When Is the Best Time
Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach is a popular destination for travellers from around the world throughout the year. Bring plenty of time and watch how the tides change Cannon Beach. Haystack Rock and the tide pools are popular but also known for birding, first of all, "Tufted Puffins".
It is the best place in Oregon to spot them relatively close in the wild. Do you think you have seen this location already? Yes, this place is also well known from the Goonies movie.
Cannon Beach is a great day trip from Portland, located 80 miles northwest, roughly a 1 ½ hour drive. I will give you all the needed information for the best time to visit, what to see when around Haystack Rock, what to wear and six tips for an exceptional day at this unique place at the Pacific Ocean in Oregon.
One hour before low tide is the best time to visit Haystack Rock and Cannon Beach. During these two hours around low tide, the tidepools are accessible, and you get much closer to the famous Haystack Rock. Breeding and nesting season starts in April and last until August. To be on the safe side, visit Cannon Beach to watch these cute birds between May and July at low tide at Haystack Rock.
Low tide in the morning or evening from May to July is the very best time before the birds leave their nests for foraging and when they return in the evening.
I will answer all your questions regarding Haystack Rock and Cannon Beach. For a better overview, I added a Table of Contents below:
Low Tide Details
I like to explain a little more about low tide and the differences between a "common" low tide and a negative tide. The tide difference is much higher during the full moon and new moon. For example, in August is a negative tide of -2,0 ft at low tide and 9,3 at high tide.
A typical low tide can still be 2 ft high. Cannon Beach is flat, and a negative tide causes a huge decreasing sea level. A difference of 4 ft is a lot here. You get closer to Haystack Rock and the tidepools during such low tides. Tide Times Cannon Beach
However, the protection of these birds is most important. Don't approach the rock at the bottom, but being on the same level with distance gives photographers and birders with binoculars better opportunities to watch the different bird species.
Does Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock Get Crowded?
Cannon Beach is busy in the summer months, and visitors flock around the tide pools at low tide. Regarding the visitor centre, three-quarters of a million people visit the rock and beach annually. Nevertheless, the four-mile-long beach offers plenty of space to enjoy the entire surroundings.
Nearest Parking Haystack Rock – Cannon Beach Access
The closest parking lot for free is at the Cannon Beach city hall. It is a five minutes walk to access Cannon Beach between the Ecola Inn Hotel and the Wayfarer.
There are public restrooms on this short walk which you can't miss. We felt safe parking our car with our luggage here because it is next to the police station. Google Maps Location
Are you travelling in a van? Check carefully the signs where it is allowed to park with vans.
Is There an Entrance Fee Requested for Cannon Beach?
Oregon's former Governor, Oswald West, established a unique law of publicly-owned beaches that are free to use in 1913. A new "Beach Bill" was signed by Governor Tom Mc Call in 1967 when too much privatization took place. This is an exceptional law that beaches belong to people. In other states of the US, we sometimes couldn't access beaches because of this privatization issue, warning signs that access is prohibited.
What Is Haystack Rock Famous For?
Haystack Rock is famous for birding, especially for watching tufted puffins, but also for the fascinating tide pools, and on top, the beach is excellent for a long walk. This area is a real gem and is known from the Goonies movie.
The puffins breed on grassy slopes in higher elevations above 200 ft, while others breed in dark crevices below. Haystack Rock is 235 ft tall, therefore perfect for the tufted puffins for breeding.
Most bird colonies are on offshore islands to protect themselves from land predators. Haystack Rock is an exceptional opportunity to observe this noisy spectacle from April to August.
Sunset at Haystack Rock
Watching the sunset at Haystack Rock needs proper planning and a little luck. It is most breathtaking around low tide, but watching the sunset at this specific time works only for a couple of evenings in a month. The Oregon coast close to Washington is notorious for clouds and fog, which can spoil your plans. We arrived an evening before and spent a night in the Hallmark Resort & Spa. Thanks to our hotel's location and the sky suddenly opened up for a few minutes, we watched one of the most spectacular sunsets in our life. Sunrise-Sunset-Time
7 Facts About the Tufted Puffins at Haystack Rock
- Decades ago, thousands of tufted puffins bred along the Oregon coast. Unfortunately, the number decreased dramatically to hundreds, and this year in 2023, only 64 were counted at Haystack Rock. It is crucial not to disturb any of the birds.
- Usually, they return to their former burrow in the green grass in April and lay one egg from which a chick hatches after 42 days.
- They can catch roughly 20 small fish at a time and need to feed their chick four times daily.
- They spend most of their lives on the ocean and only come to rocky islands for breeding.
- They can dive 100 ft deep and more to catch small fish. Their short and stiff wings are made for diving deep but not so much for flying. Therefore, they nest on steep rocks and islands and just jump off the cliffs to get speed while falling.
- They got this name from the yellow-white flumes, the eyebrow tufts above and behind the eyes. Males and females have it during the breeding season, and it falls off afterwards.
- Tufted puffins can get 20 years and older, but climate change and humans are a significant threat.
How to Distinguish a Puffin From Other Birds?
You see plenty of flying birds, so how can you know if this is a puffin? Some characteristics help you to determine puffins.
- Puffins have an orange beak and a white face.
- Orange feet during the breeding season
- Black belly
- They flap their wings quickly.
Cannon Beach at High and Low Tide
Cannon Beach is relatively flat, which causes a huge difference in how close you can get to Haystack Rock and its tidepools. If it is high tide, Haystack Rock is surrounded by the sea, which can get close to the shore, and the Pacific Ocean covers roughly eighty percent of the beach.
During low tide, you can get to the tidepools; during a negative low tide, even half of the rock is not embraced by the ocean.
Haystack Rock Tide Pool Facts
The tide pools are already worth visiting Haystack Rock and Cannon Beach. These pools have been a protected "Marine Garden" since 1991, and collecting is prohibited. They are accessible roughly for two hours, one hour before and after low tide.
When we visited Haystack Rock, the low tide was 1,26 ft, and I walked around many of these pools. Be aware of the cool water temperature of about 50°F/10°C end of May and reaching 57°F/14°C in August/September. If the sun is shining, you can easily withstand this cold temp, but it is hard on overcast days.
Volunteers and wildlife safety attendants are around Haystack Rock at low tide to provide information and binoculars and keep visitors off the rocks to protect the living creatures there. They are roping off the most sensitive and fragile areas to preserve the marine garden. Many information signs are placed around the tidepools, which is helpful for a better understanding. I appreciated even more what I saw in these pools. Thank You!
Listed are frequently seen creatures in the tide pools; some unbelievable are predators.
Ochre Sea Stars
These sea stars have neither eyes nor a brain but are top predators. Crabs, mussels, and snails are all on their menu.
They are carnivorous, attracting prey with their colourful tentacles, equipped with toxins to paralyse and capture the prey. Also, they neither have brains nor eyes. They look beautiful when open in the water and are closed to protect themselves outside at low tide. Giant Green Anemones can grow to 30 cm and are one of the largest occurring in the world.
They feed mainly on the tentacles of the anemones despite the toxin and on sponges. Unfortunately, I hadn't seen any.
There are different types of mussels; some are a delicacy. They produce a liquid like glue and are usually attached to the rocks for the rest of their lives. I love to eat such mussels, but they filter the water for feeding; one mussel is able to filter three litres per hour. Often plastic and other pollutants are detected in seashells.
They are crustaceans and also filter-feeders sticking to hard rocks. Barnacles are a delicacy too, which I often eat in Portugal.
Tiny crabs occur in the tide pools but are hard to spot only when moving.
They are small fishes living in shallow and warmer water.
- Don't touch any of the creatures in the pools.
- Don't stand on rocks which are covered with mussels or other creatures.
- Don't collect anything from the pools.
- Don't get too close to nesting birds; always watch from a distance.
- Never feed animals or birds. The beach and rock are their natural environment; we are guests only!
- Please, take all your trash with you. Leave nothing else than footprints in the sand.
How Was Haystack Rock Formed?
This 235 ft tall sea stack is millions of years old, formed by volcanic eruptions, erosions and the sea. The nearby active and dormant volcanos created the entire area.
My 6 Tips for Cannon Beach
Check out the visitor centre, the staff is lovely, and they give you all the needed information, leaflets and maps. Google Maps Location
Opposite are public restrooms and the Ecola Seafood Market and Restaurant. They offer fresh seafood, and you can dine indoors and outdoors. Check out this photo to see what we had for lunch. Open from 10 am – 8 pm Google Maps Location
I highly recommend spending a night in Cannon Beach to watch the sunset and experience the beach during high and low tides. The best hotel location has the Hallmark Resort & Spa Cannon Beach opposite Haystack Rock,and you can sit on your balcony and watch the tides and sunset at this iconic landmark.
You can walk barefoot on a sunny day from May to September, and the sand is warm, but the Pacific Ocean in Oregon is cold. I saw visitors in rubber boots, which is definitely the best idea to stay warm and protect your feet from the rocks at low tide. Sea temperature Cannon Beach - Haystack Rock
Wear a coat at the beach; the wind is chilly.
Bring a bottle of water for your visit to Cannon Beach. The beach is endless and fantastic to walk, especially during low tide, and you get thirsty when the sun shines.
Bird Species at Haystack Rock
Besides the puffins, you spot different types of cormorants. The beak and the colour around or under the eyes can help identify cormorants.
- Brandt's Cormorants' throat pouch of the male's beak is blue during the breeding season. These cormorants are seen less often, found only in estuaries and on the sea.
- Double-crested Cormorants have crests above their eyes in the breeding season and are the biggest cormorants. They are widespread across North America.
- Pelagic Cormorants are the smallest cormorants. These birds tend to be solitary and nest with few others. They have a red patch under the eyes before the beak.
They occur on Haystack Rock and the biggest colony at the end of this long-stretched beach at Chapman Beach to the north. They nest tightly together so that arriving birds from the sea may land on the heads of others. They lay their egg on the rock and do not build nests. Their breast is white, and the rest are dark grey. They are excellent divers getting up to 150 feet deep for small fish.
These birds are easily identified by their typical call when they protect their nest. They are black with a red beak. Only 500-600 occur in Oregon, and some nest on Haystack Rock. They appear in the intertidal shorelines and seek for mussels and limpets but not oysters. These birds are monogamic mating for life.
These pigeons are black birds with white wing patches and orange-red feeds. They nest along the North Pacific coastline. The parents have a hard job feeding the chick up to 16 times a day during the breeding season.
Can I Walk My Dog on Cannon Beach?
Yes, dogs on leashes are permitted close to Haystack Rock, and we saw plenty of them enjoying running on Cannon Beach.
Best Months to Visit
Location and Tips
Cannon Beach stretches for four miles, so you can easily escape the crowds in the busy summer months. There are more beaches before and after Cannon Beach, and it seems endless for walking.
I like to thank the wonderful staff at the information centre which provided me with tons of information for this article.
I took most of these pictures in one day. The weather is changeable from foggy and cloudy to a blue sky and sunny all in one day.
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