Exploring Cape Perpetua
Cape Perpetua is filled with popular attractions such as Devil’s Churn, West Shelter Overlook, the Giant Spruce Tree, Thor’s Well and Spouting Horn to name a few – and even more amazing is that they are all within a few miles of each other. This week we learn the history, see the sights, and help you plan your visit to Cape Perpetua on the rocky Oregon coast.
Cape Perpetua is located along the rocky central Oregon coast and is part of the massive 630,000 acre Siuslaw National Forest. The coastline is famous for sights of violent waves crashing against the rocks creating large sprays of water. On land, the area is part of a Sitka spruce forest with miles of hiking trails, a campground, and a road that leads to an overlook of the whole coastline.
The main visitors center features a gift shop, expansive windows for watching the ocean or the 18,000 grey whales during their spring or fall migrations, and several ranger led programs. There are guided hikes, tide pooling, a Jr. Ranger Program and various other events. For more information, visit their USFS site or you can follow them on Facebook.
Tips for Visiting
- Give yourself at least half a day to see all the sights.
- Visit the shore one hour before or after high tide to see Thor’s well or Spouting Horn.
- The most dramatic waves and sprays occur during the stormy winter months.
- Although there is tide pooling here, there is better tidepooling elsewhere along the coast (see our Seal Rock Tidepooling Video)
- Be careful down on the shore – especially when the waves are big.
During the video, I gave a condensed version of the story, but here is the long one:
On February 2nd, 1778, two weeks after making the first modern discovery of the Hawaiian Islands, Captain James Cook set sail with his two ships across the Pacific Ocean. Five days later on March 7th, in the midst of a strong storm, a piece of the Oregon coastline was sighted and named cape foul weather. Fearing being dashed against the rocks, the ships headed back out to sea and four days later, the ships returned to see a tall mountain they named Cape Perpetua. It could have been after St. Perpetua, or because they were fighting bad weather and the peak was perpetually in their sight. Either way, the name stuck.
For the past 6,000 years, the Siuslaw Indians frequently fished and gathered here at the rocky outcrops along the central Oregon coast – as noted by huge piles of discarded shells, called middens, which can be seen along the trails. As settlers arrived, the area remained largely inaccessible until 1914, when a path and wooden bridge were built, allowing travel to the area between Yachats and Florence. In 1933 during the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps were brought in to create the Camp Perpetua campground, hiking trails and the West Shelter observation point. From the shelter, an observer could see 37 miles out to sea, and during WWII, the shelter was used as a costal watch station. Finally, in the 1960’s, a visitors center was constructed and today Field Rangers lead guided hikes and offer family friendly programs during the summer months.
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