Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Ultimate Oregon Coast Trail Guide, Part III

There’s a saying I’ve heard Pacific Crest Trail hikers use more than once: “Hike your own hike.” Meaning, do it all in one summer or hike it section by section over several years. Use lots of gadgets (electronic maps, solar phone charger, earbuds for listening to music all day) or go old-school, with paper maps and nothing but the sounds of the forest in your ears. Survive on power bars or organic vegetables you grew and dehydrated yourself. Whatever—it’s your hike. There are no rules except the ones you make for yourself.

That came to mind as I thought about camping on the Oregon Coast Trail, especially the southern half. You’ll see that I definitely “hiked my own hike” at the very end. Camping is challenging down south, where frankly there aren’t a lot of legal options in places. So hike your own hike and figure out what works for you. Again, you’ll want to refer to the maps in my book Day Hiking: Oregon Coast or another source as you read. Mileage figures are approximate.

Heceta Head to Florence (miles 185 to 202)
I believe that camping is legal on the beach anywhere between Heceta Head and the Siuslaw River. It’s most appealing at the north end, where you’re not close to US 101 or beach access at Driftwood Shores condominiums. No services, however; walk inland a bit to camp at Baker Beach trailhead (not a formal campground and no water, but has toilets and campsites) or Sutton (a longer walk: toilets and water). Inland a short distance from the Siuslaw River’s north jetty, the OCT takes you past Harbor Vista County Park. And there’s an RV park right in Florence where you can pitch a tent; seems like a weird idea, but you can take a shower and go out to eat shop for groceries and it's kind of cool that way. (I stayed at a friend’s house in Florence.)

Florence to Tahkenitch Creek (Oregon Dunes NRA) (miles 202 to roughly 226)
The only restrictions on beach camping here are from snowy plover protection, March 15 to Sept. 15: you can camp north of the Siltcoos River (the first 5.8 miles south of your return to the beach) but not in the 8.4 miles between the river and Sparrow Park Road. But you can camp in the dunes, such as off the trail north of Tahkenitch Creek (where I camped) or on a sweet knoll at the south end of Threemile Lake. There are also several Forest Service campgrounds along this stretch (have to hike 1+ miles inland through the dunes to reach them) with toilets and water (more details in my book). Camp anywhere on the North Spit south of Sparrow Park Road.

Tahkenitch Creek to Charleston (Oregon Dunes NRA) (miles 226 to 245)
Tank up in Winchester Bay; no good access to water on this stretch. Camp anywhere on the beach except the mouth of Tenmile Creek during plover nesting season. (That is where I camped, before the plover restrictions were in place. Beautiful.) The Horsfall Beach OHV campground (a paved parking area, really) no longer has water but has porta-potties; there’s water at Bluebill Lake Campground less than 1 mile inland off Horsfall Beach Road. You can camp on the beach on Coos Bay North Spit north of the FAA tower (again, details in my book). Toilets and water at the BLM boat launch on the North Spit, where if you’re lucky and smart you will be catching a boat ride to Charleston.

Charleston to Bandon (miles 245 to 267)
I camped at Sunset Bay State Park hiker-biker. It’s 4.2 miles from Charleston—a detour if you plan to continue south from Charleston on Seven Devils Road, but it’s on your way if you plan to go the back way south over Cape Arago. It was raining when I stayed there and the ground was soggy, but lots of friendly cyclists! If you do take the back way over on Cape Arago, you will be going through private timberland and I would urge you to not bivouac there. (I recommend not camping at Bastendorff Beach, where homeless folks have begun camping.) You can camp on the beach anywhere between Seven Devils State Recreation Site and Bullards Beach State Park, where there is a fine hiker-biker (that I stayed in).  No water on this entire stretch, and toilets only at Seven Devils.

Bandon to Floras Lake (miles 267 to 283)
Plover protection prohibits camping on the beach for much of this section, but it’s a narrow, steep beach anyway and not good for camping; there is one primitive site in the dunes designated basically for thru hikers (no services). You’ll probably want to walk all the way to Floras Lake anyway, where there is a county campground where I camped (toilets, water) and where beach camping is allowed west of the lake.

Floras Lake to Port Orford (miles 283 to 298)
The whole Blacklock Point area is an undeveloped state park, so camping is not allowed—but clearly people do it, especially under the trees near the end of the point. You could camp on the beach north of the Sixes River—or walk a little farther to the hiker-biker at Cape Blanco State Park. Ought to be able to camp on the beach between Cape Blanco and where you leave the beach at Tseriadun beach access at the north end of Port Orford.

Port Orford to Gold Beach (miles 298 to 331)
I stayed at the hiker-biker at Humbug Mountain State Park. Otherwise not a lot of options in this stretch. I guess you could camp on the beach north of Nesika Beach, but it’s right next to the highway. South of Otter Point the beach is adjacent to state park land until it’s adjacent to a bunch of houses. But it seems to me you should be able to camp on the beach near the south jetty of the Rogue River; homeless people seem to. I stayed in the Motel 6 at the south end of the Rogue River bridge.

