Oregon Coast: Shore Acres & Lighthouses, Sept 2016

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

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Cape Arago Lighthouse

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.

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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.

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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.

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beach at Sunset Bay

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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looking down at Simpson Cove
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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view from above South Cove
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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.

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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.

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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.

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view north from jetty

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6 Comments

  1. Another great photo trip of an area I’ve visited many times . You captured it very good . Cape Arago when winter storms come in on a high tide surge , the waves are huge ! also Shore Acres gardens from right after Thanksgiving to New Years day are all lit up with lights and it is an amazing thing to see .

    1. Thank you Rich. We’ve always gone to the northern section of the coast, but we really enjoyed the southern half with great hiking and way fewer people! I’d love to visit Shore Acres sometime when it is all lit up like that. Also in the spring when everything is fresh in bloom 🙂 Merry Christmas to you and your family.

      1. I hope your Christmas was grand and wishing you all the best in the up coming year !

  2. Lisa Kelly says:

    Great report, as always! I remembered reading this when you posted it, so knew I had to come back to this one when I started planning my next trip. I was originally planning to be backpacking in the mountains over 4th of July weekend, but there’s enough snow still that it would be difficult to get into the spots I want to go, so it looks like Brandon and I will be hitting the Oregon coast. We’re basically picking it up where we left off when we had to cut our first trip short, near Oceanside, and finishing up where I left off when I explored the southern coast, in Bandon. I’m looking forward to hiking this area!

    1. Lusha says:

      Awesome! Glad you’ll be able to see the places you missed! Can’t wait to hear about your trip. You’ll love Bandon- where else can you explore sea stacks named The Kittens! We’re in the same boat here- tons of snow in the high country. We’re backpacking the Blue Mountains this weekend. They are some of our lower elevation mountains (5,000-6,000′). The access road just opened up, so we’ll see what we see. We anticipate snow, but at least the springs won’t be dried up. Should be a good warm up backpack. We haven’t been since our pack in April and we’re more than ready!

  3. Lottie says:

    Wow! There are some cool sites here for sure. I love those fanciful rock formations; and the momma seal with her two youngsters. Thanks for the trail reviews!

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