Neahahnie Mountain to Cape Falcon — First “Hike and a Pint” on Empty Nest Nirvana
Welcome to the inaugural edition of Hike and a Pint, a series of articles featuring spectacular walking trails capped off with a pint of craft beer at a local watering hole. Today’s hike? Neahkahnie Mountain to Cape Falcon.
Today’s adventure highlights one of my favorite hiking areas, an incredibly scenic section of the Oregon Coast between Manzanita, a hidden gem of a beach town, and Cannon Beach, home of iconic Haystack Rock.
Three Major Scenic Elements
This is a truly world-class hiking trail with three major scenic elements—the Neahkahnie Mountain summit, Short Sand Beach tidal pools, and the sheer cliffs of Cape Falcon. Seeing any single one of these would make for a fabulous outing, but why settle for one awesome experience when you can combine three in a single outing?
This Hike Requires at Least Two People
For this particular trek, you’ll need a hiking buddy (or crew) as you’ll be doing a point-to-point trail rather than a loop. Plan on at least four hours for this adventure as you’ll find yourself stopping often to admire incredible views and scenery of the fabulous Oregon Coast.
First, leave a vehicle at the end point, Cape Falcon Trailhead in Oswald West State Park. Pile everyone else in the other rig and head south 2.5 miles to Neahkahnie Trailhead Road, which goes east off of Highway 101 and is marked by a single sign near the top of the hill leading south into Manzanita. At about the 2-mile mark, you’ll see a small parking lot for the Neahkahnie Mountain North Trailhead but keep truckin’ on by, as you’re aiming for the South Neahkahnie Mountain Trailhead.
Next you’ll pass several scenic view pullouts, featuring sheer cliffs with an epic view of Manzanita below. As magnificent as the view, it’s nothing compared to where you’ll soon be—the top of Neahkahnie Mountain—so skip the view any ‘ol tourist can get.
Just past the turnouts, keep an eye out for the South Neahkahnie Mountain trail sign on your right. You will then turn left onto Neahkahnie Mountain Trailhead Road. The trailhead is less than a mile along a gravel road and is clearly marked.
Steep Incline to Start the Neahkahnie Mountain to Cape Falcon Hike
The first part of the hike goes 1.4 miles up on a fairly steep incline of switchbacks. You’ll be tempted to bitch the first 20 minutes or so, but buck it up and be thankful you started high up to begin with.
Before you know it, you’ll reach the top of the trail at the summit of Neahkahnie Mountain. At nearly 1700 feet of elevation, it offers phenomenal panoramic views of the coastal area below, including the entire town of Manzanita. And the best part? It’s almost all downhill from there! Trust me, you’ll be glad you started on the south side rather than the north because your adventure is just beginning.
Don’t Forget to Stop Off and See the Devil’s Cauldron
Once you soaked in the view (the summit is covered with wildflowers in July & August), head down the north side of the summit. You’ll wander through dense old growth forest, monstrous ferns and all kinds of other cool foliage (sorry, I’m not a plant ID dude) with ocean views occasionally peeking though the forest canopy.
After about 2.5 miles, you’ll exit the trail at the North Neahkahnie Mountain Trailhead. You know, the one where you were tempted to pull over on the way from Cape Falcon. Cross Highway 101 and jump onto the trail on the backside of the parking lot.
If you’re feeling saucy, be sure to take a quick detour about a quarter mile down the trail on the left to see the Devil’s Cauldron, where booming waves are funneled into a narrow cove and shoot skyward with the crashing waves creating more deep bass than a tricked out, lowered Honda Civic.
Short Sand Beach Is a Must-See Along the Oregon Coast
After rejoining the main trail, you’ll skirt along the coast for another 2 miles, working your way down to Short Sand Beach, one of the coolest, secluded beaches on the entire Oregon Coast.
If you can work it out timing wise, try to arrange it so you arrive at Short Sands during low tide so you can check out the tidal pools, which are filled with sea anemones and an occasional starfish. The beach is also popular with surfers, donned in the full body wetsuits necessary for the frigid Oregon ocean temperatures.
A Little More Uphill Climb to Cape Falcon (It’s Worth It, I Promise)
After you’ve had your fill of beach, catch the Oregon Coast Trail on the north side of the beach head (near the bathrooms). Remember the part where I said it was almost all downhill from the mountain summit. Keep the “almost” part in mind as you spend the next two miles working your way back uphill for a series of incredible cape views, each one more riveting than the last, culminating at Cape Falcon.
Be sure and say hello to the couple getting high at cliff’s edge (and pray that they make it out alive). I know, I shouldn’t make gross generalizations but both times I’ve been on that particular stretch, I’ve been pummeled by blasts of stink weed from young adults looking to become one with nature. I know, it’s Oregon and the ganga is legal now. To each their own, but getting baked and sitting on the edge of a 1,000 foot cliff isn’t how I choose to commune with Mother Nature.
Don’t Cut Your Hike Short and Miss Out on Cape Falcon
From Cape Falcon, backtrack 1.8 miles and follow the sign for the Cape Falcon Trail, a half-mile straight shot that leads back to Highway 101 and your end point vehicle. The total hike clocks in at less than 10 miles. You can shorten the trek by leaving your end point vehicle at the main Oswald West State Park parking lot (you’ll know it because it’s the only lot on the east side of the highway). This will cut about 3 miles off the length off the hike but you’ll miss out on Cape Falcon.
Now You Deserve a Craft Beer or Beverage of Your Choice
Whichever path you choose—and there really is no bad choice—you’ll want to cap off the day with a cold pint of craft beer.
Pile in the lead vehicle and head south just a few miles to Manzanita. If food is in order, be sure and visit Left Coast Siesta for perhaps the biggest burrito you’ve ever laid eyes upon.
Otherwise, go another block along Laneda Drive to the Sand Dune Pub and grab a pint of Blackberry Beauty, crafted up the road in Cannon Beach by Bill’s Tavern & Brew House.
Blackberry Beauty is a fruit-infused wheat ale with a light, crisp finish. Definitely not a sour, it instead offers subtle berry & citrus notes without being overly sweet. It has a 4.1% ABV and is available year-round.
Neahkahnie Mountain to Cape Falcon Hike Is Best Enjoyed on a Dry Day (Avoid Rain for this One)
One word of warning: climate change and global warming arguments notwithstanding, it still does rain in Oregon and especially along the coast. This hike is best done on a sunny day and when it hasn’t rained for several days. Otherwise you could end up dodging puddles and slogging along muddy trails all day.