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Devil's Churn on the Oregon Coast: Dangers and the Astounding Sights

Published 5/20/24 at 11:35 p.m.
By Andre' Hagestedt, Oregon Coast Beach Connection

(Yachats, Oregon) – In many ways, the name rings very true. When they call it the Devil's Churn, it means it's a place that can turn on you. (All photos Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

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The beloved central Oregon coast landmark sits a few miles south of the sleepy hamlet of Yachats, often living up to that moniker. Some 100 feet of a massive crevice in the basalt base of towering Cape Perpetua funnels the energy of waves in, then compresses them until they spill over the side in dramatic explosions of sea and foam. If this were a more superstitious time, we would indeed be blaming the devil himself for this display.

Still, in spite of its ability to live up to its reputation, it's more of a funnel rather than a place where waves churn. But perhaps the "Devil’s Funnel" sounds wimpy for a place to witness nature in a dangerously beautiful state.

In many instances, the most powerful and incredible explosions come from near the mouth of the Churn. There, rocky ledges that almost look as if they guard this basalt beastie often bear the initial brunt of these waves, which are merciless. At this point, they often detonate in interesting patterns, doing a kind of ballet in the air. It can be mesmerizing to watch these waves.

The Devil's Churn is filled with more oceanic insanity during the winter and spring, and summer and fall frequently see it in a calmer, less angry mood. These are generally OK times to head down the snaking, scenic path to the bottom: the parking lot is a good 100 feet above the structure itself.

It's less dramatic in summer and early fall, but a helluva lot safer.

Indeed, this place is devilish and is quick to injure or take a life. Stay away from the ledges at all times, no matter what the conditions. But especially if the waves are in a churning state, stay clear of the bottom of that stairway, as this place often tosses logs and other debris up in the air – stuff which can even crush you.

In 2021, a 67-year-old man from California died while trying to jump the gap. It's not a small opening by any means, and those edges are slippery from sea life and the ocean water itself. Even the smallest area of the Devil's Churn is a few feet wide, and hopping across to the other side is just not going to be worth it. See Three Recent Deaths Around Oregon Coast: Two in Traffic, One in Surf

Even those who may try to rescue you are in serious danger. That raucous surf took the life of the man within minutes. While others tried to throw him a life line, he was battered hard by the waves and either lost consciousness right there or died quickly: his unresponsive body was carried out to sea and disappeared.

Oregon Coast Beach Connection has caught plenty of unwise behavior here, including back in 2008 where this group of three were sitting way too close to all the action. You know you're in the path of waves if the area has pools of water and is still wet around those pools. This means the waves have smacked there just recently.

This group of three were hanging too close to the edges for these conditions. You can see them running from a large wave which did indeed soak them within a second of this frame.

Another photo shows the wave hits hard and comes to tower 30 feet above them.

During calmer moments or especially low tides, you can peek at the back of the Devil's Churn, and see that the crevice briefly goes beneath the rock, and then the rockface opens up again. This back area – which often popular with visitors – is especially dangerous as that’s where much of the debris gets lobbed. But during less maniacal moments, you can see colonies of sea life clinging to the black rock as if nothing scary or crazy is going on.

Around the southern end of the ledges and Cape Perpetua lurks a beach, and some park benches for simply sitting and viewing. During the summer and more tranquil tides, this is a calming, somewhat secret beach, with views to the mottled top of Cape Perpetua, some 700 feet above it all. It's a kick of an attraction all itself. About Cape Cove Beach: Unique Spot Only Exists Half the Time

There is also a secret path down to this beach next to the handicap access for Cook’s Chasm.

The main path down to the Devil’s Churn is full of dramatic twists and turns itself, and scenic vantage points abound for both the north view and the southern view. For those less hardy souls – or if it’s especially inclement weather – the top parking lot provides plenty of dramatic views of the all the action.

From here, it’s about 20 miles of more dramatic Oregon coast scenery and lots of secret beaches until you reach Florence. North of here – between Cape Perpetua and Yachats - also makes for fascinating scenic stops, like one apex in the winding road that’s about 300 feet above the powerful, raging surf. See Oregon Coast Treasure: Stone Shelter Atop Perpetua

Make sure you bring a camera of one kind or another.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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