Fantastic network of trails along ruggedly beautiful coastline and great local history
Distance: 7 miles (longer and shorter options available)
Type: loop or out and back (multiple options)
Difficulty: easy with minimal elevation gain and great trail tread
Best season: all year
For those willing to make an excursion off the Oregon Coast Highway, the stretch from Cape Arago Lighthouse south to Cape Arago offers rugged coastline, picturesque lighthouse, sheltered swimming beach, historic Shore Acres with its stunning gardens, pinniped watching, and great hiking. That’s a lot of fun to pack into a stretch of coastline that’s only five or six miles in length!
After a long day’s journey from our home in SE Washington to Florence, Oregon, we were anxious to hit the trail and see some great ocean views. We started the day with a delicious breakfast at the Little Brown Hen and then headed south on highway 101. Thick early morning fog had cleared off and a beautiful sunny day awaited us.
About ten miles south of Florence we pulled into Oregon Dunes Day Use Area where we walked the short distance to the viewpoint. Between the viewpoint and ocean was a wide strip of forest and dunes. There was a network of trails here that looked interesting enough if we had more time. But for now, we continued south.
Our next stop was a quick visit to the Umpqua Lighthouse. I was disappointed to find the lighthouse behind a fence at an active Coast Guard station with clear instructions for the general public not to enter the fenced area. Between the angle of the morning sun and fence, there was no way to get a photo that I was pleased with. I snapped a few shots and we continued south.
We drove south through the towns of North Bend and Coos Bay, following signs for Charleston. We continued three miles south to the picnic area at Sunset Bay State Park where our hike would begin. At first, I pulled into the first parking area closest to the large swimming beach before realizing the trail would begin near the restrooms at the next large parking area just to the south.
From the second parking area, we crossed a footbridge to the right of the restrooms and found the Oregon Coast Trail heading south toward Shore Acres State Park. We walked a short distance along the creek and then the trail turned uphill into the forest and along the rim of some cliffs. The trail alternated between areas of forest and superb ocean views north to Sunset Bay and Arago Lighthouse.
The trail skirted the perimeter of a group camp and after roughly a mile from Sunset Bay looped back around to the road. Here we hiked along the road for a short distance before the trail reappeared along the right hand shoulder. The trail paralleled below the road for roughly a quarter mile before intersecting with a short viewpoint trail coming down off the road. Here the trail headed away from the road and into the forest along an old single lane dirt road which was the original access road to the Simpson Mansion at Shore Acres. We followed this a short distance before turning onto an unmarked trail on the right. I believe this is the official route along the coast trail, but there were no markers indicating such.
Once again, we were on trail following cliff tops that towered above rugged ocean shoreline. We passed several great viewpoints in this stretch. At one viewpoint, we could see down to a momma harbor seal with two youngsters. They were adorable and we enjoyed watching them for several minutes.
The stretch of trail between Sunset Bay and Shore Acres was peaceful and quiet with only a few other hikers about. I was pleased with the solitude considering this was the Oregon Coast on Labor Day weekend.
At about two miles from Sunset Bay, the trail wrapped us around the cliffs and brought us into Shore Acres State Park, site of the old Simpson Mansion. We would see a lot more people here, but not bad for a holiday weekend. The first thing we saw was an area of fanciful sand formations, then the remains of the old tennis courts. Next we headed over to the observation building which was built on the site of the old mansion. Here we found a nice interpretive display that gave the history of the area (summarized below).
Perched on a scenic bluff high above the Pacific Ocean, Shore Acres began as a private estate on 1,600 acres with luxurious gardens brought from around the world by lumberman and shipbuilder Louis Simpson. Simpson came to Coos Bay in the late 1890s. He began buying the shoreline in pieces beginning in 1906. Simpson developed the summer home into a showplace 3 story mansion completed in 1908. An expansion in 1914 included an indoor swimming pool, nine guest rooms, and large ballroom. By 1915, the Simpsons began living in the mansion year round. The grounds featured five acres of formal gardens, including a Japanese style garden built around a 100’ lily pond.
Simpson’s wife Cassie fell ill in 1920 and passed in April 1921. Then, just three months later, fire destroyed the mansion on July 4th, 1921. The cause of the fire was never determined. Simpson began to build an even larger replacement in 1927, two stories high and 224’ long. Financial losses during the Depression caused both house and ground to fall into disrepair. In 1932, he donated the Cape Arago portion of the estate to the State of Oregon. In 1942, Shore Acres was purchased by the state of Oregon for use as a public park.
From the observation building, we followed a trail downhill to Simpson Cove, a beautiful beach area in a rocky cove below the old mansion site. We took a break here and enjoyed the beautiful late morning before heading up to the gardens.
The Shore Acres gardens were beautiful, but they would be much more so earlier in the season with more things in bloom. My favorite part was the heron statues in the beautiful pond.
Finishing up at Shore Acres, we crossed the parking lot and found our exit trail immediately north of the pay booth for the park. This led us down back down the original road into Shores Acres. We even found the old entrance pillars, which thrilled the history buff in me.
After roughly a quarter mile, we rejoined the trail we came in on and followed that back to Sunset Bay where we completed a lovely 4.85 mile loop.
By now it was early afternoon and the temperature was in the upper 60s—perfect coastal weather. Next we drove the short distance south from Sunset Bay, past the entrance for Shore Acres, to Cape Arago State Park. Here we hiked to South Cove and the North Cove viewpoint. We had some great sea lion spotting from North Cove. This leg of our hike came in at 1.75 miles.
On our way back through Coos Bay we stopped for an early dinner at The Blue Heron (great German cuisine) and short stroll along the boardwalk.
Finishing up at Coos Bay, we headed south on highway 101 toward Bandon. Just north of Bandon, we turned toward Bullard’s Beach State Park and drove along the Coquille River to the end of the road and made the short walk over to the Coquille River Lighthouse. I found this to be one of the more beautiful lighthouses on the coast for photography. The lighthouse is set back off the ocean a short distance at the end of a long jetty and the late afternoon light made for good photography conditions.
Sometime I’d like to go back and hike the 5 mile loop here along the long sandy beach and river. The coastline here wasn’t particularly scenic compared to other stretches of the coast, but it looked like a lovely stretch of beach without very many people and I think the stretch along the Coquille River would likely be good for bird watching.