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While they are named the Sea Lion Rocks and while they are occasionally visited by sea lions, the fact is that these rocks have been set aside as a part of a national wildlife refuge because of the bird life that inhabits them every spring.
Miles upon miles off the coast, the ocean is inhabited by thousands upon thousands of birds that never come to shore, execpt to breed. Such birds as murres, auklets, storm petrels and various others are almost never seen by people today due to their home on the waves well off the shore and because most people travel over the ocean by air these days. However, they do form an important part of the marine ecosystem and thus their nesting habitat on these rocks has been preserved.
In the early 1900s, many thousands of these birds were killed every year simply because people wanted something to shoot at, and decided the nesting birds on these very difficult to access rocks would make good target practice.
Thus, the establishment of some of the rocks on the Oregon coast as wildlife refuges, so that the birds that seek refuge on these rocks would not become extinct due to the irresponsible nature of a few target shooters. As the first of those wildlife refuges was Three Arch Rocks, please see my Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge Page for a bit more about this.
While it is not possible to access the rocks, and in fact doing so is extremely dangerous due to the severity of the rock formations and the waves that hit them with extreme violence, it is possible to appreciate their amazing formations (the outermost one of which has a fairly spectacular arch in it). Views of these rocks may be obtained from Ecola Point, where there is a wooden walkway with a small viewpoint at the end. Cannon beach is somewhat far away but offers a view of the rock formations at a different angle. Indian Beach offers a view from the north that allows a look right through the arch on the outermost rock.
For a little more history about this area, try to look for the book titled "Where Rolls the Oregon" or one of its more modern reprints. This gives a little more information about the process and concern over bird life on the sea rocks off the Oregon Coast.
Your best bet to view the bird life is to visit in May or June, bring some good telephoto equipment (good binoculars, camera telephoto lenses, or a good spotting scope and tripod that won't vibrate much in the wind) and take a look at the surface of the rocks. For an example of what to look for, see photo 5, which shows some American Brown Pelicans perched along the knife edge of one of the outer rocks. To the far left side it is possible to see a black bird (an auklet or a murre of some sort most likely) swimming in the water as well. I have A Travelogue of Photos of the Rocks from June of 2012 that shows the bird life that finds these rocks of vital importance
Updated Jun 17, 2012
Address: Up to 1/4 Mile off the Coast of Ecola Point
This 1.5 mile (2.5km) trail wanders through the edge of the forest domain, where it descends abruptly to the ocean pounding the land below. There are several locations were the trail is carved out of the edge of the hillside, and these locations provide some spectacular views of the ocean and surrounding rock formations and coast line. These locations also provide a significant hazard, so be extremely careful around some of these locations as they may be unstable. Also, there are few locations with hand rails, so keep a close watch on your children and pets. (see photo 1)
The trail does not have a huge amount of elevation gain or loss, but there are places where it is significantly difficult due to the short but very steep hills on which it has been built.
The south segment of the trail starts at the Ecola Point parking lot, and a few brief feet of it are actually paved. It then switches to a fairly wide gravel trail, and crosses a fairly nice bridge over a small marsh area. After this bridge, the trail's pretenses are over with, and the narrow dirt and mud pathway begins a steep (but relatively short) uphill slog. From there on to the Indian Beach parking area, this is the topography of the trail.
From the Indian Beach end of things, the trail starts at the downhill end of the south side of the parking lot, and also serves as one of the two trails that link Indian Beach with its parking area. The end of the trail is fairly well marked. See photo 3. From here, the trail crosses a bridge, and then divides into a trail to the beach or the trail continues to Ecola Point.
Much of the trail is in dense forest (see photo 4), and it is very easy for the trail to become extremely difficult to pass due to the size of downed trees across the path. Sometimes they are easy to get around by going under or over, but in other cases they block the entire path. Also, there are a number of springs on the trail in Spring, and these create a boggy mess in a few locations along the trail. In some places primitive staircases were constructed, but after years of use, vandalism and weather many of them are nearly as difficult to negotiate as the steep trail is without them. They do help a little for the most part, but not as much as if they were in good repair. See photo 5 of one of a fair number of examples that are located on this trail.
Due to the number of viewpoints along the trail I highly recommend taking it if you are up to the challenge. While it isn't a severely taxing trail, and only 1.5 miles (2.5 km) in length it isn't really that far. However, due to the roughness of some of the areas, and the short, steep sections, as well as the danger of falling over the edge in places it is also a good location to not expect to rush through. As long as you take your time in the rough and steep sections most people will get through it just fine.