South of Gold Beach (miles 331 to the California border around mile 377)
Not a lot of good options here. Here’s how I “hiked my own hike”: I stopped at the mouth of the Pistol River and called a cab from Brookings to take me to Harris Beach State Park (hiker-biker). In the morning I took a cab back out to the Pistol River and spent a long day walking back to Harris Beach through Boardman State Scenic Corridor. The next day I hiked out to the border and Crissey Field State Recreation Site, where I met my ride home. South of Harris Beach State Park, there is really no place to camp on the beach.

Other options OCT thru-hikers might consider in this stretch, not all of them legal:

● Camp on the beach between Buena Vista State Wayside and the start of the trail up Cape Sebastian (north of the wayside the highway is too close).

● Find a flat spot to bivouac on the trail up the north side of Cape Sebastian (not legal, but unlikely anyone will find you or care).

● Camp on the beach between Pistol River and Crook Point (north of Pistol River the highway is too close).

● Bivouac (illegally) somewhere in Boardman State Scenic Corridor; you wouldn’t be the first person to camp on the little flat above Secret Beach.

● Get a cabin/RV to stay in at Whaleshead Beach Resort, about half-way through Boardman corridor and the only near-OCT lodging I know of between Gold Beach and Brookings.

I offer this online guide as a quicker reference for people contemplating an OCT thru-hike; my book has a lot more details. A follower of this blog just informed that he couldn't get it from REI; apparently REI's book buying section is in some disarray. They should have it soon. And any bookstore (online or brick-and-mortar) can order it if they don't already have it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Ultimate Oregon Coast Trail Camping Guide, Part II (of III, it turns out)

Hiker-biker camp at Bullards Beach, north of Bandon.
Camping isn’t always easy to figure out along the Oregon Coast Trail (see previous post, on March 5, for basic overview). This is not a wilderness trail like the Pacific Crest Trail, where you can basically bivouac wherever, limited only by the availability of water. Here there are more limits, toilets being a big one. Sorry if I seem obsessed with toilets; in fact, I’m quite comfortable with “going” in the wild. But there are a lot of people using the beach in Oregon, and you really must avoid taking a crap in the dunes; OCT hikers should use existing facilities whenever possible. That’s why I tend toward developed sites—I think of it as part of the OCT culture. Plus there are limits on where you can just pitch a tent on the beach; it’s not allowed adjacent to city limits or state parks, and camping right alongside US 101 is neither fun nor a great idea safety-wise, IMO.

So here’s what I know about where you can camp on the north half of the OCT (next post will cover the south half). Someday this may all be captured in an app, but as far as I know, it’s not yet. You’ll want to refer to the maps in my book Day Hiking: Oregon Coast or another source as you read. Mileage figure are approximate.

Astoria to Gearhart (miles 0 to 16)
State Parks allows camping on the beach between Sunset Beach access (about 10 miles south of the start of the trail; toilets at the parking area a short distance inland) and about 0.5 mile south of the 10th Avenue beach access in Gearhart (more toilets in city park at Pacific Way beach access in Gearhart). I stayed at my brother’s house.

Gearhart to Cannon Beach (miles 16 to 30)
Options in this stretch: Seaside International Hostel in Seaside; the top of Tillamook Head, where there is a trailside camping site (the only one like this on the OCT) with three-sided shelters; Sea Ranch RV park in Cannon Beach, which has tent camping sites (NO beach camping allowed on Cannon Beach, strictly enforced). Again, I was fortunate to have a friend to stay with in Cannon Beach.

Cannon Beach to Manzanita (miles 30 to 58)
This stretch is thorny. It looks like you could camp on the beach north and south of Arcadia Beach access (not adjacent to state park) or maybe just north of the houses at Arch Cape, but I haven’t tried it. Rangers kick out anyone trying to camp at the former campground at Oswald West State Park. A person might be able to bivouac along the trail out to Cape Falcon or up Neahkahnie Mountain, but it would illegal and there are no developed sites. I myself walked all the way to the hiker-biker camp at Nehalem Bay State Park, skipping the hike up and over Neahkahnie, which I’ve hiked many times; if you haven’t, don’t miss it. There’s a flat-ish spot on the back side of the summit, just before the trail starts to descend down the south side, that would make a great place for a backpacker’s camp, like the one on Tillamook Head, but there’s not one there now.

Manzanita to Cape Meares (miles 58 to 70)
Best options in this stretch: Barview County Park (at the mouth of Tillamook Bay) and primitive camping at the end of Bayocean Spit. (I bivouacked, probably illegally, off the trail that used to lead up Cape Meares but no longer exists).

