Monday, September 30, 2013

Mile 68.8 (Garibaldi) to Mile 86.2 (Cape Lookout State Park)

Notations such as “(Hike 17)” refer to hikes in my book “Day Hiking: Oregon Coast.”

Cumulative mileage figures in parentheses refer to mileage in this section only.


From Garibaldi  (according to the official Oregon Parks & Recreation Department website), the route of the OCT continues along the shoulder of U.S. 101 and Netarts Highway all the way around Tillamook Bay to the community of Cape Meares.
There is simply no way I would do that. Why walk 20 miles of road shoulder, far from the beach, when it’s easy and shorter and way more fun and scenic to hire or hitch a ride across the mouth of Tillamook Bay to Bayocean Spit and walk down the beach less than 6 miles? OK, it takes either a little planning or a little luck, but an unnecessary highway slog is just not an option for OCT hikers, IMO.

The preferred alternative: Head down to the marina at Garibaldi and ask around among the recreational fishermen messing around in their boats whether someone might give you a ride over to Crab Harbor on Bayocean Spit (see Hike 17). (That’s the best place to get dropped off; the trail up the spit hugs the bay there. Father north you have to bust through dense underbrush to reach the trail.) Or do as other hikers have done and inquire with Garibaldi Marina (503/322-3312) about arranging a ferry for a fee. Such a shuttle may only be possible at mid- to high-tide, so arrange in advance or prepare to wait.

There are a couple of rustic campsites at Crab Harbor (again, see Hike 17), one with a vault toilet (but no water). From here, follow the wide gravel trail (a former road) south about 2.3 miles, depending on exactly where you got dropped off, to the trailhead parking area, then follow the trail west through the dunes 0.4 mile to the beach. It’s about 2.7 miles down the beach, passing the community called Cape Meares (no stores, no motels, but there are several house rentals listed on, to the foot of the headland called Cape Meares (5.4 miles).

You may have to wait for low tide to get to the trail leading up the cape. My book, Day Hiking: Oregon Coast, mentions a High Tide Trail, but landslides have reportedly destroyed it.  Instead, walk the beach to the base of the cliffs and pick up the trail heading uphill. You’ll (presumably still) reach a trail junction with the old High Tide Trail in 0.2 miles; just continue up another 1.5 miles to the top of the cape. Turn left at the trail junction to reach the park road (7.1 miles).

To continue, go left a few steps to reach Cape Meares Loop Road and begin following it to the south, toward Oceanside. If you want to take a break, follow Lighthouse Road west 0.25 mile to the end of the road, where there are flush toilets and potable water and where you can visit old Cape Meares Lookout. To pick up the OCT from here, follow signs 0.6 mile past the Octopus Tree to the trail’s end on Cape Meares Loop Road. Follow the road 2 miles down to the community of Oceanside (10 miles), where you can return to the beach at the state wayside (flush toilets/water). Walk down the beach about 2.4 miles to the community of Netarts. From here:

·         Wave over a fisherman to hitch a ride across the mouth of Netarts Bay, then follow the beach on the ocean side of the spit 5 miles south to the Cape Lookout State Park day use area near the base of the cape (17.4 miles).

·         Try to arrange a ride across the bay mouth with Big Spruce RV Park, in the boat basin (503/842-7443) or possibly Netarts Bay RV Park and Marina (503/842-7774) (I haven’t tried them) and walk down the spit to the park as described above.

·         Walk Netarts Bay Drive (becomes Whiskey Creek Road) all the way around the bay to Cape Lookout State Park (the least preferable alternative, but at least it's not busy U.S. 101).

Cape Lookout State Park has a great hiker-biker camp. There is lodging in Oceanside and Netarts, and maybe those RV parks in Netarts would let you pitch a tent if need be.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mile 56.3 (Nehalem Bay State Park) to 68.8 (Garibaldi)

Cumulative mileage figures in parentheses refer to mileage in this section only.