See also my Ecola Point tip at
and my Indian Beach tip at
Written May 30, 2012
Address: Ecola Point Parking Area to Indian Beach Parking
Leading from the park entrance road at the southern entrance to Ecola State Park northward to Ecola Point, this trail is not a huge amount of elevation gain, but there are many short but steep sections to it, which make it difficult and slow to negotiate. Some places have staircases where the trail had to be built steep, but vandalism and weather have removed significant parts of the stairs and shifted them so that they are difficult to use. These may also be slippery when wet.
There is a division in the trail approximately 3/4 of a mile (a little over 1 km) south of Ecola Point. This division is where the stub-end trail down to Crescent Beach branches off of this trail. There is approximately 3/4 of a mile more to get down to Crescent Beach, as it is a steep and difficult trip from there down the hill, and coming back up it isn't very easy.
The trail has one significant viewpoint approximately 1/3 of a mile south of Ecola Point (see main photo / photo 3) which provides a view of Ecola Point as well as south to Cannon Beach and some of the rocks off its beach.
The trail crosses a number of small spring watercourses, so in the spring the trail is soft, wet, and muddy in these locations. Some of them are difficult to negotiate.
Much of the trail passes through second growth forest that has been allowed to become somewhat old-growth like in its ecology (see photo 2). You might see some wildlife through here, especially woodpeckers.
The southern part of the trail splits with Ecola Park Road right at the southern border of the state park. The trail sign and note of its presence is downhill from the road, and therefore is almost completely invisible from the road, if you are driving. See photo 1.
From the Ecola Point parking area, the trail heads south from the area near the flush toilet restroom building at the southeast corner of the parking area. It is very clearly marked (see photo 4). From here, it heads up the hill to the road, where it crosses the park manager's driveway, runs beside the road in a narrow strip (see photo 5) for a very short distance, and then leaves the side of the road to peruse its own route along the hillside. The departure point for the trail is immediately to the left of the 15 mph sign seen in photo 5.
As noted in my Getting Around in Ecola State Park Tip, the road from the park entrance south into Cannon Beach is very narrow, and people drive far too fast for the type of road it is. It is possible to walk to this trail from Cannon Beach, but be very careful, and be prepared to jump out of the way of vehicles that are not paying attention to where they are going. The south end of this trail simply empties onto Ecola Park Road once it gets to the city border, without so much as a wide spot in the road on which to walk.
Written May 28, 2012
Address: Ecola Park Road linked to Ecola Point Parking Area
Starting at Indian Beach the Clatsop Loop Trail is approximately 2.6 miles in length for the entire loop, and comprises two very different types of pathway:
+ One is the maintenance access road, which is large enough for golf cart sized vehicles to access the campground and pit toilet at the far end of the loop. This trail / road is gravel in most places, more level, and is a reasonably easy walking path. However, most of the views it offers is of the surrounding forest. To take this pathway from the Indian Beach parking area, follow the trail north from the restroom area. When the trail splits and one branch goes over a bridge to the west, continue going north (straight).
+ The other is a narrow trail that runs along the ocean side cliff, and through the forest. This trail is considerably more narrow, is usually muddy in many places (there are two types of weather on the Oregon Coast: "rain" and "chance of rain"). This trail offers a closer look at some of the preserved trees along this segment of forest (and there are some that are pretty nice), as well as more views of the ocean and Tillamook Rock. To follow this trail, when you come to the division in the trail that has a bridge on the left side, follow the branch with the bridge. This branch also has the Indian Beach viewpoint, after 1/8 of a mile.
Beyond the campground and the Tillamook Rock Viewpoint the trail continues to the southern side of Seaside.
As the trail portion is steeper and more rugged than the maintenance road portion, I suggest taking it from the parking area to the far end of the trail, and the maintenance road section of the loop for the return trip.
There is no indication on the current sign that the trail to the left is actually a part of the Clatsop Loop Trail. The only thing that is pointed at in that direction is "Viewpoint - 1/8 mi", while the Clatsop Loop Trail is shown to be straight ahead. This is not the case - the trail up to the viewpoint, in the current trail configuration, is part of the loop and if you continue up the trail past the viewpoint a little ways you will start to come across interpretive signs indicated on the Clatsop Loop Trail map.
Please see my Indian Beach Viewpoint tip, photograph number 3, for a photograph of the sign which points to the viewpoint, and is the trail to follow if you wish to take it as the start to the loop.
