What a joy it is to have a place like Oregon, with a coastline so abundant in hikes, marvelous rock formations, challenging hikes and sweeping views of the ocean. And arguably one of the best slices of Oregon seaside to take in the wildlife (another aspect of the state we’re proud to celebrate) is Simpson Reef and Shell Island.
Simpson Reef is actually a long stretch of sandstone formations sitting right off the coast, with Shell Island as the largest rocky chunk. These places play host to a staggering array of wildlife, including cormorants, puffins, seals, sea lions, petrels, and herons, to name a few. The clamor these creatures create as they negotiate for space on the reef is as astounding as it is amusing – you can easily hear the baying, barks, groans, shrieks and cries from the land-side overlook.
Since it is part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Shell Island (and the surrounding reef) is not open to on-the-ground visits. However, from Simpson Reef Overlook, the signed roadside stop in Cape Arago State Park, you can get a terrific view of the seaside animal activity. The overlook is located close to the campground at Sunset Bay State Park – right near Charleston in Coos County. And it’s a beautiful place to take in flurries of sea birds and the antics of marine mammals.
So bring your binoculars to check out the scene (the rocks are about a quarter-mile off shore so you’ll want some kind of telephoto lens to take it the details). You’re sure to be entertained by the clowning of the sea lions as they search for perfect napping spots, or the clever oystercatchers as they hunt for lunch. And don’t forget to look out at the horizon for the occasional gray whale!
One of the easiest ways to find a viewpoint of Simpson Reef and Shell Island is right when the Scenic Cape Arago Highway comes to an end in Cape Arago State Park. Here the land pushes out westwards, forming a cliffside lined by three lovely beaches: North Cove, Middle Cove and South Cove. You can walk along these viewpoints easily in a half hour, taking in the oceanside life.
Learn more about Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge: