Brian and I recently spent time in Cannon Beach and took some time to explore around Haystack Rock. There were signs up asking people not to step on the rocks, turn them over, or touch anything in the tide pools around the Rock to avoid disturbing the flora and fauna. It made me curious to know the details. I’d grown up around the Puget Sound and we visited the ocean often. Peering into tide pools and under beach rocks is a fond childhood – and adult – memory, and it was educational. I wanted to know why kids weren’t allowed to do that around Haystack Rock.
As it turns out, it’s mainly that it’s a small ecosystem at a popular location. Haystack Rock receives around 200,000 visitors every year according to the City of Cannon Beach. The tide pool area around Haystack is quite small, so I can see how that many people would cause quite a bit of damage. Then there’s what I call the nature bullies. You know who I mean. These are the people (adults and children) smashing rocks onto marine life, chasing birds or letting their dogs or kids chase them, poking sticks into sea creatures or even kicking or stomping on them. It’s so sad and I get why people feel the need to protect places like the Haystack Rock area. It’s necessary.
As far back as 1968, work was done to protect the Haystack Rock area. Back then, people were climbing the rock and disturbing nesting birds – primarily tufted puffins, who are still struggling with declining populations. A portion of the rock was blasted away to prevent would-be climbers from easy access. I know. I thought the same thing. Blasting seems a bit extreme and you’d think they could have found other ways, but that was 50 years ago and I’m sure they felt it was their best option. My guess is part of the argument was something like “this is a one-time blast and the climbers can access it 24×7.”
In 1976, Haystack Rock and its tidepools were made a National Wildlife Refuge and, in 1990, it became a Marine Garden. Protective rules come with these two titles – no collecting, no climbing, and no harassing. Fines can be up to $5000! With all the restrictions, it sounds like you can’t get anywhere near the Rock or the tidepools; but you absolutely can. They just ask that you stay on the sand, which allows plenty of access to the outer tidepools and great photo ops. (In my experience, it’s the number of other people visiting that inhibits the excellent photos; so I suggest going early or late in the day, or outside of summer, if you want more alone time with Haystack.)
At low tides, staff from the Haystack Rock Awareness Program are out on the beach and can give you all the information you want about the puffin conservation and the various other marine animal and plant life. They also suggest that there are plenty of other tidepools on the beaches where you can explore – though still with basic tidepool etiquette. It’s just that the area is protected because it gets so many visitors.
Haystack Rock is a must-go if you’re ever near Cannon Beach, Oregon. The cool factor of the Rock itself along with the conservation and educational work going on there make for a worthwhile visit. There’s at least one place to rent bicycles that you can ride on the beach, beach wheelchairs for those who might need them, as well as private guided tours. Head out there when the tide is nearly low and spend some time talking with the volunteer staff (or your guide) for the full experience.
Here are some good resources if you want to fully, and gently, explore other tide pools in the area.
- Oregon Coast Tide Pools: The Complete Guide
Be groovy, friends, and remember to live your journey…