Spectacular Side Trips
By Gary Hayes
Published: 09/25/2014  Updated: 08/16/2019
Rocky spires on the beach in Bandon Oregon
Sandstone rock formations along the shoreline at Cape Arago State Park near Charleston Oregon.   Photo by Gary Hayes
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Cape Arago Highway & Charleston to Bandon Tour Route

This side trip off the Coast Highway between North Bend-Coos Bay and Bandon leads travelers to three beautiful Oregon State Parks on Cape Arago.

Instead of traveling inland between North Bend and Bandon for nearly 30 miles on Highway 101, you can enjoy cliffside viewpoints of some of the most astounding coastline in Oregon, look out over a reef alive with a large colony of sea lions and seabirds; and visit the picturesque fishing port of Charleston. The Cape Arago Highway can be combined with the Charleston to Bandon tour route to offer an inspiring alternative to Highway 101. The route is well-marked if you are traveling south on Highway 101, just follow the signs to Charleston and State Parks as the highway passes through downtown North Bend.

Newmark Street in North Bend becomes the Cape Arago Highway, leading due west until it reaches the waters of Coos Bay, then continues southwest to one of the Oregon Coast’s quintessential small fishing towns: Charleston. From there, it’s just about three miles to the first of three consecutive state parks, each worth visiting. First is Sunset Bay State Park, a small, protected cove beach partially encircled by forested cliffs and intertidal reefs. A small parking area just past the park’s campground entrance offers views looking back north to the Cape Arago Lighthouse on Chief’s Island. Shore Acres State Park is next, where the shoreline gets even more interesting with the sandstone cape revealing odd rock formations, sheer cliffs met by crashing waves and interesting reefs that tilt to and fro, a sign of an active geological history. Walk the easy paved paths that traverse the edge of the shoreline for more drop-dead gorgeous views and don’t miss the formal gardens, an unexpected attraction. The gardens are all that remains of the historic oceanfront mansion that was once located here. (See more in our story about Great Viewpoints in this issue).

The Simpson Reef overlook is just south of Shore Acres State Park. The reef and nearby Shell Island are one of the most active Oregon Coast haul-outs for seals and sea lions; and visitors can often observe, and listen to the chorus of, thousands of marine mammals here. Steller sea lions, California sea lions, harbor seal and northern elephant seals can be spotted. Bring your binoculars!

Cape Arago State Park is the end of road at the tip of the cape and is just around the bend from the Simpson Reef overlook. It’s a short walk to more dramatic viewpoints and there are trails to intertidal areas at the North Cove and South Cove. Picnic areas offer some of the most stunning settings of any on the Oregon Coast.

When you can tear yourself away from this amazing scenic area, you can continue your side trip by retracing your route northeast on Cape Arago and turning onto Seven Devils Road to follow the Charleston to Bandon Tour Route. The South Shore Estuarine Research Reserve makes an optional stop along the route with an interpretive center, a 10-minute interpretive walk and more extensive hiking trails through estuarine habitat. Another optional side trip to your side trip is Seven Devils State Recreation Site, where you will find access to several miles of beach popular with agate hunters. The most direct route to Cape Arago when traveling north from Bandon is following W. Beaver Hill Road, about nine miles north of Bandon.

Total distance: 32 miles
Driving time: One hour
Must stops: Sunset Bay State Park, Shore Acres State Park, Cape Arago State Park & Simpson Reef Overlook.
Top Tip: Combine this side trip with Bandon’s Beach Loop Drive for an amazing day of some of the Oregon Coast’s best sightseeing.
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Spectacular Side Trips