Located in Florence, Oregon is “Sea Lion Caves”, the only known western, coastal, mainland habitat of Stellar Sea Lions. It is also the world’s largest sea cave in existence today and a perfect place to get up close and personal with nature.
To access the inside of “Sea Lion Cave” visitors must first traverse approximately 400 yards up and down a series of inclines that have a maximum sloping grade of 20%. At the end of the walkway there is an elevator that will transport visitors the rest of the 208 feet below ground into the cave’s main grotto.
Once the elevator reaches its destination there is an additional 63 steps that must be climbed in order to reach the designated viewing area.
The main grotto has a ceiling that reaches 125 feet and a floor comprised of 2 acres of agitating sea.
From the main viewing area inside the grotto visitors can gain insight into the life of these sea lions by observing the animals going about their daily activities.
Made by Basalt rock, the cave is believed to be over 25 million years old. Local lore states that it was discovered by William Cox in 1880 while he was temporarily lost at sea.
Cox claimed to have survived until his rescue by hunting and subsequently living off the meat of the sea lions.
The Wildlife and Best Viewing Times
The most immense of all sea lions, the Stellar males are known to grow up to 12 feet in length and weight an incredulous 1,500 pounds. The females, on the other hand, tend to be a bit smaller and average 9 feet in length with an average weight of 700 pounds.
They tend to breed and give birth during the spring and summer months. The breeding and birthing process takes place on the steep cliff ledges that surround the sea cave. Therefore the best time to view this ritual is during those select months from the outside viewing platform.
After the breeding and birthing season the sea lions retreat into the sea cave itself so those that visit the sea caves during the fall and winter will want to view the sea lions from inside the cave.
The sea caves are said to be the home of an estimated 200 sea lions and that at any given time visitors can expect to see at least 150 sea lions going about their daily business.
In addition to the sea lions, visitors can expect to catch a glimpse of the rare Pigeon Guillemont. As they tend to nest in seaweed along the cliff ledges in early April that is the best time to try and view these unusual sea birds.
Other wildlife that sea cave visitors can expect to see is the ever graceful Gray Whales. Each year, traveling in pods, these sea creatures migrate around “Cape Blance” on their way to and from their native Alaska waters.
Due to their migrating patterns the best time for catching a glimpse of these beautiful creatures is in the summer when they come closest to the edge of the sea cave.
They can be seen breaching out of the water as the feed and otherwise commune with each other.
Admission and Hours of Operation
As of 2010 “Sea Lion Caves” is open daily year round except for both Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. The ticket box office is open from 9:00 am until 5:30 pm. Visitors have a choice of two different ticket options; platform view or cave view.
It currently costs $3.50 per person to access the topside wildlife viewing platform. While on the platform visitors can pay an additional fee to use the on-site telescope or opt to bring their own such equipment.
Due to its height, the view from the platform is exceptional. It affords visitors the chance to take in sweeping vistas of the nearby “Heceta Head Lighthouse”, the Stellar Sea Lions, passing Gray Whales and nesting Pigeon Guillemonts.
The cave view is perhaps the best viewing option if you can stand the overwhelming stench of the animals themselves. The atrocious smell comes from the massive amounts of sea lions living, eating, defecating, breeding and birthing all in one area.
Admission into the cave itself is $13.00 for adults and $8.00 for children ages 3 to 12. Children under the age of 2 are admitted for free and there is a discount ticket price available for senior citizens.
Sea Lion Caves
91560 Highway 101 North
Florence, OR 97439
Those travelers who are planning on visiting the Oregon Coast and want additional information on things to do and places to stay should contact the state’s tourism office.