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Cape Arago Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

View north to Shore Acres (bobcat)
Beginning of the Cape Arago Pack Trail (bobcat)
Mushrooms and deer fern, Cape Arago Pack Trail (bobcat)
Looking down on the World War II radar installation, Cape Arago Pack Trail (bobcat)
The sentinel spruces, Shore Acres State Park (bobcat)
Above South Cove, Cape Arago State Park (bobcat)
The trails at Cape Arago (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Cape Arago Pack Trailhead
  • Ending Point: Simpson Reef Viewpoint
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 3.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 710 feet
  • High Point: 535 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes, for older kids
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No
Falling

Contents

Hike Description

The rugged 90-foot cliffs at Cape Arago line three coves with westward tilting bedrock of siltstone, sandstone, and shale. Looking south, you can see to Cape Blanco and Humbug Mountain; looking north from the North Cove viewpoint, you can see the rocks of the Simpson Reef, where thousands of seals and sea lions haul out at low tide. The hike described here, however, first takes you 430 feet up the Arago Ridge, and then descends past a World War II radar post to meander along the cliffs to the Simpson Reef Viewpoint, where you can use binoculars to observe the seal/sea lion activity on Shell Island and do a little whale watching. This loop can also be connected to the Shore Acres Loop Hike via the Oregon Coast Trail at Simpson Beach.

The cape was originally named by George Vancouver in 1778, who called it Cape Gregory in honor of St. Gregory the Great, a 6th century pope. It was renamed Cape Arago in 1850 after the French mathematician, astronomer, and physicist François Arago. In June 1579, Sir Francis Drake is said to have sailed the Golden Hinde into Cape Arago’s South Cove seeking shelter.

Walk past a gate and a line of bollards to pass the sign for the Cape Arago Pack Trail. This trail connects with the old jeep track that once led to Arago Peak. At first you’re hiking up the road to a group campsite. The road bends left, and you’ll see a port-a-potty and picnic tables ahead. Turn off to the right before you reach them on a trail that heads uphill through the dense evergreen huckleberry. You’ll pass a trail coming in from the left: This is your return route on the loop. The path narrows as it winds up and reaches a ridge crest. Make six descending switchbacks on a slope thick with salmonberry under a canopy of Sitka spruce. Step over a creek, and now count five switchbacks up to the Cape Arago Pack-Arago Peak Trail Junction. The Arago Peak Trail leads right for ¾ mile and 200 feet in elevation gain to the forested summit of 734-foot Arago Peak, which is also reached by a gravel logging road from the south.

If you’re not doing the peak, make a left at the junction, and rise a little before descending gradually on this old jeep track. A realtively new trail, as yet unsigned, comes in from the right: This trail begins on the Cape Arago Highway south of the entrance to Shore Acres State Park. Keep dropping as the trail becomes muddy and slathered with black stabilization fabric. A rooty bypass to the right will take you through dense salal thickets and avoids the worst of the mud. Back on the main trail, you’ll pass a rotting picnic table at a former viewpoint. Then, on the left, look out for the roofless remains of a World War II radar installation. Lower down, a short trail leads left to the graffiti decorated building.

The bunker, Station B-28, was a U.S. Army radar site used between 1942 and 1944 to track the approach of enemy aircraft. This section of the Oregon Coast was closed to the public during the war. Up to 50 officers and men were quartered at the Louis J. Simpson mansion at Shore Acres. The large Sitka spruce above the bunker helped to conceal tell-tale shadows of the radar equipment.

From the radar installation, you’re walking on the old army road. Reach the Cape Arago Highway, and walk left about 20 yards to resume the loop on the other side behind a set of bollards. Reach the official route of the Oregon Coast Trail at a junction. Going right will take you to Simpson Beach and the Shore Acres Botanical Gardens (See the Shore Acres Loop Hike). Stay left to pass spurs leading out to crowberry-matted viewpoints looking south along colorful cliffs to the Observatory at Shore Acres and the Cape Arago Lighthouse in the distance. Another viewpoint at two windswept spruce trees offers a vista north to Cape Arago. Then the trail turns into the woods. Keep right at a junction, and descend into a gully. Pass through a tall thicket of salal, and come to the Simpson Reef Viewpoint.

This viewing area looks out over the scattered rocks of the Simpson Reef, the largest being Shell Island. You will almost certainly hear the barking of sea lions. This is Oregon’s largest haul out spot for seals and sea lions, and at low tide a sand bar is exposed on the east side of Shell Island. Literally hundreds of northern elephant seals, California sea lions, Steller sea lions, and harbor seals can be observed. This is also a great whale watching perch, and orcas sometimes patrol the waters looking for an easy meal.

You’ll close the loop by crossing the highway and picking up a trail that leads into the spruce and salal forest. Drop into a deep gully, and cross a footbridge. Wind up steeply on a rooty trail, and then descend into another gully. There’s a steep ascent to the left before you drop again. The trail rises under sprawling waxmyrtles to reach the Cape Arago Pack Trail. Make a right and then a left to return to your vehicle.

There are a couple of other short excursions to make at Cape Arago:

1) Just below the Cape Arago Pack Trailhead, a lumpy, cracked, but paved trail leads down to Cape Arago’s South Cove. Views extend south to Cape Blanco and Humbug Mountain. At low tide, the tide pools here are some of the best on the Oregon Coast. Also the break at Drake Point is very popular with surfers. The point is named after Sir Francis Drake, who may have set anchor in the South Cove, or somewhere nearby, in June 1579.

2) At the main viewing area at Cape Arago, you can take the North Cove Trail. This paved trail leads down above a picnic area. Go left at a junction to switchback down twice and reach a viewpoint. You’ll get views north to the Simpson Reef and the cliffs at Shore Acres. Below you, the surf roils through narrow chasms. From the junction, you can take the trail down to North Cove’s beach, which can be walked at low tide. The beach is closed from March 1st to June 30th during seal pupping season.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Restrooms, picnic area
  • Campground at Sunset Bay State Park
  • Dogs on leash
  • Open dawn to dusk
  • North Cove Trail closed March 1st – June 30th

Maps

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • Exploring the Oregon Coast Trail by Connie Soper
  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Oregon Coast & Coast Range by William L. Sullivan
  • Trips & Trails: Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Hiking Oregon's Geology by Ellen Morris Bishop
  • Best Hikes With Kids: Oregon by Bonnie Henderson & Zach Urness
  • Hiking the Oregon Coast by Lizann Dunegan
  • Hiking Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Hike America: Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • 120 Hikes on the Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson
  • Day Hiking: Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson
  • Out Our Back Door: Driving Tours and Day-Hikes in Oregon’s Coos Region by Tom Baake
  • 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 (e-book)
  • Oregon Coast Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon Campgrounds Hiking Guide by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon's Best Coastal Beaches by Dick Trout
  • Oregon State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Jan Bannan

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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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