Visiting Cape Perpetua on the Oregon Coast

Thinking of visiting Cape Perpetua? You won’t regret it!

View from the Overlook at Cape Perpetua on the Central Oregon Coast
Taking in the view from the Overlook at Cape Perpetua on the Oregon Coast

Where else can you find an old-growth forest suspended above the highest car-accessible viewpoint on the Oregon Coast?

Just outside of Yachats on Oregon’s central coast and tucked into the Siuslaw National Forest, the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area promises ridiculous views, coastal trails, spouting rock formations, a collapsed coastal cave, and unfettered access to nature.

The Cape was named by Captain James Cook who set eyes on the rugged headland on March 7, 1778, the same date the 3rd century Christian martyr Saint Perpetua was put to death in the ancient city of Carthage.

All of the following natural attractions of Cape Perpetua are easily reached by driving and taking short walks but, if you’re able, I highly recommend the well-marked and less-traveled trail system in the area.

Let Spinny the Wandering Poodle lead you on a Cape Perpetua walking tour here!

Are you looking for my full 20-stop road trip along the Oregon Coast? Here it is:

Peter Iredale Shipwreck

Read on for the things you must see in Cape Perpetua. Let’s dive in!

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Visiting Cape Perpetua Overlook via the Saint Perpetua National Recreation Trail

Sure, this is the highest overlook on the Oregon Coast that is accessible by car, but why drive when you can walk?

Wildflowers at Cape Perpetua
Wildflowers along the trail above Cape Perpetua

Park at the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center and snag a trail map. Here you will find the Saint Perpetua National Recreation Trail, a beautiful and quiet trail with switchbacks climbing through an old-growth forest and leading to the Cape Perpetua Overlook some 800 feet above the lava fingers that jut and disrupt the wild surf of the Pacific Ocean below.

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It’s a moderately difficult hike of 2.8 miles round trip from the Visitor Center and a 700-foot elevation gain, but the effort will make you appreciate the sweeping coastline views that much more.

Lens of Jen at the top of the Cape Perpetua Overlook
I earned this view after that hike!

Visiting Cape Perpetua Stone Shelter

Once you’ve taken in the views at the top, find the Whispering Spruce Trail and walk 0.2 miles to the rock shelter built in the 1930s by the young men of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps.

The rock shelter at Cape Perpetua
The rock shelter near the Cape Perpetua Overlook

Then it’s time to turn around and head back to the Visitors Center via the Whispering Spruce and Saint Perpetua trails.

A dog at the rock shetler at cape perpetua
Dogs are welcome on the trail and Spinny the Wandering Poodle loved this hike!

Spouting Horn at Cook’s Chasm

View of Cape Perpetua
We are heading all the way down there!

Back at the Saint Perpetua Visitors Center, find Captain Cook Trail (0.8 miles round trip) and check out the tide pools before watching the water spray from the Spouting Horn at Cook’s Chasm.

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This is an ocean geyser where the pressure from seawater and air builds until the water explodes from a hole in the rock.

The best time to visit the Spouting Horn is at high tide and the best time to visit the tide pools is at low tide.

Thor’s Well is Cape Perpetua’s Star Attraction

From the Spouting Horn, look to your right at the natural phenomenon of Thor’s Well.

Thor's Well at Lake Perpetua
Thor’s Well at Cape Perpetua

This is what I mean when I write that Cape Perpetua provides unfettered access to nature. You can pick your way over the basalt rocks, walk right up to this collapsed sea cave, and watch the water funnel in from the ocean and down to the bottom of the deep hole before shooting out in violet bursts that can reach as high as 20 feet.

Thor's Well at Cape Perpetua
The water as it empties…
Thor's Well at Lake Perpetua
And as it fills and overflows

It’s important to use extreme caution at Thor’s Well. Keep an eye out for sneaky waves that can sweep a person into the well, which is also called the “Gate to Hell”. I grew up one hour from the Oregon Coast and this remains one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in my years of exploration here. But I’m going to say it again: Be careful.

Thor’s Well offers up its best showtimes from about an hour before high tide until about an hour after high tide.

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Visiting Cape Perpetua’s Quietest Attraction: Cape Cove

So many people miss this hidden beach because they head back to the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center Parking lot and drive to the next stop at Devil’s Churn.

Cape Cove at Cape Perpetua
Cape Cove

But you don’t want to miss this little piece of heaven hiding between the Gate to Hell and Devil’s Churn!

Instead of driving, trace your steps back over the Captain Cook Trail until it meets the Cape Cove Trail. Follow it 0.3 miles. You can stay on the trail and enjoy the overlook of this quiet cove, or head down to the beach where you may just be the only person in sight.

