Botanical & Geological Wonderland – The Cape Arago Headland, OR

A view like nothing else. The Arago Headland.

Almost everyone we talked to before coming to the southern OR coast told us to make sure we took the trip to Cape Arago. What they didn’t tell us (or perhaps it just hadn’t clicked for me) was how utterly stunning this little stretch of land is. It’s one of those places where everybody says “you simply must go”, but you don’t fully grasp why until you get there. This is the Cape Arago Headland and it’s very simply a geological and botanical wonderland.

The headland starts just south of Charleston and spans a short 4 miles or so of coastline. Within this space you pass through no less than 3 State Parks -> Sunset Bay, Shore Acres and Cape Arago.  Here the sandy dune-coast of the north is transformed into large bluffs and angular outcrops of layered shale and limestone rock, looking almost like giant puff pastries sticking out of the sea. These 40-million year-old dramatic strata provide a stunning backdrop to wild tides and, on a clear day, miles of some of the most beautiful coastline I’ve ever seen. It’s the kinda view you just gotta see to believe.

The final view at Cape Arago…and a rare shot of moi!

The journey starts at Sunset Bay State Park, a sheltered cove (and nice swim-beach) with an RV campground right behind it (rather too tight for our size, although the full hookup sites are manageable). Right here you can walk one of the prettiest 4-mile stretches of the Oregon Coastal Trail directly from Sunset Bay to the end of the road at Cape Arago. There are also miles of additional trails that lead to unique tide-pools on the Cape, and unusual geological formations (ever heard of  the embedded growing rocks called concretion?) that occur in this area more than any other place on the OR coast.

Roses in full bloom at Shore Acres State Park

But that’s not all!

Right smack in the middle of all this beauty is gorgeous Shore Acres State Park. Originally the private estate of pioneer lumberman and shipbuilder Louis J. Simpson, this was lovingly developed into a gorgeous botanical garden with thousands of plants that bloom throughout the four seasons. This time of year the roses are in full spread and there are literally hundreds of them in beautiful scent throughout the garden. Free aromatherapy if you will. “It just makes you happy to smell them” observed Paul while we were walking through the kaleidoscope of aromas.

And that’s still not all!

Panorama shot of Simpson Reef

Right before you reach the Cape you pass Simpson Reef, Shell Islands and the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. This super-long spur of rocks and islands that juts out like a knife into sea, occupies 575 aces, and provides refuge habitat for large numbers of sea birds and mammals. It’s a fabulous view-point for hundreds of sea-lions, harbor seals and elephant seals. And, as an aside, a great spot to take one of those panoramic stitch-shots (if your camera does them).

And the entire trip all ends in one gorgeous viewpoint at the Cape itself.

We managed to visit on (yet another) gorgeous day, spending at least an hour walking around the botanical gardens and a few more driving and stopping to gawk (and ooh and aah) at the various viewpoints (they are all worth it!). Shore Acres doesn’t allow dogs (everything else does) so sadly Polly didn’t come for the ride, but the visit is totally worth an entire day, and probably a couple if you plan to hike too.

You may not have heard this before, but I’m telling you on good faith that “you simply must go!”.

Like giant puff-pastries sticking out of the sea…
Unusual curves at Shore Acres
Summer color at the botanical garden

Light seen through rose petals
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do

  1. says

    And, a very pretty “moi” you are! You already know I can’t say enough about the Oregon Coast. Doesn’t get any better than June.

    • libertatemamo says

      Thank you {{blushing}}….It’s raining today, but looks like we’ll be back to sun in a few days time, so I’m not complaining at all.

  2. jil mohr says

    looks wonderful …it is on our new list of the rest of the coast we did not see as we left early cause of rain….

    • libertatemamo says

      Yeah, you gotta come back when the weather is better. Septmember is a gorgeous month if you’re coming back south?

  3. Lee and Shelia says

    Small World we were there on Wednesday. However we went to late in the day to see the Gardens. However we did see everything else your talking about. Perhaps we will take a ride over there Saturday. Today (Friday) it is raining and we choose to do laundry. Oh Joy!… Thanks for the pictures…

    • libertatemamo says

      Oh how crazy that we were both there! I’d definitely recommend going back to see the gardens. The roses are lovely right now.
      And yes…raining here today too…

  4. says

    What a hoot. I was going to write and say how nice it was to final see a photo of you. AND then you write and a rare shot of moi! I was thinking the exact same thing.

    Thanks for taking us to one place we did not see along the coast. Gorgeous

    • libertatemamo says

      Haha…yeah, I have to admit I’m not very good about “giving up” the camera to Paul. I’m the photographer that doesn’t like to be photographed…silly, eh? Nina

  5. Sue B says

    we visited that stretch of cape arago and simpson reef and the gardens too in 2009..beautiful place that is for sure!..thanks for sharing your outlook on it!

  6. says

    I’ll leave the compliments to the ladies, since I don’t want to be “the creepy guy”, but …ditto.
    Anyway, I was going to say you ALMOST got your shirts to match the colour of the water. Almost.
    Again…trying to be complimentary without the creepiness.

  7. says

    We are there! I’m not sure we have penciled in enough time at some of these areas. You make everything look so yummy! Wonderful post Nina and I am just starting to practice my stitch-shot.

    • libertatemamo says

      Oh definitely practice that stitch shot. Your new cannon S100 does it beautifully. It should be one of the SCENE options.

  8. says

    Can’t wait to see all this when we reach Oregon mid-Sept on our “maiden journey” in our new RV! Starting in SoCal on Aug 1, and heading to Utah and a little bit of Idaho, then looping back down via Oregon & Calif coast to be back home before Thanksgiving. We’ve learned so much from your blog. Really looking forward to putting ourselves to the test. We, too, have a 40-ft beast and a pooch that’s family. Hope to meet you sometime! –Linda and Mike

    • libertatemamo says

      Can’t wait for you guys to be on the road. You’ll be lovin’ the weather up here on the coast. It’s simply gorgeous right now.

  9. Lisa says

    YES, yes, yes! Love that part of the coast…most awesome tidepools and garden! Can’t wait to visit it again and spend some real time once we are fulltimers!!!

  10. says

    With apologies to “Green Acres”…
    Shore Acres is the place to be,
    Coast touring is the life for me.

    But if you haven’t seen Shore Acres during a storm at sea,
    You’re missing one of the most dramatic sights you’ll ever see–
    Waves thundering against the cliffs, then shooting 50′ into the air.

    Keep an eye and ear out for incoming storms, then head to Shore Acres! Indescribable!

    • libertatemamo says

      Oh I LOVE that you made that into a poem!! Fabulous! I’ve heard so much about the storms at Shore Acres and will definitely make the trip if one comes in.


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