Low Tide at Cannon Beach, Oregon, Reveals an Undersea World

Starfish and kelp

Starfish and kelp are among the marine life you can see at low tide at Oregon’s Cannon Beach. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Preface: Around Haystack Rock, which dominates Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast, you can always spot interesting marine life in the tidal pools at low tide.

Check for tidal reports to find the best hours for spotting starfish, sea anemones, mussels, tiny fish, and kelp.

My visit in June of 2009 happened to coincide with a really low tide. Here’s the scoop.

June 24, was the lowest tide of 2009 at Oregon’s Cannon Beach, and my husband and I left our room-with-a-view at the Hallmark Resort and skipped breakfast to be at Haystack Rock for the 8:40 a.m. event. So did hundreds of other people—and their dogs. Masses of folks wandered around the tidal pools revealed by the receding water.

Kids explore the tidal pools around Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach ©Laurel Kallenbach

Kids explore the tidal pools around Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach ©Laurel Kallenbach


Luckily, Cannon Beach’s Friends of Haystack Rock—a nonprofit organization with an army of community volunteers (wearing red jackets or T-shirts)—are on hand to answer questions about various types of kelp and to point out marine creatures in the tidal pools that were created by the low tide.

A Friends of Haystack Rock volunteer tidal pool ecosystems. ©Laurel Kallenbach

A Friends of Haystack Rock volunteer explains the tidal pool ecosystems. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The group also helps raise awareness among visitors about these fragile ecosystems, and its volunteers keep an eye out to prevent people from damaging barnacles, muscles and starfish.

The Friends of Haystack Rock volunteers also loan out binoculars for identifying the many seabirds, including the fantastic tufted puffin who flit around the rock, where they build their nests.

Thanks to this preservation-minded group, visitors will be able to explore and study the undersea world for many years to come.

One of the best things about having nature interpreters on site is that you can learn so much more about all the species you’re seeing than if you were all by yourself. You can point to a bird soaring around Haystack Rock and one of these devoted volunteers will identify it as a pelagic cormorant or a pigeon guillemots or the Western gull.

Haystack rock, on Oregon's Cannon Beach ©Laurel Kallenbach

Haystack rock, on Oregon’s Cannon Beach ©Laurel Kallenbach

The colorful tidal pools—hidden mysteries of underwater life—are exposed only at low tide. This makes them all the more wondrous.

Sea anemones are among my favorites because I love how they look like underwater flowers with their delicate filaments waving in the water. If your shadow falls across an open anemone, it will react by retracting its little arms so that it looks like a tube. If you stand still, you might witness them slowly reopen like a sunflower in the morning sun.

Sea anemones ©Laurel Kallenbach

For more information about the Oregon coast, as well as the state’s other breathtaking sights, visit Travel Oregon.

Laurel Kallenbach, writer and editor

Originally published on June 25, 2009

A garden of starfish ©Laurel Kallenbach

A garden of starfish on the rocks of Cannon Beach Oregon. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Rooms with a Cannon-Beach Ocean View

For two years running, we’ve enjoyed magically warm, sunny days at Cannon Beach in Oregon.

The best place to stay at Cannon Beach, Oregon, in my opinion, is the Hallmark Inn. In 2008, my family stayed there because my in-laws had been there years before, and they could bring their standard poodle (who joyfully frolicked in the sand).

We loved the Hallmark’s location so much, we repeated our summer solstice visit. (And that’s saying a lot, because I like to try new places all the time.)

The rooms aren’t huge or even particularly fancy, but at Cannon Beach, the real attraction is the perpetually-breathtaking Haystack Rock view. This year, like last, we splurged on an oceanfront room, which has a balcony. Outside is the ocean, seagulls, views of whales (in the right season) and the sea-spray. If weather is foul, you can sit inside with a panoramic view by the gas fireplace.

The Hallmark Inn Cannon Beach offers instant access to the sand and surf (via steps, that is).

The Hallmark Inn Cannon Beach offers instant access to the sand and surf.

I wouldn’t really classify the Hallmark Inn as a green hotel. It does have a water-conserving towel/bed linen policy, but I consider that extremely entry-level environmentalism for the hotel biz.

A beach fire near Haystack Rock was a wonderful way to celebrate summer solstice.

A beach fire near Haystack Rock

However, the Hallmark Inns and Resorts (there’s another property in Newport Beach that I’ve never stayed at) does score points because its owners, the family of William G. Hay, recently donated five-plus acres to the North Coast Land Conservancy, which protects coastal ecosystems.

The hotel is also currently building a recycling center for the entire resort. (The town of Cannon Beach doesn’t have commercial recycling service, so this step will help to reduce landfill waste.)

And, more important, this hotel puts guests in direct contact with nature. The sand and water beckon. If people are to care about preserving natural places, they have to experience them firsthand so they understand what a treasure they are.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor