Thursday, November 5, 2015

Is the Oregon Coast Trail truly “hikeable”?

Heading south along US 101 from Humbug Mountain State Park
That’s what Oregon State Parks declared in 1988—the idea being that enough connecting trails had been built between stretches of beach to make it a legitimate long-distance trail, despite the fact that gaps (that required road-walking) remained.

That’s what I thought when I backpacked it in 2007 and 2008—sure, I had to do some road walking, but other than in a couple of spots, it didn’t seem like a big deal.

But that’s not what I heard a couple of weeks ago at a meeting of the Oregon Recreational Trails Commission. In updating the commission on the status of the trail, the state parks staffer charged with maintenance of the OCT described the OCT, apologetically, as not really being hikeable as a thru-hike, due to all the gaps that remain.


I found that rather bizarre. They’ve signed it as a long-distance trail. They promote it as a long-distance trail. I doubt he’s thru-hiked it, I found myself thinking. He has no idea.

But then I wondered if he had a point.

The views from the highway can be pretty nice,
 and you might get to stop and chat with pink lycra-clad cyclists...

So I did a little analysis of the road-walking miles still required of thru-hikers (an analysis that, oddly, I had never actually done) and found that, even in a best-case scenario (getting boat rides across Tillamook, Winchester, and Coos bays, for instance, rather than walking around them), indeed, hiking the OCT still requires a fair amount of road-shoulder walking.

Like 88.2 miles of it, out of 377.3 miles, so nearly one-quarter of the route. Major caveat: only 44.8 of those 88.2 miles (by my calculation) are on US 101; the rest are on quiet back roads. Still, that is a lot of road-walking for what one thinks of as a beach-and-headland hiking trip. And those road miles are pretty evenly distributed along the coast: north, central, and south coast.

So why did those figures surprise me so much?

A few reasons, I think:

Most of the road-walking stretches are short. Like your first road stretch, after 14.7 miles on the beach south from the Columbia River: After you leave the beach at Pacific Way in Gearhart, you follow quiet neighborhood streets for a mile or so, then walk on the highway shoulder for 0.6 mile (like, less than 10 minutes), then you’re back on neighborhood streets in Seaside for a bit before getting back on the beach. In total, a 3-mile stretch of road-walking (so an hour or less at a thru-hiker’s pace), but only a little of it is along the highway. Besides, it’s interesting walking through neighborhoods, it’s part of the experience, and it doesn’t feel like a bummer when you’re doing it.

Some of the road walking feels more like a trail. Like the 2-mile Old Coast Road between Nesika Beach and Gold Beach on the south coast—I actually had to check Google Maps (and then re-field check it) to confirm that it actually is still a road open to vehicles; that’s how quiet it was when I walked it and how little traffic it gets.

As I mentioned already, only about half of that road-walking is on US 101. Like Seven Devils Road, south of Charleston: a half-paved, half-gravel road through forest (and clear-cuts), with almost no traffic. Given the geography here (steep seaside cliffs), it’s a necessary and not really unpleasant piece. (Again, if you walk around the big bays, you will spend a lot more time walking on US 101. I don't know why anyone would do that. Prearrange a boat ride, hitch a boat ride, or take a bus/call a cab!)

And then there's the beach at Warrenton-Gearhart that sometimes feels like a road...
But listen, walking along US 101 sucks, there’s no way around that. North of Cascade Head, I took a bus from Pacific City to the highway and then hitched a ride to Winema Road, but that’s a long stretch of highway walking otherwise. My least favorite part of the OCT came soon after that: walking along US 101 from Three Rocks Road to Lincoln City (next time I’ll call a cab). By the time I got to Humbug Mountain on the south coast (at about mile 304), the 8 miles of highway shoulder walking between Humbug and Nesika Beach didn’t really faze me (but there’s a lot less traffic down on the south coast). And you do a lot of asphalt-pounding on that final day through Brookings, but again, you’re almost done, so who cares?

The point is, yes, the OCT is not a wilderness experience, and you will be walking along roads for a portion of the trek. But when you’re doing it, immersed in the experience, and if you know this going in, somehow it’s not a bummer. Especially if you’re not a hiking fundamentalist and are willing to call a cab now and then.

Any questions?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Leafing through North America's Wild (Pacific) Edge

I just received my own copy of The Wild Edge: Freedom to Roam the Pacific Coast, a gorgeous coffee-table book (that really is much more than a coffee-table book). The publisher Braided River calls it a photographic campaign for conservation, which is apt.

I was asked to contribute profiles of a dozen heroes of conservation for the book--a great experience. (I did most of the interviews by phone--for example, with a whale scientist in his office in Cabo San Lucas and, by satellite phone, with a Canadian activist in his boat off the coast of British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest). The lead essays by Bruce Barcott, Philippe Cousteau, Eric Scigliano and others are excellent, compellingly spelling out the need for coast-wide conservation and lyrically describing all the ways the ocean, shoreline, and continent's edge from Baja to the Arctic are inextricably interconnected.

