A brook is peeking out from the surrounding green.

Exploring Cape Perpetua on the Oregon Coast

One of our favorite areas on the Oregon Coast, Cape Perpetua offers both hikes in old-growth forests and tidepooling opportunities on the beach. Although the area is popular, we always found quiet spots during our hikes.

The first time we stopped there, our kids were all young, the older ones carrying around their little sister who was still a toddler. Even then we hiked a good part of the old-growth trail starting at the Visitor Center, and walked out to the beach for tidepooling.

Over the years, these two trails became our main activities at Cape Perpetua. Mainly because even when we only had a short time to stop, they are still feasible, giving us the best of both world, deep forests and rocky shores.

We couldn’t pass it without a stop during our latest trip to the Oregon Coast, either. Though the area seems to be getting more crowded every time we visit, it wasn’t too bad, maybe because we stopped shortly before the Visitor Center closed. Since we’ve been in there multiple times over the years, we skipped it, and got right on the trail.

The Nature Trail at Cape Perpetua

The trail took us into a deep forest as soon as we stepped on it and turned a bend. The deep green of the vegetation surrounding me immediately relaxed me, as I slowed down my pace to enjoy it more.

Surrounded by tall pines, and lower vegetation by the trail, the low afternoon sun peeking through the branches of the evergreens.

Pine forest at Cape Perpetua
We were walking in a pine forest.

As we continued, the forest changed, becoming denser and more vibrant. Ferns surrounded us, while moss covered the rocks by the trail, and branches of the trees.

In the forest - Nature Trail at Cape Perpetua, Oregon
As the forest got denser, nature enveloped us.

We were descending and at the bottom of the hill a brook was peeking out from the green of its surroundings.

A brook is peeking out from the surrounding green.
A brook is peeking out from the surrounding green.

We kept going until the trunk of a large fallen tree cut the trail.

6EBCEA2B 1E3A 42C6 BDC5 B9E042071BE5
“It looks like a whale”

“Mom, it looks like a whale,” my daughter said. As I looked at it with the picture of a whale in my mind, I saw what she meant. Do you see the whale in this tree?

We didn’t need to climb over; a narrow passage was cut through the tree trunk so the trail could continue. We walked through.

08EABE0E C8C0 4342 ABED 4B08FA7AF8A8

Shortly after we turned around though. We’ve been on this trail before, and while it continues to the 600-year-old giant Sitka spruce, we decided to skip revisiting it. We wanted to leave time to walk out to the beach, too.

Next Trail: Walking to the Beach

By the time we got back to the Visitor Center, it was closing. We sat down for a few minutes, then got on the trail leading to the opposite direction, towards the beach. We knew this trail well, it was easy enough for toddlers (we walked it with one, years ago), leading out towards an area of the coast filled with tidal pools.

Short and easy, this trail is well maintained, and leads out towards the highway, then under it, to reach one of the most dramatic areas of the Oregon coast.

View from the end of the trail towards the beach at Cape Perpetua
View from the end of the trail towards the beach at Cape Perpetua during low tide.
Grass and tidal pools at Cape Perpetua
View of tidal pools

We walked out onto the beach and joined others in looking for creatures in tidal pools.

790CEA4F 1BA4 4F57 9AB5 8841A9A5440B

Though I remember seeing lots of sea stars on this beach during other visits, I haven’t found any this time. But the sea anemones were beautiful, making the pools look like underwater gardens.

Sea anemones in a tidal pool
The sea anemones look like part of an underwater garden.
BCBD5908 E053 412C 8DE0 0D81A912462B

What’s in a Name? – Why Perpetua?

I’m not sure about you, but I had no idea where a name like Perpetua would come from. Yes, I know, that tells you something about me. However, I was curious, so I looked it up.

Turns out Perpetua was a Christian saint martyr, who lived in an African province of the Roman Empire. I read the story, I learned something new. However, that still didn’t answer my question of why a cape in the Pacific Northwest is named after a saint from Africa.

Especially since people who lived here for thousands of years already named it. The Alsea people lived in the area for at least 6,000 years, hunting, fishing, gathering mussels, crabs, clams on the coast. They called the cape Halaqaik. It meant something like “exposed place”.

Did you ever notice that Native cultures never named places after a person? I keep noticing. On the other hand, the more “civilized” cultures feel the need to name a place after one person… just an observation…

Anyway, we ended up with the name Perpetua because Captain Cook noticed the cape from his boat (from what I read, he never set foot on the cape) on St. Perpetua’s Day, on March 7th. Apparently, it never occurred to him that people might be living there and might have a name for the land formation. Although, to his credit, he used a female saint’s name, instead of his own or one of his friend’s. So in that way, more credit to him. However…

What was wrong with Halaqaik? And what happened to the Alsea people?

The Alsea people lived in Halaqaik pretty undisturbed until the beginning of the nineteen century. At that time, as most stories go on this continent, as they had any connections with the Europeans, smallpox and other diseases decimated them. The remaining population continued to live on their traditional land though with relatively little influence or interaction with the newcomers for a few decades.

In 1856, for a short time, they became part of the Coastal Reservation, which included the cape and its vicinity. However, even this was short-lived.

By 1861 many of the Alsea, along with Coos and Lower Umpqua people, were removed from their ancestral lands and forced to live in the Aldea Subagency. This Subagency, created in 1859, had prison-like conditions, offering inadequate shelter, food and clothing. Many of the Indigenous people died of starvation, diseases, and exposure to elements under those conditions. But even this wasn’t enough.

By 1875 Congress eliminated even this Reservation, to open up the land for European homesteaders. So, naturally, they moved the surviving Indigenous people again, this time to the Siletz Reservation.

So we have the cape named after a Christian martyr, while eliminating its original population to make room for… “progress”? Maybe that’s why we are where we are…

Ancient Halaqaik, named Cape Perpetua, is now part of the Siuslaw National Forest

However, later on, the newcomers (we) started to get things right. At least with naming the new National Forest, established in 1908. The Siuslaw people are one of the Siletz tribes who lived and still live in the area.

The Siuslaw National Forest comprises around 630,000 acres along the Central Oregon coast. It includes diverse ecosystems, from forests to sand dunes, including Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, established in 1960.

Though it closed by the time we would’ve walked in, we explored the Visitor Center in previous trips, with young kids, and enjoyed the hands-on exhibits. We even viewed migrating whales from here during a previous trip.

Though we didn’t do it on this last trip, I remember the drive – and short hike – on top of the Cape. If it’s your first time there, the drive – or hike – is worth it for the view.

The view from the top of Cape Perpetua
The view from the top of Cape Perpetua

View from Cape Perpetua
Cape Perpetua Oregon coast
View from Cape Perpetua on the Oregon coast
Scroll to Top