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Three Getaways for the Price of One Vacation

by Grant McOmie

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews

Posted on June 19, 2009 at 7:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:35 PM


This is the time of year when I refuse to let the grass grow under my feet because there is simply so much to see and do across Oregon.

That's especially true along a unique section of the Oregon coastline where you'll find three glorious Oregon State Parks called Sunset Bay, Shore Acres and Cape Arago.

I am thrilled with each visit to this region. You actually get three state parks for the price of one vacation and each is within two miles of the other and each is connected by road, bike trail, and hiking path.

Each park is distinct, easy to reach and offers unique perspectives on the coastal Oregon's recreation experience.



Sunset Bay is a small overnight campground, with seventy-two tent sites and sixty-three trailer sites. The park also features a hiker/biker camp, plus ten group tent camps. Hot showers and flush toilets are available to all campers and provide a welcome comfort zone.

There's plenty of elbowroom and trails to explore across the park's twenty acres, according to park manager, Preson Phillips. Especially along Big Creek, which flows for a half mile through the heart of the forested campground into the namesake bay:

"Suddenly out of a regular coastal highway, you come into a lusher, greener area where the trees are mature and then you drop down and off to your right is the bay. It's not an area that gets crowded so it's very easy - even on a busy day - to come in and find a place to visit."


He added that you can also "camp light" inside one of the park's eight yurts:


"All you need to bring is bedding and another method to cook some food on the outside and you're ready to go. There are bunk beds, futon couch, a table, chairs and lights - and heat and opening sky light as well."

Thomas Hirst, an early settler in Coos Bay, named Sunset Bay back when fishing boats and other shallow vessels used it as a protective harbor during violent storms.

But I feel the wind-shorn, wave-battered cliffs hint of some far-off shore--say, Polynesia? Or Alaska?


Legend has it Sunset Bay was also used by pirates, and a glance toward the ocean suggests the reason: The small bay is set inside steep sandstone bluffs and has a narrow passage to the sea that's difficult to discern from the ocean.

A mile away, a much different environment waits for you at Shore Acres State Park. Here, the wildness is tamed at a park land that puts a smile on your face. You see, Shore Acres is the state park system's only botanical garden.


Shore Acres, built in 1906, was once a private estate famed for gardens of flowering trees, plants, and shrubs brought from around the world aboard the sailing ships of pioneer lumberman and shipbuilder Louis B. Simpson, as well as a one-acre pond and shimmering waterfall.


Simpson developed the summer home into a showplace capped by the towering presence of a three-story mansion. The grounds originally contained five acres of formal gardens, but fire destroyed the mansion in 1921.


Simpson began to build an even larger replacement; however, financial losses caused both house and grounds to fall into disrepair in the 1930s. The State of Oregon purchased Shore Acres as a park in 1942.

The park offers hundreds of different plant species for you to enjoy as you stroll across eight acres of garden. Phillips noted that the park continues to amaze and impress even lifelong Oregon residents:


"Folks come in the gate and they say, 'What's that?' - And they step in and they're here for hours taking pictures, just oo-ing and ah-ing - and for many it's 'we didn't even know this place was here.'


A short but easy one-mile hike south takes you to Cape Arago, famous as a resort for Steller sea lions. Well, perhaps "resort" is a bit of a stretch, but the fact is that Shell Island (adjacent to the cape) is the largest Steller haul-out and calving site along the entire West Coast.

"It is critical habitat for these federally protected, endangered marine mammals that can weigh more than a ton," noted local eco-tourism guide, Marty Giles, owner/operator of Wavecrest Discoveries.

She said that more than three thousand sea lions will haul out on Simpson Reef and Shell Island and that they put on quite a show.


"Imagine a group of anxious kids in the back seat of a car on a long trip - you're in my way, you're over my line, move - you touched me and you can see that kind of behavior going on - they walk over one another and grump at each other and move around."

Any time is a fine time to visit the many viewpoints along Cape Arago's main hiking path overlooking Shell Island, but keep in mind that the offshore rocks, islands, and reefs are part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge system, which is closed to public access.


So here's a tip: Bring binoculars or a spotting scope so you'll have a front-row seat into the refuge proper and a chance to view fascinating wildlife behaviors.

Giles added that the three Oregon destinations - linked by hiking trail are so close together and they offer visitors something new to see each day:


"A rocky shoreline and a sandy beach, we have dunes, we have nearby wilderness areas, we have forest - a huge variety of publicly accessible recreational opportunities in a very small area."

Phillips agreed and added, "It is so easy to get yourself lost in nature a little bit. Please come visit us and you'll see why."

I try to make this collection of wonderful parks a three- or four-day stay--I like to linger and just loaf around the trails, viewpoints, and colorful gardens that this unique Oregon destination offers.

You might even consider making the "Three For One" experience a part of your entry in a unique travel contest. It's called the Oregon 150 Challenge and it offers a unique dream vacation as a grand prize.