Each year, nearly 20,000 gray whales travel along the Oregon Coast between Alaska and Mexico and can easily be spotted off the shoreline at Cannon Beach. These 35-ton beasts make their way south for warmer waters at the start of winter and head north to cooler waters at the start of spring. And during peak migration, you could potentially see as many as dozens of whales passing by at a time!
Whether you live along the coast, elsewhere in Oregon, or in another state entirely, whale watching in Oregon is a must-do winter and spring activity! That’s why we created this guide to enhance your whale watching adventure in Cannon Beach, for both locals and visitors alike.
What to Bring + Expect
Make sure you bring some binoculars or a camera with a powerful zoom lens so you can more easily see the water spouts in the distance. And of course, bring lots of warm layers for both whale watching migrations, as winter and spring can be very cold in Cannon Beach, especially when the coastal winds are in full force.
Simply scan the horizon until you see a spout of air erupt from the surface and then follow the spout as it moves along the water; gray whales typically come to the surface for air a handful of times before retreating to deeper waters to gain more speed. You might expect to see one massive pod of whales, but it is actually more common to see a single whale or a smaller group of two or three whales.
Above all, be patient. Whale watching is a very slow, leisurely activity that requires patience and stillness. You could potentially see as many as 50 whales — or as few as five.
When to Go
The peak time to see whales pass by Cannon Beach is mid-December through mid-January for the winter migration and mid-March through mid-April for the spring migration. However, there is still a chance you’ll see a whale or two at other times throughout the year, including the summer or fall, when you could see anywhere between five and 10 whales per day.
Where to Go
The best place to view this impressive parade of whales is Ecola State Park. However, if you’re up for an adventure, consider a road trip to any of the other great viewpoints along the coast, including Depoe Bay (home to the Whale Watching Center), Cape Kiwanda, Cape Perpetua, Sea Lion Caves and Cape Ferrelo.
But if you’re staying in town, Ecola State Park provides an excellent vantage point. In fact, you can spot whales just steps from the parking lot. During the two Whale Watch Weeks, you are likely to be in good company, as many visitors flock to the park to catch a glimpse of the migration. However, among the crowds, you’ll find several volunteers who are equipped to help you see whales and share more information about what you’re seeing. For more details about Ecola State Park, check out 4 State Parks Within 10 Minutes of Cannon Beach, Oregon.
Whale Watch Week
Whale watching along the coast is celebrated with two distinct Whale Watch Weeks, one of which is just around the corner!
Winter 2019 Whale Watch Week: Friday, December 27–Tuesday, December 31, 2019
Spring 2020 Whale Watch Week: Saturday, March 21–Sunday, March 29, 2020
During both Whale Watch Weeks, more than 300 trained volunteers will be stationed across 24 sites along the coast. Their mission is to help visitors spot whales and learn more about the species and their migration. Last year, more than 51,000 visitors came to the coast for the two Whale Watch Weeks!
While You’re Here
While you’re in Cannon Beach, there is so much to do, see and taste. And if you’re not from here, let us steer you in the right direction! Start the day with a cup of coffee from Insomnia Coffee, Sea Level Bakery + Coffee or Sleepy Monk Coffee. Then, travel up and down North Hemlock Street, which is lined with adorable shops and boutiques, art galleries, ice cream shops and much more. Grab a beer from Public Coast Brewing or Pelican Brewing Company, or taste regional wines at The Wine Shack or Laurel’s Wine Shop. And of course, grab a bite to eat at one of the many local restaurants in town, where you’ll find everything from seafood to Irish fare.
Looking for more Cannon Beach activities? Check out our list of Things to Do in Cannon Beach During the Winter and Things to Do in Cannon Beach in the Spring, which happen to be during both Whale Watch Weeks!
Happy Whale Watching!
Let us know if you’re headed to Cannon Beach to see the whale migration this winter or spring!