As someone who has visited the Sea Lion Caves in Oregon many times, I can confidently say that this magnificent natural wonder is truly one of the Pacific Northwest’s best-kept secrets. The Steller sea lion finds a year-round residence in America’s largest sea cave, making it a unique and remarkable habitat for these creatures.
Eleven miles north of Florence on U.S. Highway 101, you’ll find the largest sea cave in the United States and one of the world’s largest, a fascinating home to the captivating sea lions known as lobos marinos.
Sea Lion Caves in Oregon
Since 1932, Sea Lion Caves has been a privately-owned bird sanctuary and wildlife preserve, situated in the heart of the stunning and rugged Oregon Coast in the Pacific Northwest.
A Brief History: From Discovery to Attraction
In 1880, Captain William Cox made the first non-Native discovery of the Sea Lion Caves, a 325-foot headland featuring two acres of stone floors and tumbled ledges. The property was eventually purchased by R.E. Clanton in 1926, who, along with J.G. Houghton and J.E. Jacobson, opened the caves to the public in 1932. I find it awe-inspiring to think about the hand-crafted cliff trail and the original 125-foot wooden staircase that led to the cave’s entrance.
The Engineering Marvel: The Elevator
One of the most impressive aspects of the Sea Lion Caves is the elevator, which descends 208 feet to an observation post 50 feet above the cavern.
Completed in 1961 after overcoming salt and moisture-related challenges, the elevator offers a fantastic way to view the 1,500-foot-long cavern and the large natural amphitheater.
The Cave’s Inhabitants: Steller Sea Lions
The Sea Lion Caves are not only an incredible geological formation but also the only mainland rookery of Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) in the contiguous United States.
As a frequent visitor, I’ve seen the 200 or so cows, yearlings, and immature bulls up close, including the massive males that can weigh over a ton and maintain harems of up to 24 cows.
A Contentious History: Bounty Hunters and Endangered Species
Until the late 1950s, the State of Oregon paid a bounty on sea lions, leading some hunters to collect the annual limit of $10,000 for several years. Today, these fascinating creatures are protected as endangered species, but many fishermen still argue that the sea lions present unfair competition in the salmon business.
Ownership and Legacy: Family Tradition and Commemoration
The Sea Lion Caves have been owned and operated by members of the Saubert and Jacobson families since Clanton’s withdrawal from the partnership in 1934. In 1982, a life-sized bronze statue of a sea lion family was erected at a cost of $75,000 to celebrate the attraction’s 50th anniversary.
Visiting the Sea Lion Caves: A Must-See Attraction
With over 200,000 visitors annually, the Sea Lion Caves are a popular destination offering unforgettable experiences, whether you choose to ride the elevator or take a steep downhill walk to view the coastal cliffs and the various nesting seabirds. Open seven days a week (except Christmas), this spectacular site employs around forty-five people and continues to protect a valuable natural resource while also delighting visitors like myself.
Heceta Head Lighthouse
Visible from the Sea Lion Caves and just a short five-minute drive away, this striking lighthouse stands proudly on a 1,000-foot-tall cliff and ranks among the most photographed locations on the coast. The encompassing state park offers visitors access to a pristine beach, hiking opportunities, abundant wildlife, breathtaking views, and a charming historic bed and breakfast.
Old Town Florence
Take in the picturesque Siuslaw River Bridge, explore antique shops, art galleries, and interactive museums, or indulge in exceptional shopping and a variety of delectable dining options – all set against the backdrop of a historic and bustling waterfront.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Where are the Sea Lion Caves located?
A: Nestled on the picturesque Oregon Coast, the Sea Lion Caves can be found 11 miles north of Florence and right off U.S. Highway 101.
Q: What are the hours of operation?
A: The Sea Lion Caves are open daily for your convenience, with the exception of Christmas Day. Operating hours may vary, so please check the website or contact them directly for the most up-to-date information.
Q: Is there an admission fee?
A: Yes, there is an entrance fee to access the Sea Lion Caves. The rates may vary for adults, seniors, and children, so be sure to visit the official website or call for the latest pricing information.
Q: How long does a typical visit last?
A: On average, visitors spend about an hour exploring the Sea Lion Caves. This includes the elevator ride down to the observation area, time spent admiring the sea lions and other wildlife, and a visit to the gift shop.
Q: Is the attraction accessible for people with disabilities?
A: The Sea Lion Caves have taken measures to make the site more accessible for all visitors. An elevator is available to transport guests to the observation area, and the gift shop and restrooms are wheelchair accessible.
Q: Are pets allowed at the Sea Lion Caves?
A: Unfortunately, pets are not permitted inside the Sea Lion Caves, as the presence of animals might disturb the sea lions and other wildlife. It’s best to make arrangements for your pet’s care prior to your visit.
Q: Can I take photographs or videos during my visit?
A: Absolutely! Visitors are encouraged to capture their memories by taking photos and videos inside the Sea Lion Caves. However, please be respectful of the wildlife and other guests while doing so.
Q: What is the best time of year to visit the Sea Lion Caves?
A: The Sea Lion Caves are a year-round attraction, and each season offers unique experiences. While sea lions can be found in the caves throughout the year, their numbers may vary depending on the season and their breeding cycle. Typically, during the summer months, the sea lions can be found on the rocky ledges just outside the cave.
This area serves as their rookery, where they engage in breeding, birthing, and socializing activities. In the winter and spring months, they are more likely to be found inside the cave for shelter. Be sure to check the website or for more information on the best times to see the sea lions.
Q: Is there a gift shop on site?
A: Yes, the Sea Lion Caves features a gift shop where you can purchase souvenirs, gifts, and educational materials to remember your visit. The gift shop is accessible to all visitors and offers a variety of items for all ages.
Q: Are there any nearby attractions or accommodations?
A: The Oregon Coast is a popular tourist destination, offering a variety of attractions, accommodations, and dining options. In addition to the Sea Lion Caves, you can explore nearby coastal towns, state parks, and beaches. Be sure to research the area before your visit to make the most of your trip.
RELATED: Florence, Oregon: A Travel Guide For Unique Things To Do
How to get here
Sea Lion Caves can be found along US Highway 101 at milepost 179, approximately 11 miles north of Florence and 38 miles south of Newport in the central region of the Oregon Coast.
Address: 91560 Hwy. 101 N. Florence, OR 97439
Official site: https://www.sealioncaves.com/