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Cape Blanco Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Hiking up from Needle Rock, South Beach, Cape Blanco (bobcat)
Looking toward the Elk River Mouth and Humbug Mountain, South beach, Cape Blanco (bobcat)
Needle Rock, South Beach, Cape Blanco (bobcat)
Seaside daisy (Erigeron glaucus), Cape Blanco ( (bobcat)
Lighthouse, Cape Blanco (bobcat)
Sea watch (Angelica lucida), Cape Blanco (bobcat)
View to Gull Rock, Castle Rock, and Blacklock Point, Cape Blanco (bobcat)
Sketch showing the loops at Cape Blanco (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Cape Blanco TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Cape Blanco Lighthouse
  • Trail log:
  • Hike Type: Loops
  • Distance: 9.4 miles; shorter options available
  • Elevation gain: 435 feet
  • High Point: 245 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes, in shorter sections
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Only at the Cape Blanco Lighthouse

Contents

Hike Description

Cape Blanco is Oregon’s westernmost point on the mainland and the site of one of the state’s 12 lighthouses, constructed here in 1870. The Cape is also the first documented part of Oregon recorded in European exploration: in 1603, Martín de Aguilar, part of a Spanish expedition, sighted the headland and named it for its light-colored 250-foot cliffs. The Cape Blanco Lighthouse is about as close as you’ll get to that western point, as the end of the headland is part of a Coast Guard Reserve, not in the state park, and out of bounds to the public. However, there are many miles of walking in the state park itself, including to beaches north and south, a couple of river mouths, and trails to link them all. Offshore are numerous sea stacks, all part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness. Bear in mind that Cape Blanco, jutting out as it does, often suffers from fierce winds and, even during balmy summer months, may collect a dense fog bank that restricts visibility. Note that some online sources give Cape Blanco as the westernmost point in the lower 48 states, but that distinction actually belongs to Cape Alava in Washington.

You can split this hike into two or more segments:

  • Cape Blanco South (including the lighthouse): 3.9 miles + 2.1 miles extra out and back along the beach to the Elk River Mouth
  • Cape Blanco North (including the lighthouse): 4.2 miles


Park at the Cape Blanco Trailhead rather than at the Cape Blanco Lighthouse if you’re intent on doing the south or north loops or both.

First, take in the views from the parking area. The Cape Blanco Lighthouse is to the west. Looking north, see across a bay of sea stacks, including Gull Rock and Castle Rock at the Sixes River Mouth. The next cape north is Blacklock Point. Walk to the south edge of the parking area, and look down on Needle Rock, a lone beach-stranded stack with almost vertical walls. Two and a half miles down the beach is the Elk River Mouth. The group of sea stacks known as Blanco Reef line up off Cape Blanco: these are the westernmost pieces of territory in the state of Oregon. Farther south, past Port Orford Heads, Humbug Mountain dominates the horizon.

To walk the south loop, head back along the park entrance road 100 yards, and find the South Cape Trail, part of the Oregon Coast Trail, leading off through a five-foot high thicket of evergreen huckleberry and salal. Summer blooms here include coast iris, sneezeweed, and gumweed. A viewpoint offers a chance to use your binoculars to scout for gray whales: mothers with calves can be seen at Blanco Reef in summer, while larger of numbers of spouting whales might be spotted during the winter and spring migration seasons. Enter a dense Sitka spruce/shore pine woodland of the sort that covered the whole cape until it was logged to create space for the lighthouse. The trail meanders along the western fringe of the state park’s campground with a few spurs leading in to the campsites. Watch for scurrying cottontail rabbits. Reach a grassy bluff with a bench that offers an expansive view south to Port Orford Heads and Humbug Mountain.

Walk in from the bluff to the beach road at the north end of the campground. Find the Oregon Coast Trail leading into the dense woods: for a shorter excursion, simply follow the road down to the beach. The trail emerges from the forest at another grassy viewpoint looking out on the sea stacks, and then, after briefly reentering the forest, descends on a sandy track to the beach.

It’s about a mile from here to the Elk River Mouth. Atop the low bluffs are private sheep and dairy cattle pastures. There’s a shallow slough on the beach, so keep to the west of this to come to the river mouth. In several decades, the Elk River has wandered north along the beach for a mile from its original egress point and is now separated from the ocean by Tituna Spit. The river is fordable here for Oregon Coast Trail hikers in the summer. It’s a long flat sandy stretch down to Port Orford.