One of the best things about hiking the OCT, in my opinion, is catching boat rides across the bay mouths. This first one is the easiest; just wave your arms at the end of Nehalem Spit and, like magic, a boat appears. From Nehalem Bay State Park, head south down the beach 2.5 miles to the end of the sand spit. (There's also a sandy horse trail that leads down the center of the spit, but who wants to walk that? Unless rain is lashing the beach, and then you’re probably still cozy inside your tent on its elevated platform.) From the end of the spit, pick up a rough little trail leading east about 0.5 mile along the north jetty to a little beach; from here, wave your arms to hail a boat from Jetty Fishery, just across the bay mouth (or call them: 503/368-5746); for a small fee ($10 per person in 2013 and for many years before that) they will ferry you across the narrow bay mouth.

From Jetty Fishery, pick your way 0.75 west along the south jetty to return to the beach. It's about 6 miles of beach walking, passing the town of Rockaway Beach, to reach the north jetty at the mouth of Tillamook Bay (9.75 miles). (If you need groceries, Rockaway Beach Market is on the east side of U.S. 101 at S. Second St. and S. Anchor St.; leave the beach halfway to the Tillamook north jetty, just past a little creek entering the beach that might or might not be discernible in summer,  and head east into town to find it.) Leave the beach at the jetty and walk out the Barview County Park road (flush toilets/potable water better in the campground than at the jetty parking area) 1 mile to the railroad tracks or, just past them, U.S. 101. It's a 1.5-mile walk south from here to the Port of Garibaldi; the highway shoulder is very narrow, so I took my chances with another pair of hikers and walked on the railroad tracks (without incident). Approaching the main marina, look for a little paved path leading 0.25 mile off the highway/tracks and toward the boats (12.5 miles). (This photo is not of Rockaway Beach; it's of the beach south of Florence, but I like this wide beach and the clouds and the tiny people way down the beach; they could be you.) 

Overnighting: Consider pitching a tent back at Barview County Park, which has some sweet, woodsy, private campsites, or bivouac at the end of Bayocean Spit (see next post). There are reasonably priced motels in Rockaway Beach and Garibaldi.



Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mile 32.5 to 56.3: Cannon Beach to Manzanita/Nehalem Bay State Park

Notations such as “(Hike 12)” refer to hikes in my book “Day Hiking: Oregon Coast.”

Cumulative mileage figures in parentheses refer to this section only.

I have vivid memories of the morning I walked south from Cannon Beach, past Haystack Rock, on my through-hike. I started early to catch the low tide, and I recall the rising sun glinting off the wet sand as I threaded my way among the tall rocks at Humbug Point. You will want to hike this beach stretch on a low tide to get around Silver and Humbug Points (or you could always hop up to the road/highway if necessary). Hug Point (4.8 miles), the next potential obstacle, has a road cut into the rock a few feet above the sand that stagecoaches, and then cars, used in the last century, when the tide was too high to travel on the beach (see Hike 12), but you still want to aim at hitting it at low to mid tide. There are vault toilets up the beach access trail here. Continue another 1.75 miles. About 100 yards before the beach ends at the foot of Arch Cape, leave the beach on a little trail that leads onto Leech Street. Follow Leech east almost to US 101, turn right on Cannon Street, and follow it south and east under the highway and onto E. Shingle Mill Lane. Walk up Shingle Mill Lane a total of about 0.4 mile from the beach; at the sign for Third Road, turn right on a little gravel road that leads to a suspension bridge over Arch Cape Creek and resumption of the OCT as a forest trail (Hike 13). Walk 0.1 mile, turn right at the trail post, and follow the trail another 1.75 miles up and through the woods over Arch Cape and back to U.S. 101 (8.8 miles).

