Thursday, December 27, 2018

Plane, train, and bus: Getting to (and from, and around on) the OCT with public transportation


Photo borrowed from oregon-point.com

December though April is not a good time to hike the Oregon Coast Trail. But it's a great time to be planning an OCT thru-hike. I'm sorry that details about getting to and from the OCT are not really spelled out in my book (Day Hiking: Oregon Coast, which, despite the name, is currently the most comprehensive guide to thru-hiking the OCT). Here, then, is a current guide for getting to the OCT and getting around by bus on the coast if you're wanting to skip a trail section.

This post assumes you are hiking southbound. You really want to hike it that direction, especially if you’re hiking the whole thing. The wind will probably be from the north/northwest every day of your hike in summer (maybe briefly from the east, but not from the south), and it can be strong. You want it at your back.

GETTING TO THE OCT, FROM OUT OF STATE OR OUT OF THE COUNTRY


FLY INTO PORTLAND

If you plan to walk the entire OCT (or a section hike on the northern half), fly in to PDX (Portland). You can take MAX Light Rail from PDX to Union Station in downtown Portland. Both Amtrak and The Point offer very comfortable buses from Union Station to Astoria, stopping at other north coast towns along the way. (Buy your ticket in advance online.)

ACTUALLY GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD: The simplest option is to call a cab (such as Royal Cab) to take you to from Astoria (or another nearby town) to the trailhead at Fort Stevens State Park, beach parking area C; I suggest reserving your cab in advance, as Royal Cab is very busy on days when cruise ships are docked in Astoria. MAYBE CHEAPER, BUT NOT THAT MUCH, AND MORE COMPLICATED: Take the bus to Warrenton (the Fred Meyer bus shelter), then take Sunset Empire bus (see nworegontransit.org) to the Fort Stevens KOA (commercial campground). This is as close as you can get to the start of the trail by bus; from here you’d need to (1) walk or hitchhike up to the campground at Fort Stevens State Park (can camp in hiker-biker area here) and walk out to the beach (but you’d be starting a few miles south of the official trailhead) or (2) walk/hitchhike up to beach parking area C.

FLY INTO EUGENE


If you’re doing a section hike on the south half, flying into the Eugene airport (EUG) is a better option. There is no public transit between the Eugene airport and downtown Eugene (where you can catch a bus to the coast), but there are taxis and Lyft (and, soon, Uber). See below for bus info.

AN ASIDE ABOUT TRAINS


There is no passenger train service on the Oregon Coast. Amtrak has service to Portland, Salem, Albany, and Eugene. (South of Eugene the passenger train route veers inland and is of no use to OCT hikers.) You can catch a bus to points on the coast from the train stations in Portland, Albany, or Eugene (see below); buy your ticket online in advance. (You can do the same in Salem, but it is a short walk between bus stop and train station.) Note that Amtrak also offers nice buses to some towns not served by train.

GETTING HOME AT THE END OF THE OCT


Please stop in at Crissy Field State RecreationSite to sign the trail register when you’re done. (The California border is actually a few minutes farther down the beach). Now it’s time to go home. Here are some options.

FLYING HOME

Your best bet may be to fly home from Medford. Plan to spend the night in Smith River or Crescent City. (Call a cab, or keep walking down the beach past the California state line not very far to Pelican Beach, then walk US 101 2.5 miles south to Smith River Rancheria.) Then take the once-a-day morning The Point bus to Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport; the bus also picks up in Brookings, Smith River, and Crescent City and takes 3-3.5 hours. Alternately take the bus to Eugene and fly home from there (see below).

BUSING BACK NORTH

From Smith River (or from Harbor or Brookings), catch a Curry Public Transit bus north to Coos Bay, and spend the night in Coos Bay. Then take the 7:15 am (at this writing) daily Amtrak bus to Eugene, which takes a little more than 2 hours. That gives you lots of time to catch a train, plane, or bus that same day in Eugene to your next destination. (There is also a Greyhound bus from Smith River to Eugene that costs less but takes 12 hours.)

BUSING TO AND ALONG THE COAST


Some hikers choose to skip the highway walking portions of the OCT and call a cab or take a bus instead. (I’m talking about stretches of a few miles; not that long, but not pleasant). Sometimes drivers will drop you off at a spot other than a scheduled one; ask before you board. If you are unable to arrange a boat ride across one of the big bays (such as Tillamook Bay or Coos Bay), you may want to catch a bus or call a cab to avoid a very long highway walk. And depending on where you start or stop a section hike, you may need to arrange a bus ride along the coast or between some coastal town and a Willamette Valley town. Such bus is offered by a mish-mash of transit companies, but some have consolidated their information to make it easier to sort out.

Get schedules and rates at the following websites, listed, north to south. 

Both Amtrak and The Point offer very comfortable buses from Portland (train station) to Astoria, stopping at Cannon Beach and other coastal towns along the way. The Point can take you from the trail's end to the Medford airport and other points inland. Get tickets in advance online.

Your go-to source for bus info in northwest Oregon (including on the coast as far south as Yachats, in the valley as far south as Albany) is NW Connector. It clearly presents options from several different bus systems. Advance tickets unnecessary. 

LTD now offers bus service in what had been a gap on the coast, between Yachats and Florence. (But it is a state-funded trial service, so hopefully it will still be operating when you need if.) No advance tickets needed.

Pacific Crest Bus Lines offers once-a-day bus service between Eugene and Coos Bay, with stops in Florence and Reedsport (buy tickets from Amtrak). Get tickets online in advance.

Curry Public Transit operates between North Bend/Coos Bay and Brookings. (Actually as far south as Smith River, just inside California). No advance tickets needed.

Greyhound also offers service on the coast, so check it out too (website says their buses are nicer now, but I think mostly they offer cheaper rides, not nicer buses. Not sure.)

A WORD ABOUT CABS AND RIDE-SHARING APPS


Most towns of any size on the Oregon Coast have at least one taxi service. The quality varies. I’ve had very good experience with cabs in Astoria and Brookings and I’ve heard good things about, say, a cheap and quick taxi ride from Coos Bay North Spit to Charleston. But I’ve heard of other hikers who had to wait a long time for a taxi (or one that never arrived). I recommend you call ahead to arrange your ride, and that you be patient with these small-town taxi drivers just trying to make a living. At this writing it appears that nowhere on the Oregon Coast is Uber or Lyft available—but it also appears that they’re seeking drivers in some towns, so that may be coming.