A poodle at Cape Cave at Lake Perpetua
Spinny the Wandering Poodle says “take this trail right here!”

From here, follow the Trail of the Restless Waters 0.2 miles to Devil’s Churn.

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Devil’s Churn

This narrow inlet is fun to watch when waves rush into it. You can get really close to the churn if you take the stairs and perch on the rocks to watch nature’s show. Best viewed at high tide or during a storm. (Be really careful to avoid the waves if the water is rushing too high onto the rocks.)

After you get your National Parks Passport stamped at the little information center in the Devil’s Churn parking lot, retrace your steps for a half-mile back to the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center. Job well done!

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Where is the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center?

Address: 2400 US-101, Yachats, OR 97498

The visitors center is located two miles south of Yachats and just a three-hour drive from Portland.

$5 per vehicle day-use fee (Or use your National Forest Recreation Pass, Northwest Forest Pass or National Park Service Pass)

Where is the Devil’s Churn Day Use Area

Just a 0.2-mile drive north of the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center, the small parking lot at Devil’s Churn also has a little information center where you can get a Cape Perpetua cancellation stamp for your National Parks Passport.

It has its own $5 per vehicle day-use fee if you don’t have one of the accepted passes (National Forest Recreation Pass, Northwest Forest Pass or National Park Service Pass).

Visiting Cape Perpetua During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Maps are still available at the Devil’s Churn Information Center and at kiosks outside the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center, which was closed during my visit in August 2020. Restrooms were open at both locations with regular cleaning schedules.

I was able to get my National Park Passport stamped with the Cape Perpetua cancellation stamp at the small Devil’s Churn Information Center (more like a kiosk), which was still staffed.

You can also print a Cape Perpetua trail map using this link.

Where to Stay Near Cape Perpetua

The nearby town of Yachats is somewhat sleepy and entirely adorable. If you can find a coveted Inn or home for rent within Yachats, do it!

Here is a map of homestays and hotels nearby:

Camping at or Near Cape Perpetua

Cape Perpetua Campground

Camping here would be ideal! If you take the Saint Perpetua Trail, you will walk right past the Cape Perpetua Campground. They do not take reservations in advance, so it’s a risk to get in. But worth it if you make it!

South Beach State Park Campground

The South Beach State Park campgrounds are 30 minutes north of Cape Perpetua near Newport. You can book up to 30 days in advance here.

South Beach State Park
Sunset at South Beach State Park

I stayed here for four nights in August 2020 and it was a great experience. The RV zone is separated from the tent zone, bathrooms are clean, and a park in the middle of the campgrounds serves as a communal gathering space for all.

South Beach State Park Campground
A yurt at the South Beach State Park Campground (not available during the pandemic)

Most showers were closed due to COVID-19 and you couldn’t rent any of the awesome yurts, but it was still a great place to stay.

Dogs are welcomed.

Hipcamp

It can be hard to find a place to stay on the Oregon Coast during the high season (June – mid-September), even if you’re just looking for a little spot to put your tent.

If the campgrounds are booked and you don’t want to risk the first-come, first-served thing, try Hipcamp! This is a site where people rent out space on their property for cheap. I’ve found this to be a really fun, communal experience where you can often sit around the campfire swapping stories.

For $10 off your HipCamp experience, use this code: JENNF43A44

What’s the Best Time to Visit Cape Perpetua?

A couple at the top of Cape Perpetua
I snapped a picture of this sweet couple at Cape Perpetua

Most people are going to tell you the summertime is the best season to visit Cape Perpetua and the Oregon Coast in general…but not me.

I grew up here and I often avoid the Oregon coast in the summer. I LOVE the coast literally every other time of the year when few people come and the rain whips up the waters.

That being said, the coastal weather isn’t for everyone.

If you’re looking for warm(er) weather on the Oregon Coast, visit between July and early September.

If you liked this post about visiting Cape Perpetua, check out my other posts on visiting Oregon or see some of my favorite hikes here!

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5 Comments on “Visiting Cape Perpetua on the Oregon Coast”

  1. I’ve always had a lot of intrigue for Oregon. Think it’s the combination of rugged coast and inland scenery. This blog rubber stamps it Jen. A nice little hike, but I’d be wary around the gates to hell.

    • Oh, I hope you come to Oregon, John! It is a beautiful land to explore! Thank you for reading and for putting Oregon on your potential travel list!

  2. Say what?? How is it that I am American but have never heard of Cape Perpetua?? But also, that Captain James Cook actually landed on the American mainland? This is why I love travel blogs. YOU LEARN SO MUCH!

    Ok, this is on my list now 🙂

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