Thursday, May 5, 2016

Trail to a Parking Lot: The St. Perpetua Trail and an Accessible Alternative

Don't you hate hiking up a steep trail, working hard and sweating, just to arrive at a parking lot? Well, this is one of those hikes, but it is one of our favorites anyway. Beginning in a lush creek bottom and ending at a rocky headland high above the ocean, this trail gains 600 feet of elevation in less than a mile and a half. The relatively short trail makes this a perfect stop during a long drive down the coast, and the views along the way make the                                                                                                     climb more than worth the effort.

Solomon's Seal
Cape Perpetua juts into the sea between Yachats and Florence on the central coast. You will know you are getting close when Highway 101 narrows and begins to twist and wind upward. This hike begins at the Visitor Center parking lot, where you will need to pay a $5 parking fee if you do not have a Northwest Forest Pass (don't forgo this hike because of the fee, though; the Visitor Center is worth a stop, too). Look for the trailhead near the restrooms outside the Center.

The trail here is crowded with forest plants and roofed with tall evergreens. Descend toward sparkling Cape Creek. The Giant Spruce Trail branches off to the right; this worthwhile creekside trail leads to, of all things, a really big spruce tree, estimated to be about 600 years old.

Staying left at the junction, cross the creek and head into the Cape Perpetua Campground. This popular campground is, sadly, only open during the summer season. Sites are tucked near Cape Creek well off of Highway 101 and near everything the Cape Scenic Area has to offer. There is room for most RVs, but accommodations are simple, with no hookups available.

Cross the paved campground road and find the trail, which immediately begins to climb Cape Perpetua in a series of switchbacks. Occasional breaks in the forest wall reveal ever-more-spectacular views, giving ample reason to stop to rest and take photos. Note the changing plant life as you ascend the rocky face, finally bursting from the dim forest onto a south-facing, flower-covered slope. Continue among the grasses and flowers to the top, where you will find a paved overlook. Unless coastal fog has rolled in, plan to spend quite a bit of time taking pictures here. This is also an excellent picnic spot, well-furnished with tables and benches.

Next, follow the short Whispering Spruce Trail along the cliff's edge to a stone shelter built in the 1930s by the CCC. Plan to take more pictures here, then return the way you came.

As for the parking lot...if you are not up to the climb, Cape Perpetua's breathtaking views are still accessible to  you. Just north of the Visitor Center, turn toward the campground and then turn left to drive up Cape Perpetua. A short, paved trail from the parking area leads to the overlook. The Whispering Spruce Trail to the stone shelter is a quarter-mile loop; click here for accessibility details.

On your next drive along 101, take time to enjoy Cape Perpetua's spectacular views. This is one parking lot we can highly recommend.
Indian Paintbrush
Wild Iris

Monkey Flower

Be forewarned, snakes the size of pencils with inflated egos inhabit these areas. They attempt to strike fear into the hearts of humans, but the end result is more one of, "Aww..." To the photographer, this one looks like he just made a terrible pun and is waiting in vain for a response.

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