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.
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.
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.