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Hiking to the Simpson Reef Overlook on the Oregon Coast Trail

Hiking the Oregon Coast Trail to Simpson Reef

Hiking the Oregon Coast Trail to Simpson Reef

The Oregon Coast is rugged, beautiful and often uncrowded. This bluff-top out-and-back hike starts and ends in Sunset Bay State Park and follows a section of the Oregon Coast Trail south to the Simpson Reef Overlook. Along the way there are opportunities for short side trips down to hidden coves and beaches, as well as the manicured gardens at Shore Acres State Park. It is a great taste of the Oregon coast, with a side helping of history.

Trail Details
Distance: 8.75 miles
Time: 3-4 hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation gain: 786 ft
Dogs: Yes, on leash
When to go: Year-round
Sunset Bay State Park is a short drive from Coos Bay. The bay itself is small and a popular destination for picnicking, beachcombing, and paddle sports. Hiking this trail takes you away from the busy beach and along some quiet, beautiful sections of the Oregon coast.

Getting to the Trailhead

We were car camping at Sunset Bay State Park, and started our hike right from the campground. If you’re driving to the trailhead, you can park in the lot near the grassy area at the south end of the beach. The trailhead is about 13 miles from Coos Bay and takes about 25 minutes to drive.

From Coos Bay, head north on 101, then turn left on Newmark St (OR 540). As you approach the waterfront, Newmark turns left on Empire (still OR 540). You’ll stay on this (it becomes the Cape Arrago Highway) for almost eight miles, traveling through Barview, across the bridge and through Charleston and eventually reaching Sunset Bay State Park. Get turn-by-turn directions via Google Maps.

Hiking from Sunset Bay to Simpson Reef Overlook

This trail generally follows along the coast along the bluff, sometimes ducking into the forest. Look for the trailhead at the south end of the park. It starts by climbing up the bluff. As with much of the Oregon Coast, it can be frequently wet and slick depending on the weather. It’s definitely lush and green. We spied blackberries, deer fern and wintergreen along the trail.

Just before the two mile mark, we reached a spur trail that headed down to a cove. At low tide, it was a great area for exploring. The fog cloaked the beach in mystery.

Creek into Norton Gulch

Norton Gulch in the Mist

Low Tide at Norton Gulch

Climbing back to the main trail, we continue south. Another 1/2 mile and we veered right at the trail junction, heading to the bluff-top trail through Shore Acres State Park.

Shore Acres State Park was at one time the estate of a timber magnate, and some of the original buildings and the arboretum are still maintained. Dogs are not allowed in the park, except when passing through on the Oregon Coast Trail on leash. The extensive botanical gardens are not covered in this guide, but are definitely worth a visit while you are in the area.

Shore Acres State Park

Once you’ve passed the walled gardens, you soon reach the lovely Simpson Beach. While most of the coast is rocky with tide pools, this sandy beach is relatively well-protected and surprisingly quiet. We were the only ones there, probably because it’s a hike to get here.

Simpson Beach

Continuing south on the trail, you wander the coastal bluff until finally converging with the road at Simpson Reef Overlook. It’s very likely you’ll see other people who drove to this point to walk around and look.

The reef itself extends into the Pacific Ocean quite far, and is teeming with seals, sea lions and other wildlife. Binoculars or a telephoto lens would be helpful here, though you can hear their barking from a distance.


Simpson Reef

This was our turnaround point. After reading about the reef and ogling the wildlife, we turned around and started back on the trail. There are some options in the network of trails along the coast, and we opted to stick closer to the road for a more direct route back to the trailhead and eventually camp.

The trail back was still beautiful, and we encountered artifacts from the days when Shore Acres was an estate — like the gate posts to one of the old entrances.

John Muir was said to despise the word “hiking” as it sounded all too serious and driven. He much preferred the term “sauntering.” Though we logged nearly nine miles on this trail, it was more of a saunter than a hike, best enjoyed at a leisurely pace with plenty of exploration and just enjoying the scenery of this beautiful coast.

Simpson Reef Trail Map & Elevation Profile

Download file: Simpson_Reef_Hike.gpx

Additional Resources

  • Sunset Bay State Park – official website
  • Shore Acres State Park – official website
  • No water is available on the trail. Be prepared to carry what you need.
  • Bring shoes that will give you some traction in slick wet sections of the trail, and a rain jacket just-in-case.
  • The trail is not always well signed, but the area is well defined. With the coast on one side and the road on the other.
  • We did not have cell service for most of the hike.

Originally hiked July 29, 2021 with Joan and our two labradoodles, Lucy and Farley.

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