I mean, how could it not be?

This book is not only a great consciousness-raiser but pleasure to read and peruse.

People interested in the Oregon Coast Trail, people who love the Oregon Coast, ought to check out The Wild Edge. The publishers have developed a beautiful website to support it, at

And if you're in the area, North Coast Land Conservancy is throwing a book-release party and celebration of coastal conservation at the Red Building in Astoria this Friday, Oct. 23.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

"The hike literally changed me"

In Oswald West State Park, south of Arch Cape
On Jan. 12 of this year I received the following email from Patti of LaCrosse, Wisconsin:

"Thanks for your blog, book and all that you've put out there to advance the ease of hiking the OCT. I've been poring over your blog. My husband and I visited Gold Beach 3 years ago and completed multiple day hikes during that week; I was smitten and vowed to return. Now, on the verge of turning 55 and having made a major life change, I've been mulling the possibility of thru-hiking the OCT toward the end of summer 2015. My question is this: am I completely crazy to even be thinking of doing such a thing? While I've day hiked 14 miles at a stretch (and stumbled toward the end!) that's a very different animal than hiking day in and out 10 to 15 miles for a month or more. The up side is that I don't need to be anywhere, nor do I have a schedule, so I could adjust the hike accordingly… Any words of wisdom would be appreciated as I contemplate the adventure. "

Looking south from the summit of Neahkahnie Mountain
We corresponded a few more times. Then eight months later, on Sept. 8, I heard from Patti again:

"A quick email to let you know that this afternoon I finished thru-hiking the OCT, from north to south.  What an indescribable experience. So many contrasts, just like the coast itself. A life-changing experience."

Early morning at Carter Lake, Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Yesterday she sent me some photos. “The hike literally changed me,” she writes. I’ll let her photos continue to tell the story.

Between Thomas Creek and Indian Sands, Boardman State Scenic Corridor

Meeting her ride home at Crissey Field Welcome Center--the end of the trail

Friday, October 2, 2015

The new book is out! And I already have updates from the field

As of yesterday, the new edition of Day Hiking: Oregon Coast is out, with very comprehensive directions for thru-hiking the Oregon Coast Trail. (So in fact it's NOT just for day hikers! But plenty for them too.) Easy to get--order from any book retailer.

I have not actually seen it yet (maybe arriving today?) but I feel good about it; the Mountaineers Books editors are magnificent and they saved me from plenty of embarrassing mistakes ("directional dyslexia" mostly--saying NORTH when I meant to say SOUTH, that kind of thing).

I would urge--not only for my slight financial benefit, but for your sanity--that you buy and use it if you are planning a thru-hike (rather than depending on earlier posts in this blog). I'm all about ultralight, but this is a worthwhile 9.5 ounces (and obsessives can always tear out the pages about day hikes they don't plan to take.)

I hope hikers will continue to send me updates, which I'll post here.  This morning I received some trail updates from Patti Correll-Syring, who thru-hiked the entire OCT in August and early September. (In most years, October is getting a bit late to hike the OCT, but you might get away with it this year.) Here are updates (and one correction) to supplement what you'll find in the book, starting at the south end of Oregon Dunes NRA:

Horsfall Beach: The USFS campsite here that caters to ORV enthusiasts now has no potable water and porta-potties only. Bluebill Campground (also USFS) is just 0.75 miles to the east on Horsfall Road; it's clean, quiet, and has potable water and well-maintained vault toilets.

Nesika Beach: The beach must be exited at the north end; access at the south end is private and signed as such (sorry about that).

Cape Sebastian: The trail up Cape Sebastian from the north was very well maintained and clearly signed (yay!); no confusion, Patti says.

Boardman State Scenic Corridor: The trail at the very north end of Boardman (north of Arch Rock Picnic Area) has not been maintained and was very difficult to follow; you might consider staying on the highway all the way to the picnic area. Here are her comments: "A machete would have been helpful. Only indication of trail were 3 plastic red ties affixed to tree branches spaced within 20 yards of each other. Found the way with Bonnie’s trail guide, Gaia GPS app, and following what appeared to be a slight path underneath overgrown vegetation, apparently traversed by other hikers (long ago?!) Be forewarned that this stretch holds potential for injury due to overgrown thick blackberry bushes with thorns and a section with narrow, soft crumbling ledge; wear long pants and a long sleeved shirt, and be ready to extricate hundreds of burs from clothing and any exposed wool socks."

Thank you for these updates, Patti!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

PCT or OCT? This summer, maybe the OCT

I just finished backpacking 100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon (Santiam Pass to Barlow Pass on Mount Hood). GREAT trip. Beautiful trip. Smoky trip. Very smoky.