Return up the beach, passing the beach access road which the occasional vehicle might use to cruise the sands. A small creek enters the ocean here. Driftwood has been pushed against the sandstone bluffs and, at the highest of tides, you won’t be able to get through. Otherwise, stick to the hard wet sand as you hike north with the cliffs of Cape Blanco before you and Needle Rock in the near distance. Offshore, there are the rocky islets of Blanco Reef: Black Rock, actually a sea arch, Split Rock, and Barrel Rock with their satellites. Farther out to sea is little NW Rock, technically Oregon's westernmost piece of territory. When you reach Needle Rock, find the small window on its ocean side, and look up to see the silhouettes of sunbathing cormorants. Monkey flower blooms in cascading clusters on the Rock’s south face. Opposite Needle Rock, find a trail that leads up through the beach grass, where you’ll find seashore lupine and seaside daisy blooming in the summer.

For the in and out trip to the Cape Blanco Lighthouse, the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in Oregon, follow the park road into the Coast Guard Reserve (No off-trail travel is permitted here.). If you’re here during the tour season, someone will greet you at the parking area and tell you when you can take a tour ($2 for adults; free to those under 16): Sometimes you can go straight in, but people are only allowed in ones and twos up to the Fresnel lens. There’s a greeting center here with a mural of Oregon Coast lighthouses. The light was constructed in 1870, after the Cape’s spruce forest was leveled to accommodate it. You can’t hike beyond the lighthouse lawn, but looking out towards the cliff edge, you may spot deer browsing among the thickets.

Return the Cape Blanco Trailhead again, and prepare yourself for the north loop. The trail departs to the right of the road to the lighthouse past clumps of seaside daisy that bloom in the summer. Soon, you’ll reach the beach and get a view of the cliffs on the north side of Cape Blanco. Start walking north along the strand. Close in are a group of smaller rocks, while the large rock farther out is Gull Rock. It’s about a mile and a half to the Sixes River Mouth, where you can view massive Castle Rock and its ancillary rocks offshore. Return along the beach about 400 yards, and find the mowed River Trail leading into the sedge flats of the Sixes River Estuary. Pass through a gate, after which you may encounter grazing cattle and, across the river itself, you’ll see the outbuildings of a local dairy farm.

In less than half a mile, go right at a junction, and hike up an old farm road, negotiate a gate in a fence, and pass through shore pine, wax myrtle and spruce thickets (Keeping straight here will take you to the Sixes River Trailhead, another option to begin the north loop; also in this direction is the historic 1898 Hughes House, the old ranch house for this area, which also connects via trails to the park campground). After heading uphill, come to a spur that leads right to offer another view of the bay from a 200-foot vantage point. The trail soon splits: keep right to follow the path as it keeps to the edge of the bluff in salal and evergreen huckleberry thickets. After bending around a gully, the trail crosses a grassy bench. Reach the park entrance road near its junction with the campground road, and walk up the former a quarter mile to your vehicle.


Maps

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Dogs on leash
  • Lighthouse tours April through October, Wednesday to Monday 10:00 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. ($2 for adults; free for those under 16)
  • Respect Area Closed signs at the Cape Blanco Lighthouse
  • Lighthouse grounds closed sunset to sunrise
  • Restrooms at the lighthouse
  • Campground with showers, restrooms
  • Picnic tables and port-a-potty at the Sixes River Trailhead

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Oregon Coast & Coast Range by William L. Sullivan
  • Hiking Oregon’s History by William L. Sullivan
  • Day Hiking: Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson
  • 120 Hikes on the Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson
  • Oregon’s Best Wildflower Hikes: Southwest Region by Elizabeth L. Horn
  • Out Our Back Door: Driving Tours and Day-Hikes in Oregon’s Coos Region by Tom Baake
  • From Sea to Summit: The R.A.D. Guide to Hiking in Curry County, Oregon by the R.A.D. Outdoor Club
  • Oregon Campgrounds Hiking Guide by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • Exploring the Oregon Coast Trail by Connie Soper
  • Oregon Coast Hikes by Paul M. Williams
  • Oregon Coast Trail: Hiking Inn to Inn by Jack D. Remington
  • The Oregon Coast Trail Guide by Jon Kenneke (eBook)
  • Oregon’s Best Coastal Beaches by Dick Trout
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Jan Bannan
  • The Dog Lover’s Companion to Oregon by Val Mallinson
  • Canine Oregon by Lizann Dunegan

More Links


Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.