Cape Perpetua Scenic Area

January 26, 2012 (Updated July 31, 2017)

Some call it the “rugged edge of the Oregon Coast,” where the sun and surf meet to leave you spellbound and breathless. At the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, the Coast slows down. That’s easy to understand – few distractions, few folks around…especially along Oregon’s rugged edge of life.

It’s more than 40 miles of Oregon coastline, beginning at Waldport and continuing along a southerly stretch of Highway 101, marked by steep headlands, jagged volcanic outcrops and jaw-dropping scenic drama. In fact, it is so significant that 2,700 acres of the massive Cape Perpetua is designated a National Scenic Area. Two miles south of Yachats, you will find the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center.

Oregon State Parks Ranger David Weisenback says the sheer beauty of the place surprises many first timers. “It is such a beautiful and unique area,” he says. “You can hike to the overlooks, the viewpoints, across the rocky shorelines. No matter where you travel in the world, this is still one of the most scenic areas.”

USFS Visitor Center Manager David Thompson notes that atop Cape Perpetua you can turn in any direction for views that surprise and amaze.

“Certainly the Coast is the most dramatic the part that captures your attention first,” notes Thompson. “And yet if you turn and look the other way, you’ve got this unbelievably green sitka spruce forest with a wealth of moss and ferns and giant trees – it’s all special.”

The visitor center provides a wealth of hiking choices too, with more than 11 different trails spanning 27 miles and many of the trails interconnecting with one another.

The Captain Cook Trail is wheelchair accessible, leading from the visitor center to skirt the shoreline. At low tide, the trail puts on quite a show as waves crash into rocky crevices and cracks at a place called ‘Spouting Horn.’ If you wish to wander longer, consider the astounding collection of Oregon State Park waysides with names like Neptune, Ponsler or Strawberry Hill, where tide pools invite closer inspection during the ebbing tide.

Nearby, Washburne State Park Campground invites overnight stays where campers are welcome in tent, trailer or RV. For those who love to camp but lack the right gear, Park Ranger Deborah Edwards says to consider renting a yurt.

“Camping in winter can be just as exciting as the summertime, you just have to deal with a bit more rain, and a yurt is perfect,” says Edwards. “You get a bunk bed which sleeps two on the bottom and one on the top, a futon, table and a couple of chairs, plus heat and light.”

A little more than five miles away is the Sea Lion Caves, an Oregon Coast icon as far back as most folks remember. More than 100 acres of the adjacent land has been in private ownership since 1887. Getting to there requires just a short stroll on a paved trail and then a quick ride down the face of a cliff for 208 feet in an elevator.

“It’s been a drawing card for the curious,” says Sea Lion Caves manager Boomer Wright. He explains that the massive cave is largest along West Coast and that the 250 stellar sea lions are a raucous, rowdy crowd. He says, “They are very social animals with their barking, crawling over each other and even nipping one another.”

Wright adds that as many as 1,000 stellar sea lions use the cave from November through late summer. They are often seen lounging, loafing or just plain sacked out on the rocky interior cliffs or boulders.

“Of course, there is the large center rock that we call King of the Hill,” notes Wright. “And there is usually quite of a bit of fighting between sea lions to see who gets to rest atop it.”

The stellar sea lions are not the only wildlife species that are easy to spy at Sea Lion Caves. Back atop, keep eyes out for soaring raptors like hawks and eagles that are often seen on the hunt – or flocks of shore birds that dance and dazzle and skirt the surf.

David Thompson says that it is a remarkable scene and one that is often overlooked in winter. “Without a doubt, it’s the most gorgeous stretch of the Oregon Coast with the collection of rocky shores,” he says. “The geology, the geography and certainly the forest add up to a wonderful place to relax and wonder and wander if you want a place to decompress.”

About The

Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.