Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A hard NO on hiking the OCT in 2020

None of this is possible in 2020: hugging strangers you meet along the OCT, or even camping at hiker-biker camps (this is South Beach State Park)

I finally got the information I needed to make a clear recommendation to those seeking to thru-hike the Oregon Coast Trail in 2020:

Don't do it.

Why? Well, there is the general recommendation to not travel far, to stay close to home, especially as I write this (late June), with COVID-19 cases spiking statewide, including in Lincoln and other coastal counties.

But the unavailability of campgrounds is the clincher. Because much of the OCT goes through developed areas, because you can rough camp in only limited portions of the OCT, the availability of campgrounds is key, both for sleeping and for toileting. Here is the campground situation:

Most coastal state park campground are open. But they require reservations.

No hiker-biker camps are open. They aren't likely to reopen this hiking season. State Parks has a policy of not turning away people who arrive by bike or on foot, but it is unclear how they are going to honor that policy given that hiker-biker camps are closed.

Due to several state budget cuts, several key state park campgrounds are closed, some until the end of July, some until the end of the year. That means, among other things, the water is turned off and the restrooms are closed. Some of these are in key locations where there isn't an alternative for many miles. They are (north to south):

  • Devil's Lake State Park
  • Beachside State Recreation Site
  • Carl G. Washburne State Park
  • Umpqua Lighthouse State Park
  • Cape Blanco State Park

Most or all county campgrounds seem to be open. Most federally managed campgrounds (such as at Cape Perpetua in the north and Oregon Dunes National Recreation area) are also open, but they require reservations, and services may be limited. The few that offer hiker-biker areas probably still will.

Those are the details. Here's the big picture. The availability of potable water, toilets, and drop-in campsites along the OCT is essential for a successful OCT thru-hike, and you just won't be able to count on them being open this year. Much of the fun of an OCT hike is stopping in at coffee shops and chowder shops and microbreweries, but even where indoor service is now provided, it's just not a good idea at this time.

Look, if the OCT was entirely in undeveloped public land like the Pacific Crest Trail is, it would be a different story. But no one (in their right mind) is hiking the PCT this year either.

You could consider a section hike along the Oregon Dunes, rough camping along the way, but you'll need to carry water. Winchester Bay Charters can ferry you across Winchester Bay, and you can fill up on water at one of the campgrounds there. 

Let's hope there's a vaccine by next spring. Meanwhile I strongly urge you to delay your plans to thru-hike the OCT until 2021 or later.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Hiking the OCT--maybe--in 2020

UPDATED MAY 30, 2020

Oregon is starting to reopen. That means that hiking the Oregon Coast Trail may be possible in summer 2020 after all. Here are some things to think about as you consider your plans.

Most, but not all, coastal state parks are set to open June 9, but HIKER-BIKER SITES WILL NOT BE OPEN INITIALLY. Check Oregon State Parks FAQ page for details; even if a park is listed open, keep reading to see if hiker-biker sites are open. I would not advise undertaking an OCT thru-hike unless all the hiker-biker campsites are open.

Restrooms may be limited. One of the things that's been done to keep Covid-19 from spreading is closing public restrooms. Access to public restrooms is pretty important on the OCT. But in many places, if the restrooms are closed, portapotties have been brought in.

Be prepared to carry water. With many restrooms closed, access to potable water may be more limited than usual, so you may have to stock up more. Unknown when that may change.

Boat shuttles should be happening! This is the key, IMO, to a successful OCT thru-hike. Jetty Fishery at Nehalem Bay has reopened and is shuttling hikers across Nehalem Bay. Garibaldi Marina isn't quite there yet but hopes to be offering ferries across Tillamook Bay by July; it may be just 1 or 2 people at a time per boat, however, to maintain distancing. Winchester Bay Charters is in business and available to shuttle hikers across the Umpqua, and they're still offering to connect hikers with outfitters in Coos Bay for shuttles there. I don't know if they have done that yet (it's something Annalisa said she'd be happy to try at the end of last season), but give her a call: it would beat many miles of highway shoulder and sidwalk through North Bend-Coos Bay.

Grocery stores are open. Plan to wear a face covering into the grocery store. Coastal restaurants are slowly reopening, though many are still takeout-only.

Lodging is reopening in many places. Coastal innkeepers would love to have your business.

Basically it looks like an OCT hike will be doable this summer, particularly if you live nearby and don't have to travel too far to get here (which is still being discouraged). But I would think in terms of starting no sooner than July 1. Make sure Oregon State Parks has reopened all of its coastal campgrounds. It should go without saying that you should stay home if you feel ill or have been exposed to anyone with the virus, but there, I said it. Carry and use hand sanitizer and a face covering when you enter grocery stores or any indoor spaces. And keep your distance from folks. Don't be a spreader, and don't get sick yourself. If people keep following the rules and there are no new outbreaks, it could be a great year for an OCT trek after all.