The devil wears drama … and beauty and intrigue in Oregon’s places that take its name
written by Jen Sotolongo
When Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan named the Pacific Ocean due to his observations of the calmness of the water, he clearly didn’t visit the Oregon Coast. All along the entire coastline, visitors can find a number of “devilish” spots where Lucifer himself seems to have put in the work to make a joke of peaceful waters encountered by Magellan.
Thanks to its rugged coastline, the Coastal Range, and tumultuous winter windstorms, several destinations named for the Devil located along the Oregon Coast (and a bonus spot near Mount Hood) prove that the Pacific is anything but peaceful.
The best way to visit the churns, elbows, caldrons, and punchbowls is to plan a road trip along Highway 101. If you really want to see the Devil at work, plan the trip during the winter.
Located just below the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center, Devil’s Churn is one of the highlights of the entire Oregon Coast. The 80-foot wide chasm was formed as a result of thousands of years of waves crashing against the volcanic rock.
Visitors can take the short Trail of Restless Waters to the bottom and watch transfixed as the waves ride through the chute and careen against the wall and send the water back to collide with incoming waves. During high tide and during the windy winter months, the waves become more violent and can spray as high as 200 feet into the air, so exercise caution during extreme conditions.
Devil’s Elbow is the name of the peninsula just south of the Heceta Head Lighthouse, just north of Florence. A large parking lot offers direct access to the Heceta Head Beach (formerly known as Devil’s Elbow Beach), which sits in a cove at the mouth of Cape Creek. The destination includes a trail network of seven miles of varying difficulty where visitors can enjoy ocean and wildlife viewing opportunities, including sea birds like puffins, cormorants, sea lions, and whales.
The Heceta Head Lighthouse stands 56-feet high and the light was first illuminated in 1894 and can be spotted 21 miles from land, one of the strongest lights on the Oregon Coast.
Likely created by a collapsed roof over the top of two sea caves, Devils Punchbowl in Otter Rock is truly a unique experience. The cavernous hole fills up with water during high tide and visitors can watch the water swirl and crash from the parking lot above. During low tide, it is possible to take the short trail from the parking lot to enter the punchbowl and explore the tidepools and rocks from below, just be mindful of the tide chart; getting caught inside during high tide would be deadly.
Devil’s Lake State Recreation Area
Lincoln City’s Devil’s Lake Recreation Area consists of two parks on opposite sides of the lake. The campground, located on the west side of the lake is walking distance to Lincoln City, and is the only campground on the Oregon Coast located within a city, providing ideal access to shops, restaurants, and the beach.
The 685-acre lake is protected from coastal winds, making it a favorite destination for paddlers, fishing, and boating. The lake serves as a wintering ground for a number of migratory waterfowl, including geese, ducks, osprey, and eagles.
OSWALD WEST STATE PARK
Just about an hour outside of Portland, Devil’s Cauldron makes for a lovely short and sweet visit during a day trip to the coast. Starting at the Elk Flats Trailhead/Neahkahnie Mountain Trailhead in Nehalem, head west toward the coast and follow the half-mile trail to the Devil’s Cauldron. From the viewpoint, visitors can watch the waves crash against the cliff sides and stare into the hypnotic sea swells swirling around in the cove below. The trail to Devil’s Cauldron is narrow and can be muddy and overgrown, so go prepared with proper clothing and shoes.
Seven Devils State Recreation Site
This out-of-the-way spot gives access to several miles of sandy beaches that run between Cape Arago and Bullards Beach State Park. The Seven Devils State Recreation Site was once owned by the Merchant Family Farm whose name still bears the name of the beach by Twomile creek. Less favored than the more popular beaches in Bandon and Cape Arago area, this region is ideal for quiet beach walks and agate hunting. During certain times of the year, it’s possible to spot harbor seals.
This short walk from Face Rock State Park in Bandon leads to a flat-topped rock that kids and adults alike will enjoy climbing during low tide to check out the sea life in the tidepools. Nearby is a Haystack Rock that offers even more tidepool exploration during low tide.
For a quad-burning workout and a chance to see a decommissioned fire tower, head to Devil’s Peak Lookout, which sits at an elevation of 5,045 feet in the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness just southwest of Mount Hood. On a clear day, it is possible to see Mount Hood, Mount Adams, and Mount Jefferson from the peak.
Accessible year round, there are two main trails that lead to the lookout—Hunchback Mountain, a rougher, but shorter 2.4-mile trek roundtrip with 900 feet of elevation gain and Cool Creek, which is the typical approach, totalling 8 miles and 3,200 feet of elevation gain. The roads to both trail heads require high clearance, and it’s essential to check road conditions and reports from recent hikers to learn about closures and damaged bridges.
Tucked deep inside one of, if not the most, pristine wilderness areas in the Siuslaw National Forest, Devil’s Staircase is a sight to behold, though it requires some serious navigational skills. The Devil’s Staircase Wilderness is one of the newest additions to the National Wilderness Preservation System and comprises some of the last-remaining old-growth forest in some of the most remote and rugged terrain in the Coastal Range.
The five-mile hike traverses over extremely difficult terrain with no proper trail, including steep slopes, dense vegetation, and unstable soils. The trek can take an entire day, especially if you lose track of the route, as GPS and cell service are not reliable. Even the road to the “trailhead” is overgrown and requires route finding expertise.
Those who test their skills and make it to Devil’s Staircase will be rewarded with a pristine waterfall that cascades 50 feet down a natural staircase of three to five foot drops each. The wilderness is home to spotted owls, bald eagles, black bears, cougars, and other wildlife.