The most notable sight near Yachats, indeed on the whole central coast, is the view from 803-foot-high Cape Perpetua. The name derives from Captain Cook’s sighting of the promontory on March 7, 1778, St. Perpetua’s Day. It’s too bad the British explorer didn’t make landfall here to enjoy one of the world’s preeminent coastal panoramas. Oregon’s highest paved public road this close to the shoreline affords 150 miles of north-to-south visibility from the top of the headland. On a clear day, you can also see 39 miles out to sea.
Prior to hiking the 23 miles of foot trails or driving to the top of the cape, stop off at the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center (541/547-3289, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. June–Aug., 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Sept.–May, $5 per car or Northwest Forest Pass), three miles south of Yachats on the east side of the highway. A picture window framing a bird’s-eye view of rockbound coast, along with exhibits on forestry and marine life, begin your introduction to the region.
Cataclysms such as the forest fire of 1846, the monsoons and 138-mph winds unleashed by the 1962 Columbus Day Storm, and 1964 Hurricane Frieda are artfully explained by exhibits. An excellent 15-minute film about Oregon’s intertidal biome will also hold your interest.
Personnel at the desk have maps and pamphlets about such trails as Cook’s Ridge, Riggin’ Slinger, and Giant Spruce, as well as directions for the auto tour to the summit, from which you can take the 0.25-mile Trail of the Whispering Spruce through the grounds of a former World War II Coast Guard lookout built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1933. The southern views from the crest take in the highway and headlands as far as Coos Bay.
Halfway along the path, you’ll come to a Works Progress Administration–built rock hut called the West Shelter that makes a lofty perch for whale-watching, one of the best spots on the entire coast. Beyond this ridgetop aerie the curtain of trees parts to reveal fantastic views of the shoreline between Yachats and Cape Foulweather.
To begin your auto ascent, from the visitor center drive 100 yards north on U.S. 101 and look for the steep winding spur road (Forest Service Rd. 55) on the right. As you climb, you’ll notice large Sitka spruce trees abutting the road. Halfway up the two-mile route, you’ll come to a Y in the road. Take a hard left and follow the road another mile to the top of Cape Perpetua. If you miss the left turn and go straight ahead, you’ll soon find yourself on a 22-mile loop through the Coast Range to Yachats. Along the way, placards annotate forest ecology.
If you’d rather hike to the top of the cape, the awe-inspiring 1.5-mile Saint Perpetua Trail from the Cape Perpetua visitors center to the summit is of moderate difficulty, gaining 600 feet in elevation. En route, placards explain the role of wind, erosion, and fire in forest succession in this mixed-conifer ecosystem.
The actual cape is only half the attraction at Cape Perpetua. At least as fascinating is the rocky coast and its tide pools, churns, and spouting horns of water. Just north of the turnoff for the top of Cape Perpetua (Forest Service Rd. 55) and U.S. 101 is the turnout for Devil’s Churn, on the west side of the highway. Here the tides have cut a deep fissure in a basalt embankment on the shore. You can observe the action from a vertigo-inducing overlook high above, or take the easy switchbacking trail down to the water’s edge. While watching the white-water torrents in this foaming cistern, beware of “sneaker waves,” particularly if you venture beyond the boundaries of the Trail of the Restless Waters.
The highlights here are the spouting horns and acres of tide pools. All along this stretch of the coast, many trees appear to be leaning away from the ocean as if bent by storms. This illusion is caused by salt-laden westerlies drying out and killing the buds on the exposed side of the tree, leaving growth only on the leeward branches.
Another hike from the Cape Perpetua visitors center goes down to a geological blowhole (called a spouting horn), where seawater is funneled between rocks and explodes into spray. This is the Captain Cook Trail, which goes six miles through a dense wind-carved forest and the remains of an old CCC camp under U.S. 101 to an ancient lava deposit on the shore. Given enough wave action, water bubbles up through fissures in the basalt. There are also Native American shell middens built up 300–2,000 years ago in the area.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel