|Location: Cape Perpetua
Scenic Area, central Oregon Coast
Maps: Maps: USGS 1:24K quad: Yachats / Free Cape Perpetua Trails map at VC is also useful
Access: From Yachats, drive 3.5 miles south and turn east at the sign for Cape Perpetua Visitor Center
Fees: $5/car/day (multiple options for multi-day passes along the NW coast exist and can be purchased at the visitor center)
Trails: Restless Waters (Devilís Churn): 1 mi loop, steep in places, stairs.
Giant Spruce: 2 mi round trip, easy grade
St Perpetua trail to lookout: 3.5 mi round trip, steep
Dogs: Allowed on a leash within the scenic area (note that most nearby beaches do not allow dogs)
People get pretty creative in naming areas, but I have never found a place so aptly named as Cape Perpetua. The barren, almost black volcanic rocks of the coast, contrasted with the silent, giant, almost menacing spruce and hemlock of the ancient forest just inland, convey nothing if not a sense of time unbroken. The name conjures almost primal thoughts of a land time forgot, and visually, it almost seems that way. One can easily imagine that in a million years when humans are nothing more than fossils, the view of the Devil's Churn will look almost identical. The waves will still crash and foam on the jagged rocks, and the giant trees will still line the shores, marching upwards as the coast recedes. I read that Captain James Cook named this place in 1778, although apparently nobody is quite sure why. The popular theory is that he named it after St Perpetua, a Saint from the 3rd century, but there is no solid evidence of this. Whatever the reason, the name seems aptly applied.
Cape Perpetua seems to me to be the wildest place on the Oregon Coast. From most points along the surf-battered coast within this area, one can see no houses or buildings, and can only barely discern the cleft where Highway 101 winds along the steep mountains rising up out of the water. I was first lucky enough to see this fabulous place in April of 2002 when I was on a work trip. A coworker and I had gotten out of our meeting with enough daylight to spare to make a quick run to the coast from Oregon State University in Corvallis. One of the fellows in the meeting pointed us to where we needed to go. We drove through the wonderful green of Suislaw National Forest and then came face to face with the raging ocean. Turning south on the coastal highway, we drove along the winding asphalt (stopping at several turnouts along the way) until we saw the sign heralding "Cape Perepetua". We stepped out of the car in a light spring rain with faint sunlight gleaming in from the west. The roar of the waves could be heard immediately, and we walked down from the road to the rocks below to witness the violent tumult of saltwater, foaming and frothing in a narrow chute between walls of rock. Mesmerizing. My first visit to the Pacific Northwest was no disappointment, other than that we had only an hour to enjoy the ocean front before dark set in and we had to return to town.
A waterfall pours seasonally from a cliff into the ocean, then flows along a narrow channel cut in the rock for 200 feet or more to open ocean. The narrow channel is lined with almost vertical rock, and because it gets more narrow as it recedes back towards land, waves that funnel into this channel are compressed, squashed together, and ultimately magnified in intensity such that when the wave finally does crash, it has grown in height by many feet compared to what it looked like when part of it crashed against the shore further out to sea. The water swells up and down in the vertical cut in the rock with hypnotic energy. Colonies of shiny clams and chalky barnacles grip the rough rock walls, constantly battered by the water. This is called Devilís Churn. One canít help but imagine the fate of the hapless victim who falls into this maelstrom. My impression is that it would not be an experience once would live to tell about. This is part of the fascination. You can stand on the rocky edge of the churn and stare at certain death lying only 15 feet down, and it is beautiful. It beckons to you like a soft dream. It seems aptly named.
Because of my incessant babbling on this magical place, it didnít take much to convince my girlfriend to join me in a trip back to this area later that year. On the last day of August, we drove from Fort Collins to Florence in 2 days. The highlight of the trip was Cape Perpetua, where we spent hours that seemed to fly by just slowly picking among the tidepools filled with tiny fish and anemones, admiring the wicked waves smashing the rocks, and the sluicing of white water down through the millions of mussels and barnacles glued to every outcrop. We camped at the forest service campground near Devilís Churn, and in the foggy morning walked silently to an overlook point high above the ocean where Coast Guards had scanned the horizon for enemy ships in WWII (said the sign). The morning fog lifted and the sun came out and warmed things up. From the lookout one could see miles south along the shore. Not a bad way to spend WWII, sitting in quiet solitude watching some of the most beautiful terrain in the country. We also took a mile-long trail to one of the largest spruce trees in the area, and it was sufficiently large to impress the heck out of me. At 15 feet in diameter, it was raised off the ground a bit where the nurse log it had germinated and grown in had rotted away, and one could duck walk under the tree through a wide, flat tunnel. Andra was fascinated by the numerous 6" long banana slugs we passed on the trail: big as hot dogs, but looking suspiciously like dog terds gone wrong.
Because of her subsequent incessant babbling on this magical place, it didnít take much to convince me that we needed to return once again. So, in late August of 2005, three years after we had first spent hours by the water at Cape Perpetua, we were back (this time as a married couple), doing all the same things we had done on the first trip.
Far from being bored with it after 3 trips, I once again lobbied for a trip to Cape Perpetua in 2007 and Andra and I flew out to Portland, rented a car, and spent 8 days in the area backpacking in the national forest and staying in local motels. Many of those nearby hikes are described in detail individually on the camping page.
I imagine that in another 3 years we'll be back there again. It never gets old, really.