The Oregon coast has an incredible reputation for stunning beaches, quaint communities, breathtaking vistas and endless outdoor recreation opportunities.  While many of us have our favorite activities, one that is growing in popularity up and down the coast is whale watching.

Each year, two huge migration events of gray whales occur along the Oregon Coast, giving those who head west a chance to see these magnificent mammals swim near our towns and parks. For families, the migration of the gray whales makes for an amazing experience. There is nothing like seeing, hearing and smelling these massive animals, and the Oregon Coast offers a myriad of activities to get you and your loved ones close to this fascinating phenomenon.

When Can You See Whales

Each spring and winter, like clockwork, gray whales swim to and from Alaska after returning from their breeding grounds in Baja California.

Whale Watching Oregon Coast Cape Flattery Whale via Douglas Scott
A gray whale spout near a small sea lion island. Photo credit: Douglas Scott

Whale watching along the Oregon Coast is broken into three viewing times, with each being unique and incredible. Each spring, 20,000 gray whales make their way north, swimming within a mile of the shore and visible from nearly every bluff along the Oregon Coast. As they work their way north with newly-born whale calves in tow, they follow what is known as the Whale Trail, which is a 12,000 mile round trip trail that follows the gray whale migration. For both these migrations, the Oregon Coast makes for a stunning place to see these magnificent ocean dwellers. Gray whales are slow swimmers, typically only moving about three to five miles per hour, giving you good looks at migrating pods when they are around.

Oregon participates in a Spring and Winter Whale Watching Week, where volunteers help those hoping to see whales spot them out in the Pacific. This twice yearly event, has been going on for more than 30 years, helping whale enthusiasts and families spot whales up and down the Pacific Northwest coast. Volunteers are located at State Parks throughout the Oregon Coast, helping you and your family locate gray whales on amongst the swells of the sea.

In the summer and fall months, the whale watching slows down, but that shouldn’t stop you from heading to the coast and trying your luck at spotting them. While most of the whales leave the region during migration, some of the gray whales stick around over the summer along the coast of Oregon between June and November.  Roughly 200 whales stick along the Oregon Coast, with about 40 hanging out between Lincoln City and Newport. Places like Depoe Bay tend to see around 10 whales a day, giving your summer beach trip an added level of excitement.

Toward the end of fall, the whale watching activity starts picking back up, as the winter whale watching season is just as good as the spring. From December through January, the migration of the whales returns in full force, with yet another Whale Watching Week taking place up and down the coast. While the weather might be a bit more inclement than the spring, the whale watching is just as intense and incredible.

Where Can You See Whales

Whale Watching Oregon Coast The view from Cape Perpetua via Douglas Scott
The view from Cape Perpetua along the Oregon Coast is perfect for spotting whales. Photo credit: Douglas Scott

The three best whale watching spots along the Oregon Coast are usually Depoe Bay, Cape Perpetua and Cape Lookout. However, don’t stick to those locations. Ecola State Park, just north of Cannon Beach, is a spectacular spot for whale watching and is incredibly popular. The popularity and crowds are for good reason, as whales are seen almost daily during the migrations. Just south of there, Cape Kiwanda is also a great spot to spot them during the migratory seasons, as the area give miles of visibility.

How Can You See Whales

To best see whales along the Oregon Coast, the Oregonian has put together seven tips to best see whales. Using these seen tips, you should have great luck, but there are a few more tricks that we feel need to be mentioned. The first is the weather. While most may want to go out and look for whales during sunny, warm days, the color of the sky reflecting off the water can actually make it harder to see. The best days are the gray days, when the sky and water are dark, but the wind and the tide is calm. When there are clouds in the sky and minimal whitecaps on the water, you can see a spray from whales in the distance much more easily.

Whale Watching Oregon Coast Gray Whale Sam Beebe
Each year, you have two chances to see a great gray whale migration along the Oregon Coast. Photo credit: Sam Beebe

Secondly, you will need a good pair of binoculars, as the whales won’t be swimming right along the shoreline. Typically, the whales are within a mile during the spring and within two miles during the winter migrations, but that can obviously change. You might be able to spot on with your naked eye, but why take that risk? Finally, if you really want to see whales along the Oregon Coast, you need to either get out on the water with a whale watching group, or head high to some of the bluffs and lookouts a few hundred feet above the shoreline. The higher you are, the more you can see!

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