The Cape Arago Highway and the Charleston to Bandon tour route are amazing on their own, but when combined, it makes for an inspiring adventure packed with natural wonder and fun along a remote stretch of shoreline here on Oregon’s South Coast. This 41 mile route is a delightful alternative to the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 101) and will take just about 2-3 hours to drive (depending on the number of stops you make). The drive will lead you past six state parks, two National Wildlife Refuges and America’s first National Estuarine Research Reserve. Travelers of all ages and experience levels will enjoy it as it has everything you could hope to see along the Oregon Coast — iconic views of the Pacific ocean, marine life, sea lions and seabirds, untouched beaches, secret coves and more!
From North Bend, take the Cape Arago Highway to Charleston.
We recommend starting your journey on Newmark Street in North Bend. As you drive west through Coos Bay, it becomes the Cape Arago Highway, leading west until it reaches the fishing town of Charleston where you can make our first recommended stop. The route is well-marked if you are traveling south on Highway 101, just follow the signs to Charleston as the highway passes through downtown North Bend.
Stop #1 Charleston Oregon
Check out the Charleston marina where fishing charters and whale watching excursions depart. Take some time to learn something new and explore the Charleston Marine Life Center aquarium. Get to know some of our friendly local merchants like Kinnee’s Gifts ‘N Shells and our friend and fishing expert Rob Gensorek at Basin Tackle Shop before grabbing a bite at one of the local seafood restaurants. From Charleston, continue down Cape Arago Highway towards Cape Arago State Park.
Stop #2 Sunset Bay State Park
Sunset Bay State Park, the first of three unique state parks is just a 3 miles down the road. This small, protected cove beach is perfect for tide pooling, picnicking, swimming, kayaking and more. A small parking area just past the park’s campground entrance offers views looking back north to the Cape Arago Lighthouse on Chief’s Island.
Stop #3 Shore Acres State Park
It’d be a shame to miss the chance to explore Shore Acres State Park, “the jewel of the South Coast”. This magnificent state park was once occupied by lumber baron Louis Simpson’s estate, but today it is visited by thousands of visitors each year for its spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean along with towering waves crashing against the shoreline and cliffs. Whale watchers have ample opportunities to spot migrating whales during the winter and summer migrating seasons. A secluded ocean cove at Simpson Beach awaits those willing to hike down a trail. Explore the botanical gardens hidden among the trees. The gardens become a winter wonderland with more than 325,000 LED Holiday Lights from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve.
Stop #4 Cape Arago State Park
The Cape Arago Highway concludes at the Cape Arago State Park. We recommend grabbing your binoculars and taking some time to explore the Simpson Reef and nearby Shell Island to view and listen to the seals and sea lions. Picnic areas offer some of the most beautiful sights along the Oregon Coast.
To follow the Charleston to Bandon Tour Route, retrace your route northeast on Cape Arago for six miles and turn right on Seven Devils Road. Continue south, and you will find the 5th stop along your journey.
Stop #5 South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve
This local natural treasure is home to a variety of marine life, including shellfish, salmon and seabirds. The South Slough National Estuarine Research offers a number of hiking and paddling trails through estuaries habitat and features an interpretive center.
Stop #6 Seven Devils State Recreation Site
Another side trip to your side trip is Seven Devils State Recreation Site, where you will find access to several miles of beach popular with agate hunters.
Continue South on Seven Devils Road and eventually you will return to Hwy 101 headed to Bandon.
Be on the lookout for the famous cranberry bogs along the way to Bandon (a.k.a. The Cranberry Capital of Oregon) before you hit Stop #7 on the Charleston to Bandon Tour Route.
Stop #7-Coquille River Lighthouse
The historic Coquille River Lighthouse, built in 1896, is one of Oregon’s most photographed landmarks. The lighthouse sits at the mouth of the Coquille River which flows between Bullards Beach State Park and Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. Bring your camera!
Bandon, a classic beach town, is known for an active art scene, unique stores and restaurants, and beautiful ocean views. Be sure to see the jaw dropping sculptures created from plastic dumped in the ocean at the Washed Ashore gallery and the famous Circles in the Sand labyrinth art (view the schedule of labyrinth’s here).
Additional Resources:Travel Oregon: Family Weekend in Bandon and Coos Bay