The main photo for this tip is a photograph of the map of the loop you will find at the Indian Beach trailhead, near the staircase that goes down to the beach. This location also serves as the start of the Clatsop Loop trail.
Along the trail there are numbered interpretive signs, which correspond to those on the map.
Updated Mar 21, 2012
Address: Through the Forest north of Indian Beach
While the picnic area that sits right next to the Indian Beach parking area has good views of the beach and the rocks, it is only slightly higher than the beach itself. Also, there is a lot of traffic here due to the beach and the parking lot.
However, by taking the trail up the hill a very short distance, it is possible to get to a viewpoint that is somewhat higher, and at the very least offers a somewhat different perspective of the beach - and as a unique bonus it is not possible to see the picnic area nor the parking lot from the Indian Beach Viewpoint. Thus, the view from the Indian Beach Viewpoint makes Indian Beach appear almost as it did when the Corps of Discovery passed through the area.
The viewpoint is accessed from the north side of the Indian Beach parking area. Past the restrooms, you will find a trail division and a sign indicating the viewpoint is over the bridge and 1/8 of a mile (0.2 of a km) up the hill. See photo 3 to see the sign you need to watch for.
Written Mar 21, 2012
Address: 1/8 of a Mile from Clatsop Loop trail division
As noted on my introduction page for Ecola State Park, the park features one of the most common vistas in Oregon tourist brochures, post cards, etc: the view of Haystack Rock and associated minor sea stack formations looking south from Ecola State Park.
This view and more is what you come to on Ecola Point, which is the most southern parking area in the park, and features a restroom with running water and flush toilets, plus a significant number of picnic tables and other facilities. It also is a potential trailhead for use in gaining access to Crescent Beach, and from here trails go north to Indian Beach, the Tillamook Rock Viewpoint, and ultimately the city of Seaside. Southward, the trail system goes as far as Cannon Beach.
The south side of the picnic area and viewpoints include not only the famous views of Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock, but also views southwest. While much of that is open ocean, there is a paved trail ending at a boardwalk that has a view of the Sea Lion Rocks (where the primary attraction is actually their use as a sea bird nesting ground).
To the northwest, Ecola Point also offers views of Tillamook Rock and the infamous Terrible Tilly light house, which is one mile off shore and actually some two miles from Ecola Point. (It looks closer than that, but that is because Tillamook Rock, and the waves which hit it, are a lot larger than they appear at a distance.)
There is a picnic shelter at Ecola Point (see photo 3) but in order to shelter people from the wind and rain it lacks windows facing the ocean. If it is a nice enough day to not want shelter from the Ocean you will be able to use one of the many picnic tables scattered around Ecola Point. If, on the other hand, it is a bad enough day you want the shelter, you will want the shelter to not have windows facing the ocean due to the strong winds and water coming from that direction.
Some of the picnic tables are scattered into locations that are not openly visible from the parking area or the most heavily used trails, including one that is located at the end of a very narrow paved pathway that runs to the left of two benches halfway down the hill and facing Tillamook Rock.
Ecola State Park, and Ecola Point in particular, can be very busy on weekends. This is especially true of summer weekends with good weather and on such weekends the earlier you arrive generally the less crowded it will be.
Written Mar 20, 2012
Address: First Left Turn after Park Fee Station
Yes, it does take a certain unique personality (some might say insanity) to surf on the Oregon coast, as the water is quite cold. Then, there are all those dangerous looking rocks, and the fact that the water is pretty rough and the undertow pretty dangerious, and the driftwood large and deadly.
However, people do in fact surf here.
One of those places on the Oregon Coast people choose to surf is Indian Beach here in Ecola State Park. Despite the huge rocks you see in the photos, and in the backdrop behind the surfer, the Sea Lion Rocks seen in the background are actually about 1 mile (1.6 km) south of the beach parking area from which these photos were taken. The rocks, and the waves hitting them, are much larger than they might seem and thus despite their distance appear to be an immediate threat to the surfer. In reality they are not that close.
Indeed, if you look at some of the photos of Indian Beach you will see that the waves actually get fairly small once they get close to the sand of the beach. The various rocks to the north and south of the beach actually seem to act as natural breakwaters so that the surf isn't quite as rough at Indian Beach as it is in a few nearby locations. Possibly, this is why this location is used by surfers.
