For at least 6,000 years Native Americans hunted for mussels, crabs, sea urchins, and clams along the coast near Cape Perpetua. Evidence of their lives can still be found in the huge piles of discarded mussel shells that lie along the shore near the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center.
Several early explorers sailed past the cape. The first recorded passage was by Bartolomé Ferrelo in 1543; then came Sir Francis Drake in 1575 and Martin d'Aguilar in 1605. The cape was named by Captain James Cook on March 7, 1778 as he searched for the Pacific entrance to a Northwest Passage. Cook named the cape Perpetua because it was sighted on St. Perpetua's Day.
The area became part of the Siuslaw National Forest in 1908. In 1914, the United States Forest Service cut a narrow road into the cliff around Cape Perpetua and constructed a wooden bridge across the Yachats River, opening travel between the small community of Yachats and Florence, Oregon to the south. The wooden bridge was replaced in 1926 with a steel structure. The Cape Perpetua section of the Roosevelt Memorial Highway (now Highway 101) was built in the 1930s.