The trail resumes across the road about 50 yards to the south. Now you're looking at a 6.75-mile hike over Cape Falcon before returning to U.S. 101 at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain. A few landmarks along the way:  2.75 miles after the forest trail resumes, you'll reach an unmarked spur trail leading out to the bald tip of Cape Falcon (scenic spot for a break, where I sketched Neahkahnie Mountain in my notebook; could you bivouac here in a pinch?). In another 2.75 miles you'll reach a lovely picnic spot in Oswald West State Park overlooking Short Sand Beach (approaching this spot, bear right at trail junctions). Unfortunately, Oswald West State Park (formerly a hike-in campground favored by surfers) is now closed to overnight camping. (There are flush toilets and potable water here.) Rangers DO kick out anyone found camping here. The trail resumes at the southeast corner of the picnic area; follow it over Short Sand and Necarney Creeks another 1.25 miles to U.S. 101 (15.6).

The OCT continues across the highway, heading up Neahkahnie Mountain (Hike 15*). I was too beat to hike 4 miles up and over the mountain, with its 1,200-foot elevation gain, despite the awesome summit views. Instead, I opted to walk along the highway instead (1.5 road miles, minimal elevation gain, narrow highway shoulder, still great views). Either way, from the access road leading to the southern Neahkahnie trailhead, walk 1.2 miles south on U.S. 101 and turn right on Nehalem Road (20.8 miles), which winds 0.8 mile down to the beach; follow the beach 0.7 mile south to Laneda Avenue, the main street in Manzanita where most of the shops and restaurants are. (This town as lots of good restaurants and a great coffee shop:  Manzanita News & Espresso.) Alternatively, continue on U.S. 101 past Nehalem Road for 0.3 miles to a little grocery store on the right; walk west a block, then south a block, then continue west down Laneda Avenue to the beach and knocking 0.5 mile off your hike.) Nehalem Bay State Park is 1.5 miles farther down the beach (23.8 miles, or 20.8 with shortcuts I took); watch for footsteps leading east over the dune. The hiker-biker camp here has elevated tent platforms, which are a little odd but probably great in the rain, as long as your tent is a smallish, self-supporting dome tent.
Be aware that since the closure of the campground at Oswald West State Park, there is no legal place to pitch a tent between Cannon Beach and Nehalem Bay State Park (20.6 to 23.6 miles—a long day’s hike). There is lodging (rather high-end) in both Arch Cape and in Manzanita, 13 to 16 trail miles apart.

 *Day Hiking: Oregon Coast (third edition) mistakenly lists trail distance up the north side of Neahkahnie Mountain as 4.2 miles; it’s more like 2 miles. I’ll correct that in the fourth edition.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Mile 19 to 32.5: Seaside to Cannon Beach

References such as “Hike 7” refer to hikes in my book Day Hiking: Oregon Coast.

Cumulative mileage figures are for the section described here.

Many times I have day hiked to the top of Tillamook Head and admired, but not stayed in, the sweet little shelters there for backpackers. Nor did I spend the night there on my through-hike of the OCT (timing didn’t work out; I was too eager to make miles). It almost seems worthwhile, if you’re starting in Seaside, to plan a scant 8-mile day just to spend a night in those shelters.

Picking up the trail in Seaside at 12th Avenue and N. Holladay, cross the river (restrooms and water in city park here) and go west a few blocks to hit the beach at the north end of Seaside’s Promenade.  Walk this busy beach (not so busy in this photo by M.O. Stevens; it's busier further south, near the lifeguard towers) south toward Tillamook Head. Approaching the Lanai Motel, at the spot known among surfers as The Cove (where the beach starts to run out), climb up through the cobbles to Sunset Boulevard and follow it south (passing restrooms at little Seltzer Park, on the east side of the road across from a roadside parking area) for a mile or so until the road ends (3.5 miles) at the trailhead for Tillamook Head (Hike 7). The trail switchbacks, steeply at times, for the first 1.5 miles but then becomes a gentler ascent, eventually rolling gently up and down to a primitive campsite (7.9 miles) with vault toilets, a covered shelter with picnic table, and three three-sided sleeping shelters. (You will want to hang your food here, not from bears but from rodents; since this is a well-established campsite, I understand the critters here have a well-established habit of raiding backpacks.) 

