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Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge
Pacific Region

Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge - Photo by Roy Lowe USFWS

On foggy days, a massive silhouette encircled by ocean transports your imagination to times past. If you were close to the refuge in spring the raucous calls of more than 100,000 nesting Common Murre would fill your ears. Designated as the first National Wildlife Refuge west of the Mississippi River, Three Arch Rocks Refuge lies ½ mile offshore of the community of Oceanside. One of the Oregon coast's best-known landmarks, the refuge consists of three large and six smaller rocks totaling 15 acres. The refuge is one of the smallest National Wilderness Areas in the country.

Download a PDF map of Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge (1.9 MB).

Refuge Planning and Management

The Oregon Coast Refuge Complex completed a planning process for the long term management of wildlife, habitat, and public use activities on Cape Meares, Oregon Islands, and Three Arch Rocks Refuges. Download a map of our planned management direction (2.6 MB PDF). For more information, visit our CCP site.

Common Murre Colony - Photo by Roy Lowe USFWS

Wildlife and Habitats

The rocks provide habitat for Oregon's largest breeding colony of Tufted Puffins. These flamboyant birds with their large bright orange beaks and long yellow head tufts are one of the most recognizable seabirds on the Oregon coast. Other seabird species breeding on this refuge include Leach's Storm-petrel, Brandt's Cormorant and Pigeon Guillemot.

The refuge also supports the largest breeding colony of Common Murre south of Alaska and is the only pupping site on the north Oregon coast for Steller sea lion. Measuring 10' in length and weighing up to 2,000 pounds, the Steller sea lion is the larger of the two sea lions found on the Oregon coast.

Common Murre Colonies on Shag Rock and the South Camp of Finley and Bohlman - Photos by Herman Bohlman and William Finley

The History of Three Arch Rocks Refuge

Three Arch Rocks was established as a National Wildlife Refuge largely due to the efforts of two young men. Conservationists William L. Finley and Herman Bohlman began photographing the wildlife at Three Arch Rocks from the town of Oceanside in 1901. Several times a week they witnessed hunters row to the rocks to kill scores of sea lions for their skins and oil. Even more disturbing, were the sportsmen that came to the rocks each Sunday for target practice. On these days, thousands of seabirds were exterminated, not for their meat or feathers, but purely for sport. Egg harvesting was also taking its toll on seabird populations. Due to the lack of chicken farms in California at this time, seabird eggs were very valuable and sold for as much as a dollar per dozen.

After studying and photographing the wildlife on the rocks for several years, Finley brought their findings to President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. Finley showed the images of the wildlife of Three Arch Rocks to Roosevelt and explained the need to protect dwindling populations from hunters and sportsmen. They stressed that a wildlife sanctuary would ensure the survival of seabird and marine mammal populations. Four years later on October 14, 1907, Finley and Bohlman's efforts were rewarded when President Roosevelt declared Three Arch Rocks a National Wildlife Refuge. Today, it protects over a quarter million nesting seabirds and is a favorite haulout site for marine mammals. It is the oldest National Wildlife Refuge west of the Mississippi River.

Below are some of Finley and Bohlman's photography from their early 20th century trip to Three Arch Rocks. These images are provided by the Audubon Society of Portland. Click on the thumbnails to view larger versions. For more images, please visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Digital Repository.

Common Murres on the left and Brandt's Cormorant on the right at Three Arch Rocks, 1903.
A Tufted puffin guarding its egg at Three Arch Rocks, 1903.
Hand painted glass slide of a Brandt's Cormorant at the edge of its nest in Three Arch Rocks preparing to fly.
A Common Murre with its chick at Three Arch Rocks taken by Finley and Bohlman during a 1903 photography trip.
Common Murres at Three Arch Rocks, taken by Finley and Bohlman during a 1903 photography trip to the area.
Dallas Lore Sharp with a common murre at Three Arch Rocks bird refuge during a summer visit in 1912.
William Finley and friends coming ashore at Three Arch Rocks during the summer of 1912.
Hand painted glass slide of Finley and Bohlman in the cliffs at Three Arch rocks with their camera gear during a 1903 photography trip to the area.

Image of young kids and parents overlooking Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge - Photo by Dawn Grafe USFWS

Visitor Opportunities

Three Arch Rocks NWR can best be viewed from the mainland at Cape Meares and in the town of Oceanside. To prevent disturbance to extremely sensitive seabirds, Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge is closed to public entry year-round and waters within 500 feet of the refuge are closed to all watercraft from May 1st through September 15th.


Both Cape Meares and Oceanside are located on the Three Capes Scenic Route west of Tillamook. When approaching Tillamook on US Highway 101, follow signs for the Three Capes Scenic Route.

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Site last updated October 20, 2014