CAPE PERPETUA, coast camping Oregon, Part 1: A good adventure spot

Cape Perpetua, Oregon

From bright sands to high cliffs, the Cape Perpetua campground and scenic area give you a perfect home base for Central Oregon Coast family travel.

Learned

…How to read tide tables… Every visit to the beautiful Oregon Coast is like going there for the first time… Our camper gives us options so we can be nimble when travel plans have to change.

Made

…A hollowed-out spruce tree into a playroom… Wonder at watching whales romp offshore… Stronger friendships through days and nights of romping, skinned knees, and stories around the camp fire.

As summer went on, we completed some fun camping trips. We got to know our camper (and Anthony started getting more confident both about towing it and backing it up). We better understood how we could use our popup’s space. That all meant it was time to cap off the season with a double-campground, summer finale Cape Perpetua camping trip on the Oregon Coast.

Evening fog at the Cape Perpetua overlook might limit the sunset view, but you'll never forget the feeling of the mist closing in around you as it glows with the light of the setting sun.
Evening fog at the Cape Perpetua overlook might limit the sunset view, but you’ll never forget the feeling of the mist closing in around you as it glows with the light of the setting sun.

While we had planned a larger camping trip, we had not planned for this to happen on the coast. Our attentions had been turned east. Across the Cascades, we’d planned camping trips around some of the volcanic gorgeousness near Bend in Central Oregon. Anthony was looking forward to showing Jodie and the kids the vast obsidian fields of Newberry Volcanic National Monument. We wanted to tromp in rivers, smell juniper in the morning, and camp by a crater-side lake.

Unfortunately, the summer wildfire season forced us to change plans.

Coastal canyon camping at Cape Perpetua

North of Florence and south of Newport, and a just a wee bit south of the lovely town of Yachats, there is the evocatively named Cape Perpetua. Just typing that name makes us want to go there. It’s a shivers-down-the-spine name. An “oh, I want to see what’s there and beyond” name.

And, from the tucked-away-in-a-canyon Cape Perpetua Campground to the top of the Cape itself, there is so, so much to see.

Camper name reveal & Cape Perpetua Oregon coast summer camping family video

Check out the rest of the post below for lots more details on family travel, camping, and coast adventures in the Cape Perpetua area. You can also see our family in action in our family travel video:

See the Oregon Coast from the top of Cape Perpetua’s 800-foot headland

Cape Perpetua is one of the tallest points on the Oregon Coast. You can hoof it to the top via hiking trails (there’s about 26 miles of trail throughout the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area). Or, a short winding road can take you from Highway 101 to the top in a few minutes’ drive.

From the top, you can see far up and down the coast. A morning or evening fog might roll in, mists winding through the trees.

Watch for whales

Cape Perpetua can be a great spot for whale watching on the Oregon Coast.
Cape Perpetua can be a great spot for whale watching on the Oregon Coast.

Oregon’s coast is renowned worldwide for its whale watching, especially its primetime spring and winter gray whale migrations.

What’s not as well known?

A few hundred gray whales make the Oregon Coast their year-round home. You never know when the whales might make an appearance (we lucked out and saw some!), but sure to keep an eye out for gray whales romping, spouting, or feeding in the surf.

See the sitka

From the US Forest Service’s Cape Perpetua Campground, the forested hiking trail known as the Giant Spruce Trail cuts into the woods. The end of the road? A massive sitka spruce.

Not just any spruce. The Giant Spruce of Cape Perpetua Heritage Tree started growing around the middle of the 1400s. Today it’s nearly 200 feet tall, and open enough inside for a gaggle of romping kids to hang out.

Off a side trail near the spruce, a small creek feels tucked away, a hidden pool where you can cool your feet and sit a while.

Surf watching

The Cape Perpetua area's accessible trails are great for family hikes.
The Cape Perpetua area’s accessible trails are great for family hikes.

Perpetua is home to one of the Oregon Coast’s most iconic sights. Thor’s Well was probably once a sea cave where the roof collapsed. Maybe it was the Norse god’s beer mug. Or maybe ole Thor one whacked the spot really hard with his hammer.

However it came about, today Thor’s Well is a stunning display. Especially during storms and high tide, surf geysers out of Thor’s Well.

Cook’s Chasm features a spouting horn. It’s another spot where the power of the Pacific Ocean compresses into a small space, then explodes upward in a white froth, not exactly unlike a whale spouting out water.

One of our favorites, Devil’s Churn, is a pretty simple walk down a well-maintained trail. There is some elevation change, but you can go from top to churnside and back in a matter of minutes. It’s another reminder of the ocean’s raw power and dangerous beauty… and another reason to always make sure you have some towels in the car!

Tidepooling

Check the tide tables so your kids can marvel at tide pools during low tide.
Check the tide tables so your kids can marvel at tide pools during low tide.

Tidepooling is all about heading to the shore at the right time. Look over a tide table in advance so you can plan accordingly for low tide. Honestly, we are not always very good at timing our visits, so, whenever we get there we pretty much just take the coast as it is.

Sometimes, though, we get it just right—and it is magical. Little surf pools teem with sea life, full of colors and shapes.

Tide pools are always full of surprises!
Tide pools are always full of surprises!

The Cape Perpetua area was full of activities. Plus, when we wanted a break from the August sun, it was easy enough to tuck away in the campground, back inside a forested canyon where a creek flows. It’s a beautiful spot on the coast, near beaches and in the shadow of the amazing headland.

Sunset at the edge of a continent

Cape Perpetua can inspire even the most adventurous kids to sit and marvel at the scenery for a while.
Cape Perpetua can inspire even the most adventurous kids to sit and marvel at the scenery for a while.

The edge of the continent always amazes. The land behind is so vast… yet the ocean is even vaster.

One evening, we went back up to the top of Perpetua to try to watch the sunset. The Oregon Coast is a tricky place though. It won’t always align with what you sought, but it will always give you something amazing and memorable.

Instead of a blazing summer sunset, we cherished a different sight. A marine fog rolled in, ragged at the edges like a torn long raincoat. Sure, the fog obscured the sunset, but the light over the forest was amazing. Otherworldly. And, with the soft peach and pink colors weaving through the fog, breathtakingly beautiful.

“Daddy, this is a good adventure spot,” said Aster. “Food, check. Water, check. Shore, check. Adventure, check.”

She summed up our time at Perpetua pretty well, but it was also only the start of our coast camper adventure…

Visit Cape Perpetua

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

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