finest.