(Tillamook Rock Lighthouse from Tillamook Head, by Randall Henderson.)
When you’re ready to continue—whether it’s that same day or the next morning—continue south on the Tillamook Head trail just 0.2 mile to a junction. The lefthand route (“Clatsop Loop”) follows an old road and thus has a gentler grade (and is 0.1 mile shorter) than the righthand footpath. Both trails end at the parking lot above Indian Beach (9.4 miles). Cross the parking lot and pick up Hike 8 to Ecola Point (10.9), then cross the top of that parking lot to pick up Hike 9 near the restrooms. After 1 mile the trail splits. If the tide is quite low and you don't mind getting a little wet, you could continue down to Crescent Beach (Hike 9) and squeeze between the end of the headland and the nearest offshore rock separating Crescent Beach and Chapman Beach north of Ecola Creek. (Even if the tide is out, deep "crab holes" form here and might require some pretty deep wading.) Otherwise, rather than going right to Crescent Beach, go left 0.1 mile to where the trail meets Ecola Park Road (12 miles). Walk down the road just 0.25 mile to Ash Street (at 8th Avenue), follow Ash south (becomes a steep pedestrian path) to 7th Avenue,  and take 7th Avenue 0.5 mile west to the beach.  Continue down the beach 0.75 mile to the mouth of Ecola Creek (13.5 miles), which you can wade in late summer/fall.  (If you prefer to keep your feet dry, stay on Ecola Park Road to Elm Street, follow it over Ecola Creek, then follow the main road to the beach access at the end of Third Street.)

Don’t think about camping on the beach here—the Cannon Beach Police patrol the beach nightly and will roust you out—but there is plenty of lodging in town, and you could pitch your tent legally, for a fee, at someplace like Sea Ranch (, just east of the bridge over Ecola Creek.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Mile 0 to Seaside: Get this party started!


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.

Monday, September 2, 2013

OCT: The Basics

In September 2008 I made a through-hike of the northern half of the Oregon Coast Trail, backpacking from the Columbia River to Yachats. In July 2009 I completed the trail, backpacking from Yachats to the California border.  In 2009 OregonState Parks' OCT website went live, but I find it lacks a level of detail hikers need, and it directs hikers around bays (which ruins an OCT hike, as far as I’m concerned) rather than giving tips for getting rides across river/bay mouths. While I work on the next edition of the book, I’ll be blogging about the trail in greater detail, including updates that I and other hikers (you?) have sent me and continue to send. If you use this guide to hike the OCT and you find any changes or discrepancies with your experience, please post a comment or e-mail me via my website ( (UPDATE: The third (2015) edition of my guideook Day Hiking: Oregon Coast is out and includes pretty much everything in this blog and more, up to when it went to press!)

The OCT is far from a wilderness experience, but that's part of its charm; it takes in the coast's small towns, where you can stock up on groceries or eat in cafes, as well as the state park campgrounds and waysides arrayed along the shore, and motels are frequent enough to allow "inn-to-inn" hiking in most places. But walking it for more than a day is still an adventure. Creeks and bay mouths must be crossed by wading or by catching a boat ride (to avoid a long detour by road). Campgrounds or other suitable camping spots are widely spaced in places. The trail route is not well marked everywhere. And there are long stretches on the south coast with few services.

Here are some OCT basics before launching into trail descriptions/updates on forthcoming blog posts.

PERMITS: No permits are required to walk any portion of the Oregon Coast Trail, though some trailheads charge day use fees for parking.

WEATHER: The Oregon coast gets an average of at least 60 inches of rain a year (up to 100 inches on the north coast), but only 10 percent of it falls June through September, when river and creek levels are also at their lowest. August and September are probably the best months to hike this trail, though hot weather in the inland valleys can draw fog and strong winds to the beach, usually for just a day or two. Summer's prevailing winds are from the north, so most people hike north-to-south.

