Paddling out into the thunderous, head-high waves at high tide was the first step towards untold beauty and serenity. Beyond the breaking swell exists another world divorced from the cacophonous mainland that is being slowly consumed by the Pacific.
The spectacular and otherworldly Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge is guarded by a half mile of choppy Pacific swell, west of the small community of Oceanside, Oregon. One of six federally protected refuges that are contained within the Oregon Coastal Refuge Complex, Three Arch Rocks is comprised of 3 large and 6 small, craggy islands with a veritable cornucopia of wildlife spread across 15 acres. The refuge is home to threatened Steller Sea Lions, various species of seabirds such as Tufted Puffins and Common Murres, birds of prey, as well as a myriad of marine invertebrates. Established in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt at the behest of conservationists William L. Finley and Herman Bohlman, it became the first National Wildlife Refuge west of the Mississippi River. Finley and Bohlman were spurred to action by bearing witness to the decimation of Three Arch Rocks wildlife for myopic commercialism and vainglorious pursuits such as “target practice” of the local seabirds.
Today, the easiest way to appreciate the refuge is with binoculars or a spotting scope from the neighboring Oceanside Beach. It is illegal to physically visit the craggy islands, but for the adventurous, a sea kayak or stand up paddleboard (SUP) can provide a less inhibited perspective and an experience replete with reverence for the natural world. During the summer months (May 1st – September 15th) you may only approach by boat to within 500 feet of the islands as to not disturb the nesting birds. If you decide to visit by SUP or kayak it is best to avoid the larger swells on the north side of the islands and expect to be escorted by a diligent parade of curious Steller Sea Lions.