The OCT starts at Parking Area C in Fort Stevens State Park, where Clatsop Spit juts into the mouth of the Columbia River. There’s a tall viewing platform here, great for watching ships crossing the Columbia River bar. But you may be more interested in gazing south, where your first 16 miles of unbroken beach beckon. (If you don’t have a friend who can drop you at the start of the trail, you can take a Greyhound bus from Portland to Astoria, and then hire a cab to get to the trailhead at Fort Stevens. There are two cab companies in Astoria at this writing; one just quoted me $25-$30 for that ride.)
The beach is super wide here, courtesy of the Columbia River transporting sediments from the interior for thousands of years. Tide isn’t really an issue, at least in summer; there is always plenty of beach to walk on. Cars are an issue, however. At Mile 3.75 you’ll pass a rusting iron hulk of a sailing ship—the Peter Iredale, which ran aground here in 1906. (I love this photo I found online of the Peter Iredale, by Matt Conwell). South of the shipwreck, cars are allowed to drive on the beach clear to Gearhart. (North of the Peter Iredale, cars must be off the beach from noon to midnight May 1 to Sept. 15.) Rest assured that this is the last major stretch of Oregon beach where cars are allowed.
It's about 16 miles total to Gearhart. Approaching Gearhart, look for the vehicle beach access road just past a five-story condominium complex. Rather than leave the beach here, walk another 0.5 mile and follow the footsteps in the sand up a path leading to the end of Pacific Way. My preferred route through Gearhart is to take Pacific Way a few blocks east to the center of town (and Pacific Way Bakery) at Cottage Avenue. Walk south on Cottage Avenue to F Street; jog left, then right, then left onto G Street and follow it east to U.S. Highway 101 (Mile 17.25).
Follow the busy highway shoulder 0.6 mile south. Immediately after crossing Neawanna Creek, veer right onto 24th Avenue. Follow it west and south (becomes N. Holladay Drive) about. 0.8 mile to 12th Avenue. A right turn on 12th Avenue leads past public restrooms (and water) and out to the beach (Mile 19).
If a nearly 20-mile first day is too much, consider starting your hike at Sunset Beach or Del Ray Beach state recreation sites. Beach camping is allowed between Sunset Beach access and the 10th Avenue beach access in Gearhart, south of which cars are not allowed. And the Gearhart McMenamins hotel is a short walk off the beach at 10th Avenue. There is also a cute old motor court at Cottage Avenue and Pacific Way and lots of lodging in Seaside.
One fine option is Seaside International Hostel, on the river at N. Holladay and 10th Avenue (just two blocks south of 12th Ave.). Proprietor Trung caters to backpackers from around the world with inexpensive accommodations (in bunk or private rooms) on the river. She is an avid kayaker and has canoes and kayaks available for rent; try the Vietnamese coffee at the espresso bar.