Many colorful and strange creatures live in the tide pools of Cannon Beach’s rocky coastline – from shy green sea anemones and scuttling crabs to bright pink sea stars clinging to the rocks and the fantastically shaped nudibranchs (sea slugs) slithering across the bottom of these wonderful marine gardens, and before you even get down to them, you’ll have one beautiful Kodak moment after another of Pacific views from the bluffs above.
Before we look into where you can discover Cannon Beach’s best tide pools, let’s have a look at exactly what a tide pool is.
What Is A Tide Pool?
Tidepools are time-worn hollows in the surface of rock, or spaces between boulders that catch and hold seawater when the tide goes out – a twice-a-day period called low tide. Some tidepools are only a few inches deep, while others can be several feet deep, and all have the potential to shelter a vast variety of marine life. Acorn barnacles, mussels, crabs and limpets, which can be out of the water for longer periods, are found in the tidal “spray zone,” higher up the beach, while sea urchins, sea slugs and anemones need to be constantly covered by water and are found in the “low tide zone” further out from the beach.
When Is The Best Time To Explore The Cannon Beach Tide Pools?
Tide pools can only be explored after the tide goes out every morning and afternoon. The best low tides tend to happen in winter, when the water is pulled furthest out. Check low tide times with local surfing, boating and other marine businesses, or search online before you head out on your tide pool adventure.
Low tide only lasts around an hour, and when those waves start rolling back in, the low tide zone is a dangerous place to be, and you can end up stranded or, worse, snatched out to sea. We recommend you try to arrive at the beach an hour before low tide so you get plenty of time to look around while the tide is still going out. You’ll then have about an hour after the designated low tide before the tide turns. Always keep your eyes on the waves and the time!
What Can I See In The Cannon Beach Tide Pools?
On the Oregon coast, you can expect to see tide pools sheltering pretty chiton, huge bunches of mussels, barnacles and limpets, secretive hermit crabs and tiny periwinkle snails. Watch where you tread so you don’t crush them! Then there are spiky, purple sea urchins, waving green sea anemones, trumpet tubeworms, and masses of chunky orange, pink and red sea stars. You might also spot purple shore crabs scuttling around, the Oregon Cancer Crab, and, in deep water, eels and Tidepool Sculpin.
Tide Pooling Safety Tips
You are among thousands of tidepoolers this year eager to discover what Cannon Beach has to offer. We ask that you read and follow the tips below to keep yourself safe:
- Enjoy watching, but don’t touch – Some of the sea life is fragile and easily hurt; others may pinch you with their claws or jab you with their spines. Sit quietly and see how they live and move, without putting your fingers in the way. They don’t need rescuing or putting back in the sea – nature has them just where they are supposed to be, and the tide will be back for them soon!
- Watch out for those waves – the tide can sneak in fast, and may well drag you out to sea or cut you off from the land if you’re not careful!
- Wear sports shoes, surfer boots or tennis shoes with a good grip so you don’t slip or cut your feet on the rocks – and when you walk around, try to avoid stepping on the shell-critters clinging to the rocks.
- Dress for the weather. The Pacific can be cold and windy – and you will almost certainly get wet!
Now let’s have a look at the best tide pool locations on Oregon’s beautiful stretch of Cannon Beach – where at times there is so much marine life, it is hard to see the rocks!
Named for the conical, 235-foot basalt sea stack, the Haystack Rock area of Cannon Beach offers the most accessible access to the tide pool area, making it the most popular of destinations not only for tidepooling but also for spotting puffins, cormorants, common murres, harlequin ducks, black oystercatchers, and, of course, gulls.
Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach is a National Wildlife Refuge and one of Oregon’s seven protected Marine Gardens, with tidepools packed with sea anemones, urchins, shellfish and colorful sea stars. Note that you are forbidden from touching or collecting the tide pool inhabitants or plant life, and you cannot climb up the rock where the birds nest! Dogs must be leashed.
Silver Point is a rock mound, smaller than Haystack Rock, whose base and nearby clusters of beach-boulders hide a plethora of marine creatures to see in their natural habitats, waiting for the tide to come back in.
Hidden but popular, particularly with surfers, during low tides the rocks at Silver Point offer similar experiences to Haystack Rock, but with slightly fewer people.
