If you’re going to visit just one beach in Oregon, I highly recommend it be Cape Perpetua. Why? Well, it’s already overrun, so one more visitor (or ten more visitors) won’t make much difference. Second, you get bragging rights to say that you’ve personally seen Thor’s Well, which is often spectacularly portrayed by aspiring photographers. And third, you can explore old lava flows, tide pools, and nearby forests and see sea life, incredible waves and volcanic oddities, and a truly inspiring view from the top of a headland. And all of that in less than 4 miles of hiking. Can you see why I loved visiting this place?
We began our visit very, very early one misty morning in August (living on Eastern Time and visiting Oregon has its perks, like beating out the crowds!) From the parking area, take the crosswalk across the road, then follow the paved trail downward past the old CCC camp to the tunnel under US-101 (thank you – I appreciate not having to dodge traffic!)
On the other side of the highway, turn left (I recommend doing this first, but of course you can turn right if you want – we’ll get to that later) to walk down the paved pathway to the Spouting Horn Overlook, about 0.4 miles from the trailhead. I hear that in stormy weather the water comes up through the horn and spouts impressively, but that day it wasn’t even glubbing, so it was unimpressive to say the least.
From near the Spouting Horn Overlook – and no one will tell you this – drop down off the pavement to walk across the old lava flow to Thor’s Well (the place with a whole lot of people standing around looking down past their feet). I’d guess the reason the Well is so well hidden is that, first, you can’t see it until you’re on top of it, and second, it’s so dangerous – there’s nothing to keep someone from falling in. So keep your distance, and if the waves are even looking like they might possibly, on some crazy whim, come up over the rocks, just stay far, far, far away, ok?
The day we visited, the weather was less than stormy, and the tides were fairly low, so we really weren’t in much danger. We came back at high tide and really enjoyed watching the Well glub and swish as the tide rushed in to fill it, then sucked itself out again, leaving the water streaming off of the sea life attached to the sides of the Well. The Well itself is part of an old lava tube. Part of the roof collapsed, but the tube still goes out into the sea and so water can flow in and out of it at will – pretty neat!
Because it was low tide, we wandered around for a bit looking at the tide pools in the old lava flow. That was really cool, especially the canyons through the rock where the waves serge in, then out again, often with impressive spray as the waves hit the volcanic walls. Some of the tide pools “glub” as water rushes in from some under-rock source – that was pretty cool! The sea life in the tide pools was also fascinating.
After wandering around for a bit, we walked back up to the tunnel under the highway again (by the way, there is more than one way up back to the paved path, so you don’t necessarily have to retrace your steps the whole way). By this time we’d walked about 1.75 miles, and that we quite a bit of exploring, and (oh hurray!) the sun had broken through the mist. We bypassed the tunnel and continued straight (what would be right if you’re coming out of the tunnel).
From an overlook not far along the trail, we ended up seeing what none of the eight of us have ever seen, even with all our visits to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans: We saw our very first whale in the wild, spouting as it came up for air! Oh, how exciting was that!?!
Continuing along the trail, we bypassed the Cove Beach Trail and continued along to the Churn, which is down about a quarter mile of stairs (that trail is steep!) and about 0.75 miles from the tunnel under the highway. But the views are worth it – waves rush into a volcanic chasm, then shoot upward as they encounter the sides and end of the Churn. And the water certainly does churn!
As we sat nearby, eating lunch and enjoying the show, a seal poked its head up and observed the phenomena for a bit before swimming back out to sea.
We walked back to enjoy Thor’s Well at high tide (the Well is definitely best in the hour following high tide), then drove up to the top of the nearby headland to take in the view from above… but that’s the topic of another post!
Round Trip Trail Length: I hiked a total of 3.75 miles; you could do it in much less (probably see Thor’s Well and the Churn in around 2.5 miles)
Net Elevation Change: 148ft. (153ft. at the parking area to 5ft. near the tide pools)
Facilities: Restrooms at both the visitor center and the “parking area” sort of near the Churn; visitor information at the visitor center; picnic area atop the headland
Fees: $5 per day; Northwest Forest Passes & Interagency Passes also accepted (Note – this is enforced. I had written our information on a fee envelope and left it in the windshield, but apparently they didn’t see it because they very kindly left us another fee envelope under our windshield wiper. Sigh.)
