At Cannon Beach, it pays to watch the tides. Get your tide table, watch for low tide and then go down to the beach. You’ll discover marine life you didn’t realize was there until the waters receded.

The Marine Gardens

Look carefully. Walk carefully. The Haystack Rock tide pools are teeming with life. Photo credit: Elizabeth R. Rose

When you look down into a tide pool, you’ll understand why they may be termed Marine Gardens. Sea anemones mimic colorful flowers, and bright green sea lettuce remains behind when the tide goes out. But look closer – the rocks and sand are teeming with life. There are little crabs, small fish and sea stars to be found.

Oregon has seven designated Marine Gardens. The program is managed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for ­education, recreation and protection. The designated gardens are open to the public.

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach is one of the protected Marine Gardens. The area is rich with sea anemones, urchins, sea stars and shellfish. You can enjoy the gardens, but it is important to know that the Marine Gardens are protected. You can’t collect sea life or plants. You are also warned to be gentle around the sea life. That means no trampling the tide pool inhabitants or prodding things like sea anemones with a stick, a practice that is pretty common with inquisitive children.

Haystack Rock Awareness Program

haystack rock
The Haystack Rock Awareness Program helps educate and protect the sensitive ecosystem on and around Haystack Rock. Photo credit: Elizabeth R. Rose

One morning I encountered a 0.1 tide, so of course headed for the area around Haystack Rock. Many people don’t understand that Haystack Rock – this great place for tide pooling – is actually a Marine Sanctuary.

You might see folks from the Haystack Rock Awareness Program (HRAP) on the beach at low tide. They are stewards of the life there and will put out signs to let you know to keep back from both the marine life and the birds nesting on Haystack Rock. They often have exhibits about marine life and are more than willing to answer questions about what you will see. On the HRAP website you will see a schedule of when volunteers will be out on the beach. They are there during selected low tides in the fall, spring and summer.

haystack rock
This sea anemone looks like a delicate pink flower under the water. Photo credit: Elizabeth R. Rose

Local school groups take advantage of HRAP’s educational field trip programs that allow for education and observation on the beach. The Marine Garden at Haystack Rock is home to many fascinating intertidal critters that young students will enjoy seeing up close.

The National Wildlife Refuge (the area around, on and above Haystack) provides protected nesting habitat for both shorebirds and seabirds. During the spring and summer, Haystack Rock provides nesting ground to the Northwest’s most easily viewed colony of Tufted Puffins. Other birds that can sometimes be observed on or around Haystack Rock include Pelagic Cormorants, Pigeon Guillemots, Western Gulls, Black Oystercatchers and Bald Eagles.

Guided Tours of the Tide Pools

Those who want a more personal experience can schedule a tour with author, photographer and tide-pool enthusiast Stephen Grace, who offers a variety of area tours.

haystack rock
When the tide goes out, predators like this gull, take advantage. Photo credit: Elizabeth R. Rose

“I lead guided tours because I love to share the sense of awe and wonder I feel when exploring the natural world. Life at the ocean’s edge is incredibly dynamic, and each tour is infused with a sense of discovery—I’m as excited as my tour participants by what turns up in the tide pools,” shares Grace.

Though the information he shares is grounded in solid science, Steve uses a storytelling approach to explain the intertidal zone. He adds, “I figure out what topics excite tour participants, and whatever their passions, whether art or engineering, philosophy or photography, natural history or science fiction, I connect life in the intertidal zone to their interests.”

There’s an App for That

cannon beach
Cannon Beach’s low tide at sunset draws families to the beach to explore the exposed sea life. Photo credit: Elizabeth R. Rose

Spending time with a volunteer from the HRAP program or with a guide are ways to learn more about what you are seeing in the tide pools and soaring above them. Another way is the Discover Haystack App. It’s an interactive educational app where you can get information and factoids on Oregon coast birds and habitats. You can keep track of your own sightings, as well. Play the interactive, GPS-guided game to learn more.

New Beach Wheelchairs 

Now more people can explore the beach and get closer to the tide pools. Cannon Beach has taken accessibility to the next level by offering beach wheelchairs with extra-wide tires available for visitors. The Cannon Beach Police Department handles the free check-out and return process for the wheelchairs on the east side of the Cannon Beach City Hall building. Chairs may be reserved by calling 503-436-2811 or emailing

Learning More About Haystack Rock 

The Friends of Haystack Rock and HRAP have an excellent brochure that is available online. The brochure covers tide pool etiquette and helps with the identification of marine life and birds you may see on your visit.

For a detailed guide to tide pool life, as well as tips on tidepool etiquette, go to the Oregon Tidepools Website. For more information about Cannon Beach tides and weather, click here.

Find a Tidepool Species Guide at this link.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email