Would you enjoy a beach getaway that is off the beaten path? With few people, nice trails, and a beautiful horse camp? And a reasonable probability of clear, sunny weather this time of year? Then the beach trail at Cape Blanco State Park should be on your list of must-go horseback destinations.
Cape Blanco State Park is located 22 miles south of Bandon on the southern Oregon coast. It’s a long way from Oregon’s major population centers, which is a blessing if you want to avoid the crowds more typically found at coastal horse camps and riding areas.
The park is on a rocky headland that juts out into the Pacific Ocean amid an impressive collection of offshore seastacks. One of these monolithic pinnacles, called “The Needle,” rises out of the beach just below the Cape Blanco lighthouse.
At Cape Blanco you can ride along the beach to the promontory upon which the lighthouse is located, or you can ride to the Elk River, whose course shifts over time as the river cuts its way through the beach to the ocean.
The horse camp is located on a bluff about 200 feet above sea level. To ride down to the beach, pick up the trail across from campsite 7. Ride 300 feet to a gravel road, then turn right on the road and follow the horse trail signs. The trail runs along the gravel road for 0.3 mile, during which you will pass 2 dirt roads that go off to the left. Ignore them. When the gravel road makes a dogleg to the right toward the park’s family campground, follow the horse trail signs to the left on a dirt road with a gate.
Ride around the gate and continue 0.4 mile to a spot with a terrific view of the ocean to the south, then continue following the dirt road down the hill to the left. In another 0.1 mile you’ll reach a junction where the Forest Loop Trail goes sharply left and the trail to the beach goes to the right. Stay right, and in about 0.2 mile you’ll come out on the dunes above the beach. Continue until you can find a safe spot to ride down off the dunes — about another 0.2 mile.
Once you reach the beach, you can turn south and ride a little over a mile to reach the Elk River. From there, turn around and ride north and in about 3 miles you’ll reach the headlands below the lighthouse on the cliff above.
When you’re ready to return to the horse camp, backtrack 1.3 miles along the beach to reach the steep paved road that leads from the beach to the family campground. Ride it uphill for 0.5 mile. Turn right on the gravel road you’ll come to just before the entrance to the family campground, and follow it back 0.4 mile back to the horse camp.
There’s plenty of additional riding at Cape Blanco to fill a long weekend. You can do a nice loop through the forest (well protected from the wind, for those days when Mother Nature is gusty), or ride in a large forested open-riding area across from the horse camp. Other delightful trails just a short trailer ride away will take you to Floras Lake and/or the panoramic views at Blacklock Point.
While you’re at Cape Blanco, don’t miss the lighthouse and the historic Hughes House. Both are well worth a tour.
Trail Statistics: The Beach Trail is a 7 mile long partial loop, with elevations from sea level to 200 feet. A map of the park is available at www.oregonstateparks.org/park_62.php.
Getting to Cape Blanco State Park: From Bandon, drive south on Hwy. 101 for 22 miles. One mile south of Sixes, turn right on Cape Blanco Hwy. Continue 4.6 miles and turn left on a gravel road. Drive 0.3 mile and turn right into the horse camp. The route is well signed.
Season: Year round
Parking and Camping Facilities: 8 campsites with single or double corrals. All sites are level and graveled, and all have fire rings and picnic tables. The horse camp has a potable water spigot at each campsite, plus a porta-potty, garbage cans, and manure bin. Hot showers are available at the adjacent family campground. Fee for overnight camping, but no fee for day use.
More Information: The Beach Trail is covered in the Cape Blanco State Park chapter of Riding Southern Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2014)