The Cape Lookout State Park Trail lures you along with splendid scenery at every turn with moments of wonder and surprise and sights that are simply breathtaking.
Clyde Reid, a Whale Watch volunteer (an Oregon State Parks program), cautioned that the Cape Lookout hike is not for the feint of heart.
“It’s not an easy walk! It’s a bit of a scramble, so you should wear layers of warm and water/wind resistant clothing and sensible shoes – I’ve seen people out there in flip-flops and cut offs and that’s not a good idea.”
The trail courses the full length of the cape and while it is fairly flat there is a slight gradient drop which means it’s slightly uphill all the back out to the parking area.
It’s a five mile round trip and you should allow up to four hours of hiking to complete the entire trip.
It is also muddy in spots and marked by steep drop-offs.
Each spring, the trail is flanked by one of the most prolific stretches of blooming trillium you’ll ever see. Many other colorful wildflower species are also at hand in a forest of old growth fir, spruce, and hemlock trees.
Along the way, be sure to keep the binoculars easy to reach and ready for anything.
On our adventure, we spied eagles, lounging harbor seals and thousands of murres, (a common sea bird) floating on the ocean surface far below.
At end of the line, you will discover why many call Cape Lookout the “best seat of the house” to watch the gray whale parade that goes past Oregon’s shores each spring.
There is not other experience along the Oregon coastline quite like this for whale watching; not only are the giants of the deep passing by seemingly just out of reach – but many of the 60-foot long mammals detour around the cape’s southern flanks where they lounge about, resting and feeding before continuing their ten thousand mile journeys.
Gray whales left warm Baja lagoons weeks ago and now they are bound for the cold, productive waters of Alaska’s Bering Sea.
Reid said that your best chance to spy them is when they rise to the surface to take a breath and mark the moment with their “blow” or exhale.
“It’s not a water spout as many think,” said Reid. “It’s a big cloud of compressed CO2. These animals are the size of school busses and they have lungs the size of refrigerators. There’s no mistaking it.”
Here’s a hint that may help you to find the whales faster too: scan the ocean with your naked eye, looking for the tell tale blow. Once you see that, focus in with binoculars to get a good close up look.
Reid added, “You might see their backs, might even see their flukes or tail when they dive to go deep. That’s always exciting.”
Even more exciting (and a bit rare) is a breech when the giants seem to fly out of the water.
Local coastal landscape and wildlife photographer, Don Best, was ready for that dramatic moment with his camera, tripod and a 500mm telephoto lens.
In his photos he likes to show the true size of the animal – how does he do it?
“How do I get that perfect shot?” Best quickly fired back. “Oh, that’s easy – patience, patience and more patience. You have to be looking at just the right spot at just the right moment – so it takes real concentration not to look away. I don’t always get that good shot right away and I take many, many pictures for just the right one, but that’s the beauty of digital cameras.”
Gray whales swim up to one hundred miles a day and most rarely stop to rest so hurry to the coast and especially Cape Lookout and do it soon before their show is gone.
“Even if you didn’t have a camera, this is a great place to come,” added longtime photographer, Don Best.
Reid nodded in agreement as another whale surfaced just offshore and noted: “It’s just really fun! When you can get so close to a wild animal the size of a school bus it’s really great. That’s probably why there are more than a thousand Oregon State Park’s Whale Watch volunteers up and down the coast. It’s a fun way to spend your time.”