Note that the Silver Point tide pools cannot be accessed from the Silver Point overlook off Highway 101 – instead, walk south one mile from Tolovana Wayside, or north from Arcadia Beach, passing some interesting rock slabs with their own tide pool habitats on the way. Dogs must be leashed.
Watch out for the waves!
A short drive into Ecola State Park to the north end of Cannon Beach guarantees you some of the best views on the Oregon coast, as well as the fantastic and less-visited tidepools between the boulders of Indian Beach on Tillamook Head’s southern slope.
The secluded cove of Indian Beach is much loved by surfers, hikers and tidepoolers alike.
When you’re done tidepooling, go for a walk on the 2.8-mile Clatsop Loop Trail from the parking lot through the old Sitka spruce forest, or the 2.3-mile Crescent Beach Trail to a secluded beach with unforgettable views of the sea stacks, Haystack Rock among them.
Indian Beach’s Claims To Fame:
- In 1991, Indian Beach was used to represent Bells Beach, Australia, in the final showdown between Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze in the film “Point Break”
- “Bella” and “Jacob” walked along Indian Beach to their special driftwood tree in Twilight.
At the north end of Crescent Beach, below the viewpoint at Ecola State Park, the rocks of Ecola Point are bursting with tide pool critters to find. The winding road to the viewpoint and hiking trails is narrow but passes through some stunning forest.
Note: Aside from when there are extreme low tides, this beach is inaccessible from the north end of Cannon Beach. Instead, you’ll have to walk 1.25 miles south from the main parking lot at Ecola State Park, or get to it along the beach to the south around Chapman Point – be careful here, though, as the waves can seal off your way back if the tide comes in while you’re busy exploring.
Parking costs $5.
Ecola Point’s Claims To Fame:
- Parts of The Goonies (that restaurant!) and Kindergarten Cop were filmed here.
- The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse (“Terrible Tilly” – named for its treacherous location) dating from the late 1800s, with a first order Fresnel lens, was the most expensive of its time. It is now a columbarium housing 30 urns filled with the remains of loved ones. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and is part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, sitting on a rocky outcropping that is now home to seals, sea lions and sea birds.
What Else Can I Do At Cannon Beach?
Aside from hiking through redwoods and along the cliff top trails, you can rent bodyboards, kayaks, paddle boards, skimboards, and other equipment from stores in Cannon Beach, then go play with the sea!
From mid-March to mid-April, and from mid-December to mid-January, you can watch the gray whale migration – approximately 18,000 of them pass by Ecola Point twice a year!
As well as nature, the town of Cannon Beach is renowned for its thriving art scene, boasting more than a dozen galleries displaying local painting, sculpture and glass-blown objects. Go on the public art walking tour for a unique experience, or visit Icefire Glassworks, a working glassblowing studio in Midtown Cannon Beach to watch them transform glowing molten glass into beautiful works of art.
For museum buffs, the free-admission Cannon Beach History Center exhibits unique artifacts, artwork, photographs, and audio presentations on local history.
Hungry? Cannon Beach is home to some brilliant restaurants and breweries! Why not challenge yourself to the North Coast Food Trail, with over 60 participating locations, or the North Coast Craft Beer Trail for the chance to earn a beer mug!
Tide Pool Rules
- Don’t touch the sea life! Picking up the tide pool inhabitants or putting them in your bucket even for a little while can hurt them or stress them out enough to kill them. They may also be harmed by bacteria or chemicals (from sunscreen, for example) on your skin.
- Never tug on or try to remove the marine life clinging to rocks, or try to open their closed shells.
- Don’t move rocks, as this may hurt the creatures hiding underneath or expose them to the sun or predators.
- Walk carefully around the tide pools, trying not to step on the creatures living there.
- Take a trash bag with you and pick up any litter you find – and always pack out what you pack in if you decide to take a picnic along!
The Cannon Beach stretch of the Oregon coastline is short but sweet, with incredible rock formations offering hundreds of tide pool hiding places for Pacific sea life to thrive, and enough photo-worthy moments to last a lifetime! And either side of exploring, Cannon Beach itself has some great sports, culinary and cultural activities to enjoy! If you’re interested in exploring other tide pools, why not check out some fantastic choices in Newport?
While we at Traxplorio do our very best to give you the most up-to-date information, we always recommend you do your own research before you travel to a particular area, and check conditions with official sites. Thanks for understanding, and enjoy your adventure!