However, that does not diminish the fact that there are still many threats to those who wish to surf here. Among them is hypothermia as even in the summer the water is very cold - you will notice that most anyone surfing in Oregon or Washington uses full thermal wet suits at the very least, and a few use dry suits.
Updated Mar 20, 2012
Address: Indian Beach is Most Popular Location
Completed in January of 1881 and replaced by an offshore buoy in 1957, the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was at one time one of the most difficult lighthouses to crew. It is not unusual for waves to crash against the rock with such force they wash over the entire structure (see the photos on the web site listed at the bottom of this tip for one example). During storms the waves are even worse, and there are accounts of the water crashing down into the quarters from the light tower. Removal of crew members due to the mental wear and tear on the people who lived there was fairly routine.
Constructing it was a challenge, manning it was a chore, and its replacement with a more economical warning pretty much inevitable.
After a series of several sales, the lighthouse was purchased with the intent of being used as a resting place for urns containing those who wished to have Tillamook Rock be their final resting place. However, the license for this operation ended in 1999 and it does not appear that the light house is again accepting urns just yet.
While it is still privately owned and the rock it sits on not officially open to receiving visitors as the sea stacks in this area have been declared wildlife habitat, Tillamook Rock is visible from a number of locations in Ecola State Park (and a few locations outside the park). Some of the best locations are Ecola Point, which is the southern parking area and of course the point known as Tillamook Rock Lighthouse Viewpoint. The trail from Indian Beach to the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse Viewpoint also has a number of locations where the rock and its lighthouse may be seen.
In addition to the web site at the bottom of this tip, some good information is also available at Rudy and Alice's Lighthouse Web Site
VirtualTourist member goodfish also pointed out some stories of living on the rock at
Updated Mar 20, 2012
Address: Slightly over 1 mile west of Tillamook Head
Somewhat north of the Ecola Point picnic area and viewpoints is the parking lot for Inidan Beach. This the the furthest north in the park it is possible to drive without a state parks maintenance vehicle.
There are several picnic tables here, but there are not very many of them. If your plan is to sit in the sun and eat lunch, if it is a busy weekend with sunlight you will have a difficult time finding a place.
Naturally, one of the main attractions is the beach itself, which is somewhat larger and much more free of large rocks than is Crescent Beach.
This is also the closest parking area to the park camping facilities, which require approximatley 1.75 miles (3.0 km) of hiking to access. The location at the camping area is also the Tillamook Rock Viewpoint. The trail from the Indian Beach area to the campground and the Tillamook Rock viewpoint is actually a loop: the maintenance road forms one part of the trail loop and a rugged narrow trail somewhat closer to the edge of the cliff forms the other piece of the loop.
The restrooms here are pit toilets, so I suggest using the restrooms back at the Ecola viewpoint parking lot if a lack of running water is an issue.
The beach itself is accessed from a staircase that is hidden in the trees near the restroom building, on the north side of the parking lot.
The beach itself is reasonably wide at low tide, but at a higher tide most of the sand is covered, leaving only the rocky gravel section of the beach exposed - thus it is best to visit the beach at low tide. Several streams tumble down the steep slope and enter the ocean here at the beach, so that getting from one part of the beach to the other will require that you get your feet wet.
In addition to being able to drive here on the paved road, a narrow trail winds along the edge of the cliff, connecting Indian Beach with the Ecola viewpoint parking area. The distance from the Ecola Point parking area to Indian Beach is approximately 2.5 miles (4 km) one way.
The beach offers a reasonably good view of the series of rocks known as "Sea Lion Rocks" though they are somewhat far away and it is really best to view them from here with some sort of telephoto equipment.
As the beach itself is somewhat clear of large rocks there are those select few that do bring their surf boards here and get out in the water that way.
This area can be very crowded with people on summer weekends, and the parking area extends very far back into the forest in order to accommodate the sheer number of vehicles.
Updated Mar 19, 2012
Address: 1.75 miles N of Ecola Viewpoing parking area
Located just south of Ecola Point, this little beach is a nearly level bit of sand compressed between the rocky outcroppings along the ocean. Be very careful here, as high tide covers a huge portion of the sand, depending on the level of the high tide.
During the wet times of the year, there is a small waterfall on the north side of beach area.
The waterfall is visible in photo 4, at the far left. This photo also shows how far the waves reach up the beach at high tide, though they don't show the full extent of a high tide. Just be aware that you shouldn't leave anything here and wander off, expecting it to be there when you get back, should a high tide be coming in.
Updated Mar 19, 2012
Address: Just South of Ecola Point