Botanical & Geological Wonderland – The Cape Arago Headland, OR
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 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.
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!
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!”.
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