Oregon Coast Highway 101

Category: General Article

Back to Astoria and Vicinity

GPS Coordinates to the north end of the highway in Astoria; 46.190543, -123.849494

U.S. Route 101 is a major north-south highway that runs the length of Oregon, mostly along the Pacific Coast. Due to its proximity to the ocean, it is often referred to as the Pacific Coast Highway or the Oregon Coast Highway. The Oregon span officially begins at the Washington state line north of Astoria and ends at the California state line south of Brookings. The entire length of the Oregon Coast Highway is 363 miles (584 km).

The highway transects the three major regions of the Oregon coast: North, Central and South. Each region is known for certain natural features and traveling the highway allows visitors to experience all of them. The North Coast is generally dominated by thick coastal forests, expansive farmlands and the Columbia River. The Central Coast is known for its rocky shoreline, wide sandy beaches and numerous bays while the South Coast is dominated by the Oregon Dunes which cover 50 miles (80.5 km) of its entire length.

Engineering the Highway

The construction of the Oregon Coast Highway originated during the Great Depression. With millions of Americans suffering from lack of jobs and basic resources, the federal government embarked on a massive public works program called The New Deal which began in 1933. The benefits of this program were twofold: provide jobs to people who desperately needed them while simultaneously restoring the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. The state of Oregon received millions of dollars in federal assistance and set an ambitious goal to complete the highway in three years.

The concept of a coastal highway was not new, and in fact sections of it had been built as early as the 1870s with sporadic improvements continuing through the 1920s. Although these first attempts connected some adjacent towns, the roads were often of dubious quality (some mud, some paved with gravel or wooden planks) and generally only a few miles long. Creating a single unified highway would be a monumental task in a short period of time. More (or better) bridges would have to be constructed, enormous Sitka spruce forests would need to be removed, tunnels would need to be mined and miles of hard volcanic rock blasted away.

Progress on the highway went on at breakneck speed and amazingly the highway was completed by 1936, including the construction of five new bridges. While work continued on the highway, young men brought in by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), another New Deal program, constructed various amenities along the roadside. Examples of their work can still be seen today, including much of the decorative rock work at various vistas, state park buildings, paths and stairs, foot bridges, stone shelters and more.

Major Features

The Oregon Coast Highway is often rated as one of the most scenic drives in the United States. Along its length are numerous parks, historic sites (including 98 bridges and aqueducts crossing major bays and rivers), tourist attractions, historic lighthouses, natural wonders and countless scenic views. The entirety of the Route 101 in Oregon is designated as the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway. You can navigate its various attractions by looking at the Oceanscape Network’s interactive map to chart where the highway goes and see surrounding features.

Related Features: Oregon Route 126 | US Route 20 | Oregon Route 34 | Hug Point and the Road in the Cliff | Colonel Hogg’s Great Railroad to the Pacific and Other Engineering Disasters