An angry sea on Oregon’s South Coast
Zach Urness/Daily Courier

Sunset Bay State Park on the Oregon Coast.

A hike from Sunset Bay State Park to Cape Arago offers wonderful beach views along with access to a unique floral garden. Its weather also answers the question of why Oregon’s South Coast isn’t a spring break destination for college students.

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By Zach Urness of the Daily Courier

COOS BAY — No one will ever mistake the mood of Oregon’s southern coast in February as happy-go-lucky.

The overcast days of heavy wind, driving rain and a violently crashing surf project the aura of a drunken sailor raging through a barroom looking for a fight.

Long waves rumble in steadily from the open ocean and explode in bursts of white silver upon basalt rocks that guard the coastline like jagged black teeth.

The only indication of lighthearted joy along these shores is the happy bark of sea lions and harbor seals, which congregate atop big stone islands and bask in the rain as though it were a far better phenomenon than sunshine.

I made these judgments on the coast’s emotional status during a hike from Sunset Bay State Park to Cape Arago, where I enjoyed the full wrath of Pacific Ocean weather while exploring a short stretch of the Oregon Coast Trail.

The one lesson I learned during this trip was that while you may think your boots are waterproof, there is no space-age technology conceived by man that can keep your feet totally dry during a rainy day on the Oregon Coast.

Many sections of the trail were soggy or even partly under water. I was splashed a few times by the aforementioned exploding waves. And naturally, after I’d hiked roughly 21⁄2 miles, a day which began with the promise of rain-free sky, blessed me with a prodigious dose of precipitation.

And while walking through puddles, being rained upon and taking a few unintended saltwater showers do have a way of dampening even the best laid plans, my day was spent following the salty bluffs of the Oregon Coast.

That’s something I don’t regret.

The trail began at Sunset Bay State Park, roughly 12 miles south of Coos Bay. One fun fact about Sunset Bay is that on Oct. 4, 1973, the first transcontinental hot air balloon crossing began from this very spot.

The balloonist landed a month later in Chesapeake Bay on the East Coast during a trip that spanned more than 3,000 miles.

The aspirations for my trip were more modest — eight miles round-trip from Sunset Bay to Cape Arago and back.

After I parked my car and walked across a footbridge, I hiked to the edge of a cliff and followed the trail past viewpoints of sandy beaches guarded by towering sea cliffs.

The smell of salt traveled on the humid air, and the rumble and crash of the surf were omnipresent as I hiked two miles to Shore Acres Park.

This funky park, which was once the estate of pioneering lumber man and shipbuilder Louis J. Simpson, features a beautifully random formal garden.

The garden seems to come out of nowhere along the trail, and has a 100-foot Japanese-style pond next to meticulously trimmed garden squares with azaleas, rhododendrons and a full rose garden.

There’s Victorian quality to this odd little spot that makes it feel as though you’ve wondered into time warp and ended up in the yard of a 19th century English Duke.

After leaving the garden and continuing on the trail, it started to rain, not heavily at first, but in that depressingly steady way that reminds you why the Oregon beaches are not a spring break destination for college students.

After another mile I reached Simpson Reef overlook — which interrupts the trail in the form of a parking lot — and could see groups of sea lions and harbor seals flopping around on rocks in the rain.

The trail crossed over the highway, meandered through soggy, moss-hanging trees for about two miles, and finally met back with the highway and followed it to Cape Arago State Park.

The rain had turned into machine-gun droplets powered by gale-force ocean winds as I reached the Cape Arago’s headland jutting out into the ocean.

It would have been fun to explore the tide pools’ unique ocean plants and animals, or to visit to the off-shore colonies of seals and sea lions at Shell Island, but the weather’s foul mood simply would not oblige.

Still, there is a certain exhilaration in taking a beatdown from Mother Nature that you don’t get on one of those clear, sun-dappled midsummer days: a cool freshness in the salt air that can make even the most horrific weather enjoyable.

NOTES: Roughly 300,000 people camp on the Oregon Coast during the winter months. ... Beach camping is permitted except in locations immediately seaward of a designated state park, within city limits or wherever otherwise posted. Failure to comply can result in fine of $97 to $427. ... The Cape Arago Lighthouse can be viewed from Sunset Bay State Park.


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