The privately owned since 1932 wildlife preserve, Sea Lion Caves is a part of the Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve. Made from Basalt Rock, the grotto has the height of a 12-story building (125-foot) and the floor size of a football field (two acres).
The world's largest Sea Lion Caves is located 10 miles north of Florence and 14 miles south of Yachats on Highway US-101. The cave is accessible by a steep path from the visitor center and elevator. On the way to the elevator, you'll enjoy a fantastic panorama of the ocean, picturesque Heceta Head Lighthouse, swimming sea lions in the surf, seabirds, and maybe annually migrating whales. The elevator descends to the floor of the grotto which is natural seasonal home to Steller (Northern) sea lions. Roaring, fighting, swimming or just lounging on the rocks, sea lions can be viewed behind a wire fence.
The grotto's walls are covered with lichens, algae, and minerals that stain the surfaces green, pink, purple, and red.
The colony of animals uses this cave as a shelter from foul winter weather. In spring and summer, they move to rock ledges outside of the cave. So, if you want to find sea lions in the cave, the best time for visiting are the late fall and winter months. Inside the cave, you'll find the skeleton and bones of ancient sea lions. Interpretive displays and a short video give information about the cave and animals. Flash photography is not allowed in Sea Lion Caves.
Sea Lion Caves. Facts
Identified by Guinness Book of World Records as America's largest sea cave.
Region: Central Oregon Coast, U.S.
Opened to public: 1932
Grotto Height: 125 ft (38 m)
Grotto Acreage: 2 acres (0.81 ha)
Access allowed: 363 days a year (except Thanksgiving & Christmas) from 9 am to 4 pm
Service: Parking (including RV & Trailers), gift shop, interpretive displays, video.
Fees (2017): Adult -$14; seniors (over 60)-$13; children (5 to 12)-$8; children(4 and younger)-free
GPS Coordinates: 44.1218,-124.1289
Address: 91560 US-101, Florence, OR 97439
Sea Lion Caves History
Sea Lion Caves' formation began 25 million years ago. For centuries the ocean waves hit basalt cliffs to carve one of the largest sea grottos of the world. Another one, Blue Grotto in the Mediterranean is comparable in size and coloration.
The cavern was discovered by Captain William Cox (the first non-Native) in 1880. He rowed his small boat through the western entrance when the ocean was quiet. He returned to explore the grotto a few times and once was trapped there for several days because of a strong wind and high waves. To survive he shot a young sea lion and ate the meat of its flippers. In 1887 William Cox purchased the cave from the State of Oregon.
In 1926 the cave was sold to R.E. Clanton. Clanton and his two partners decided to develop this site as a tourist attraction, building a safe access to the cave.
In 1932 Sea Lion Caves opened to the public. The cave was accessible by a steep trail and a wooden staircase with 250 stairs. Often climbing was impossible for many visitors.
In 1961 an elevator was built, and the number of visitors rose rapidly. The elevator travels 208 feet (63 m) at 250 feet per minute.
Sea Lion Caves Inhabitants
Steller Sea Lions or Northern Sea Lions
Sea Lions Caves is the natural seasonal home to Steller (Northern) sea lions and only known mainland habitat for hundreds of sea lions.
Steller or Northern Sea Lions are the largest species of the eared seal family. Mature males can weigh up to 2,400 pounds (over 1,000 kilograms) and are about 10 feet (3 meters) long. Females are 700 pounds (317 kilograms) and 7-8 feet (2-2.4 meters) in length. They are yellowish-brown with dark brown flippers and have a deep load roar. Sea Lions have visible ear flaps and can turn their hind flippers under the body which allows them to walk when on land.
The sea lions are extremely polygamous and may mate with 15-30 females during breeding season. The most powerful males (bulls) fight and hold the best territories that attract more females (cows). The Steller sea lions are summer breeders; females typically give birth to a single pup each year. They may nurse their pups for up to three years.
California Sea Lions & Harbor Seals
The high vault of the cavern is a resting area for seabirds. Three type of gulls (western, herring, and California gulls) are seen near the caves. You may see cormorants, pigeon guillemot, grouse, tufted puffins, quail, and much more.