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Cape Arago Lighthouse

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Cape Arago Lighthouse from Sunset Bay State Park (bobcat)


The Cape Arago Lighthouse is not at Cape Arago at all, but sits on long, narrow Chief's Island off Gregory Point. The first lighthouse here was constructed in 1866, but what you see is the sturdier third incarnation of a light (1934). The first and second (1908) versions have been demolished along with other buildings on the island. The island, once densely wooded, was completely logged to allow for greater visibility. At first, lighthouse keepers could only reach the island by boat, a short but fraught journey that resulted in at least one death, but several low bridges were built, each successively destroyed by winter storms. A wire-rope tramway was strung offering a rather dubious higher passage, but this remedy ended when the cable broke and an assistant fell to the rocks below, an accident that resulted in the amputation of his leg. Eventually a high bridge was constructed in 1898, the pedestals of which are still visible today.

The current light was deactivated in 2006, and the high bridge was dismantled in 2008. Chief's Island and Gregory Point were part of a Coast Guard Reservation, but in 2013 the area was signed over to the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians. There are extensive middens, a village site, and an Indian burial ground on Gregory Point, and public access is not permitted.

The best viewpoints to the lighthouse are from Shore Acres State Park (See the Shore Acres Loop Hike) and Yoakam Point. The lighthouse can also be more closely viewed from Lighthouse Beach, reached via a public beach path off Lighthouse Way. There's a natural bridge on the north end of Chief's Island.

If you're looking at the lighthouse from Sunset Bay State Park, you'll see Qochyax (pronounced Coke-yaw) Island, formerly Squaw Island, and its stand of dead spruce trees at the mouth of Sunset Bay. The trees all died in 2007, the effect of a nesting colony of double-crested cormorants and their deposits of guano. There's a large sea cave on the south side of the island. The island was never settled, but in 1859 it became a refuge for Coos Indian women and children during the forced relocation of southern coast tribes north to the Alsea Sub-agency of the Siletz Reservation. The sound of the pounding surf drowned out the cries of infants, and Coos men who had concealed themselves in the hill forests fetched the women after the soldiers had gone.

For years, the island was a the subject of a settler story about "buried treasure" and saw some wishful but unsuccessful prospecting. The island is now part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness, and public access is not permitted.

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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.

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