Cape Meares to Cape Lookout (miles 70 to 81)
I doubt anyone would bother you if you camped at the end of 5-mile-long Netarts Spit instead (if you get a boat ride across Netarts Bay), but strictly speaking it’s not allowed. I camped in the great hiker-biker camp in Cape Lookout State Park.

Cape Lookout to Pacific City (miles 81 to 94)
I’ve seen surfers camped on the beach on the south side of Cape Lookout: it’s legal between here and the community of Tierra del Mar. I myself got a cheap motel room in the middle of Pacific City. I didn’t then know about the hiker-biker camp at Webb County Campground/Park, a short walk inland from beach access at Cape Kiwanda. No camping allowed on the spit at Bob Straub State Park.

Pacific City to D River at Lincoln City (miles 94 to 119)
Camping is allowed on the beach north of Camp Wi Ne Ma (northernmost end of beach at Neskowin).  South of here you enter beautiful, forested Cascade Head Scenic Research Area, where no camping is allowed (understandable, but unfortunate for thru-hikers). I walked all the way to Devil’s Lake State Park, which has the most unpleasant hiker-biker camp on the coast; instead, I was able to get a regular campsite here, which was nice enough and very convenient.

Lincoln City to Nye Beach at Newport (miles 119 to 145.5 )
Between Lincoln City and Newport there aren’t a lot of options: beach is quite developed and highway 101 runs close to it. I camped at Beverly Beach State Park, then the next day walked the short distance to Nye Beach at the north end of Newport, where I knew there was inexpensive dormitory lodging at the Sylvia Beach Hotel. (I love the hotel, but the dorm was overcrowded and noisy.)

Newport to Beachside State Recreation Site, north of Yachats (miles 145.5 to 165)
South Beach State Park, just south of Newport, has a hiker-biker camp. Within a few years there may be a campground with a hiker-biker camp at Brian Booth State Park, near the mouth of Beaver Creek (but there isn’t yet). That would be cool, as the highway runs right along the beach for much of this stretch: not that bothersome for hiking, but not a place you want to camp. Although I see no reason why you couldn’t camp on the beach just south of Driftwood Creek State Recreation Site; not adjacent to park or city limits. I camped at little Beachside State Recreation Site, between Waldport and Yachats; it has a small hiker-biker camp.

Beachside to Washburne State Park/Heceta Head (miles 165 to 185)
This stretch is not good for beach camping. South of Beachside, there’s a Forest Service campground at Cape Perpetua and one at Rock Creek and finally a hiker-biker at Washburne State Park, which by my calculations is the half-way point on the OCT. People apparently camp at Hobbit Beach, though strictly speaking it’s not allowed.

I’ll finish this OCT camping guide in the next post.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Ultimate Oregon Coast Trail Camping Guide, Part 1

I recently got an email from a woman who was planning an OCT through hike with a group of people. She was disappointed that the new edition of my book (Day Hiking: Oregon Coast Trail) didn’t spell out more clearly where to sleep, night to night.

Camping at the mouth of Tenmile Creek, in the Oregon Dunes, after a stormy night.
Here is the thing. So many people thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail that there are now multiple apps, such as one from, that pinpoint every campsite, water source, and other important sites along the trail. WITH photos, so you can see it all on your phone before you even get there. No one has done this yet for the OCT (as far as I know). So in that sense, the OCT is actually much more of an adventure than the PCT (other than the fact that the OCT is one-seventh the length of the PCT, is in and out of civilization almost daily, and will never require you to bivouc solo in the high Sierra, in the snow.)

The basic rule of thumb for overnighting on the OCT is as follows: stay at state park hiker-biker camps or Forest Service or county campgrounds whenever possible. Not only is it more comfortable, but it puts your human waste in a toilet, which is a major benefit to everyone else vacationing on the Oregon Coast. There are about 19 of these right on the  coast, depending on how you count them (I don’t count campsites in the dunes designed for ATV riders, for instance). Otherwise, wing it. On a month-long hike (12 miles a day average), if these developed campsites were evenly distributed along the coast, you would need to wing it about 1/3 of the time—less often if you hike longer days. But they aren't equally distributed; sometimes you'll find two in one day's hike, and on the southernmost coast it's 65 miles between the hiker-bikers camps at Humbug Mountain and Harris Beach state park.

Which brings us to winging it. This can mean:
  • Camp on the beach or dunes, legally (outside of city and state park limits)
  • Camp on the beach or dunes, illegally (some places no one cares; other places they do)
  • Bivouac in a state park, illegally (in some sites, if you’re discreet and leave no trace, no one will care. I'm not tell you to break the law—I’m just staying that people do)
  • Stay in a hostel (Seaside, for instance) or private campground (as in Pacific City)
  • Stay in a motel (I was able to get a room at a cheap motel twice, in summer, with no reservation)
That’s the basic idea. In my next post I will get specific about where I personally overnighted (23 nights) on the Oregon Coast Trail along with other options in each vicinity.