Trail Notes: Be extremely careful with the ocean – waves can come up at any time and wash you right off the rock (which would be fatal, by the way). Also be careful on the uneven rocks around the tide pools and Churn. The trails in the area are almost all paved, so that makes for easier walking.
Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this?
Key GPS Coordinates for Cape Perpetua
Cape Perpetua Parking: 44.28038N / -124.10809W (44° 16′ 49.3680″ / -124° 6′ 29.1240″) (8ft.)
Trail beginning: 44.28083N / -124.10854W (44° 16′ 50.9880″ / -124° 6′ 30.7440″) (153ft.) (0.0; ended 3.75)
CCC camp: 44.28001N / -124.10870W (44° 16′ 48.0354″ / -124° 6′ 31.3194″) (104ft.) (500ft.)
Horn Overlook: 44.27789N / -124.11259W (44° 16′ 40.4034″ / -124° 6′ 45.3234″) (56ft.) (0.4)
Thor’s Well: 44.27845N / -124.11346W (44° 16′ 42.4194″ / -124° 6′ 48.4560″) (12ft.) (0.55)
Spout Hole in a Tide Pool: 44.27980N / -124.11237W (44° 16′ 47.2800″ / -124° 6′ 44.5314″) (5ft.) (0.92)
Trail Up from Beach: 44.27948N / -124.11170W (44° 16′ 46.1274″ / -124° 6′ 42.1194″) (22ft.) (1.05)
Trail under the highway / trail split: 44.27964N / -124.10989W (44° 16′ 46.7040″ / -124° 6′ 35.6034″) (74ft.) (1.17) (return 3.57)
Cove Beach Trail Junction: 44.28191N / -124.10854W (44° 16′ 54.8760″ / -124° 6′ 30.7440″) (38ft.) (1.51)
Up to Parking: 44.28291N / -124.10992W (44° 16′ 58.4760″ / -124° 6′ 35.7120″) (45ft.) (1.66; return 2.40)
Churn: 44.28408N / -124.11102W (44° 17′ 2.6880″ / -124° 6′ 39.6714″) (19ft.) (1.87; left 2.01)
Upper Viewpoint: 44.28388N / -124.11114W (44° 17′ 1.9680″ / -124° 6′ 40.1040″) (98ft.) (2.08)
Churn Trail: 44.28152N / -124.10902W (44° 16′ 53.4720″ / -124° 6′ 32.4720″) (99ft.) (2.59)
The gpx file for this part of Cape Perpetua & Thor’s Well can be downloaded – please note that this and the GPS Coordinates are for reference only and should not be used as a sole resource when hiking this trail.
Download GPS File size: 109.2 KB Downloaded 17 times
(Note: I do my best to ensure that all downloads, the webpage, etc. are virus-free and accurate; however, I cannot be held responsible for any damage that might result, including but not limited to loss of data, damages to hardware, harm to users, from use of files, information, etc. from this website. Thanks!)
Getting to Cape Perpetua
From Yachats, OR, drive south on US-101S about 3 miles. Turn left near the sign for the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center. Drive up the road 0.25 miles, then turn right to enter the parking area.
Or from Florence, OR, drive north on US-101N 22 miles. Turn right near the sign for the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center. Drive up the road 0.25 miles, then turn right to enter the parking area.
Note: This parking area will fill up quickly; more parking is available back north up the road nearer to the Churn.
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Mon Dec 11
A good deal of sunshine. High 58F. Winds ESE at 10 to 15 mph.
Tue Dec 12
Partly cloudy skies. High 56F. Winds light and variable.
Wed Dec 13
Some clouds in the morning will give way to mainly sunny skies for the afternoon. High 57F. Winds light and variable.
Thu Dec 14
Partly cloudy skies. High 56F. Winds light and variable.
Fri Dec 15
Chance of Rain
Rain showers early with mostly cloudy conditions later in the day. High 52F. Winds NNW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 40%.