CLOTHING AND GEAR: It’s nearly always breezy; I wore lightweight hiking pants every day of both of my through-hikes. I wore high-quality trail running shoes (above, at end of hike) as I do backpacking everywhere. Some people wear gaiters on soft-sand sections like the New River area (south coast), but it’s not really necessary. Rain gear is essential, just in case.

WATER: No need for a water filter on the north coast; there are plenty of parks and waysides where you can fill up (and I really wouldn’t want to drink from a creek here). Carry two 1-liter bottles and you'll be fine. On the south coast, however, there are very long stretches with no publicly accessible tap water. Consider carrying a filter or purification tablets. (I actually made do mostly by carrying two extra 1-liter bottles, filling them when necessary).

CAMPING: Camping on the beach is permitted most parts of the Oregon coast. Exceptions: It's not allowed adjacent to state parks, nor to many towns. Obviously you need to be cognizant of how high the tide is likely to rise if you camp on the beach. Forest camping is possible in a number of spots; there is a lovely backpacker camp at the top of Tillamook Head with snug log shelters (nothing like this anywhere else on the trail). Camping has been outlawed at Oswald West State Park, on the north coast, which does problems for through-hikers; more on that in a future post. One great option (that I mostly used) is to camp at state parks. All coastal park campgrounds are open year-round and have designated hiker-biker camps, used primarily by cyclists. For $6 (2013) you get a campsite in an area shared with like-minded folks, along with restrooms and showers (no extra fee). They are spaced widely enough, however, to require fairly long days of hiking from one to the next, and some are more attractive than others. There are also some Forest Service campgrounds along the coast (such as at Cape Perpetua); some are open year-round and some only May-September.

LODGING: An inn-to-inn hike is doable on the more populated northern coast (but trickier to pull off on the south coast due to long distances between lodgings in places). A trip built around availability of lodging results in a more constrained itinerary than that of a backpacker (resulting in some long days), requires more planning, and costs a lot more, but you enjoy the pleasure of a lighter pack as well as a bed and dry room at night. In the fall, when there are fewer tourists, it may be possible to walk inn-to-inn without advance reservations on the more developed north coast. Likewise, you could investigate reserving yurts at state parks (you would still need to carry everything but a tent, however).

TIDES: Some points (smaller headlands) may be rounded only at mid- to low tide. Some creeks and smaller rivers can be waded only at low tide (like the mouth of Sand Lake, below). And many beaches are much easier to walk at low tide than at high tide, when only the softer, steeper portion is dry. A good online source for Oregon tide tables is Hatfield Marine Science Center.

RIVER/BAY MOUTH CROSSINGS: In a number of spots, especially on the north coast, you need to get a boat ride across the larger, deeper river mouths to avoid making a long road detour around a bay to reach a bridge. Obviously, a ride is preferable, because it allows you to stay on the beach (and anyway, it's more fun). In most cases I was able to hail rides from recreational boaters, without any prearrangement. In future posts I will provide names of marinas and outfitters known to offer ferry service to hikers for a fee.

GROCERIES/RESUPPLY: Towns are spaced closely enough to allow you to buy groceries (and even restaurant meals if you like) fairly often; no need to send food boxes ahead, as on the Pacific Crest Trail.

TOILETS: With a little planning, you should be able to take care of major bathroom needs by using restrooms in state and city parks and waysides (along with the occasional pit stop to pee on the beach), except in some wilder stretches of the south coast. Carry a trowel to bury wastes well away from water.
DISTANCES: I averaged 17 miles of hiking a day (ranged from 12 to 23); you can hike shorter distances, but through hikers often need to go 15-20 miles to get from one state park to the next (or, if you're hiking inn to inn, one motel to the next).

 Success! July 19, 2009