I also just received an e-mail from someone who had been planning to hike the PCT through the Mount Adams area in southern Washington but, given all the fires burning (and trail closures) has decided to do a few days on the Oregon Coast Trail instead. Not a bad idea. Some additional thoughts about PCT versus OCT in late summer 2015:

There are a LOT of people hiking the PCT this summer. Presumably it's the Wild effect: I read that hits to the PCT Association website were up nine-fold this year. Last time I section-hiked the PCT (Crater Lake to McKenzie pass) was 14 years ago: we didn't encounter more than 6 or 8 through-hikers in 143 miles, and we never camped with anyone else. This year it was a race to the campsites; at Warm Springs River, we camped with more than a dozen other backpackers, most of them through-hikers. In fact, rarely did we not camp with other people. The through-hikers are great people: they roll in late, they're up and out early, they're very low-impact, and I don't think they are responsible for the large piles of poo and toilet paper we found at a couple of campsites. Still, there are a lot of people out there on the trail this year.

There are a lot of fires in the Cascades. And they're only growing, at least as of today. About half the time during our section hike the sky was very smoky. And we made a quick exit from Jefferson Park after a tanker helicopter suddenly appeared and started sucking water out of Russell Lake, then returned every 3 minutes for more. Turns out he was filling a firefighting reservoir, and the fire on the Warm Springs Reservation wasn't THAT close. Yet. But it got very smoky very fast, and it was pretty scary.

The fires are causing lots of trail closures. Every year there are some, but what a drag for people who managed to hike from Mexico to Washington and then to have to take a big detour, or even quit.

The Oregon Coast Trail is an entirely different animal: not nearly as remote, for one thing. But it doesn't require as much planning either: no water filtering or stress about water sources, no food drops, etc. If you haven't firmed up your late summer/early fall backpacking plans, it's something to consider.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Celebrating mid-life with an OCT thru-hike

In January I received the following e-mail from a woman named Patti:

Buena Vista Beach Access, south of Gold Beach
"Bonnie, thanks for your blog, book and all that you've put out there to advance the ease of hiking the OCT. I've been poring over your blog. My husband and I visited Gold Beach 3 years ago and completed multiple day hikes during that week; I was smitten and vowed to return. Now, on the verge of turning 55 and having made a major life change, I've been mulling the possibility of thru-hiking the OCT toward the end of summer 2015. My question is this ... am I completely crazy to even be thinking of doing such a thing? While I've day hiked 14 miles at a stretch (and stumbled toward the end!), that's a very different animal than hiking day in and out 10 to 15 miles for a month or more. The up side is that I don't need to be anywhere, nor do I have a schedule, so I could adjust the hike accordingly. In your estimation are there reasons for hikers to meet up with someone periodically along the trail? Your blog stated that you didn't feel safety was an issue. Any words of wisdom would be appreciated as I contemplate the adventure."

We corresponded a couple of times--but I had no idea if she carried through with the idea. Then this morning I opened my email to find this progress report from Patti. She's doing it!

Harts Cove
"It's been many things so far. Yesterday went over Cascade Head with a side trip to Harts Cove. Put in over 16 miles. In order, saw bear scat, heard loud barking of sea lions on Harts Cove Trail (they were in a cove so couldn't see them), and then saw 12  elk on the Nature Conservancy Trail ... Began hiking Aug. 2. Have needed to take a couple of days off to allow the ol' body to recover. Amazing beauty at every turn."

I'm impressed that she took the time for a side trip to (magnificent) Harts Cove rather than (like some of us) powering south with a minimum of detours. Actually I'm impressed that she had a dream, did the research, and is going for it. Go Patti!

UPDATE: After posting this, I received the following e-mail: "Please let Patti know that women in their mid-70s have completed solo thru-hikes of the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail and are now on the Continental Divide Trail to complete the Triple Crown."

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Do it your way

Just had to share this photo from OCT section hiker Rodney Hopkinson:

Recognize the design? From the official OCT logo. I love his attitude; he writes that he expects to "lighten the load, rarely take all the necessary camping gear, and if I end the night at Stephanie Inn in Cannon Beach, I will apologize to no one." Yes! It's your adventure!

He also thanked me for this blog and suggested I write a book. This might be a good time to reiterate that the new edition of my Day Hiking: Oregon Coast will include all the info in this blog (and more) and will be available from Mountaineers Books, I'm told, on October 1.

Monday, June 22, 2015

OCT Summer 2015 update


Harlequin ducks off Bald Point
A relatively un-stormy winter has left a high volume on the sand on the beach this summer (I think all along the coast; definitely here on the North Coast where I'm staying for a month). For OCT hikers, that means you don't always have to wait for low-low tide to get around certain rocky points along the  beach. (All these photos were taken a couple of hours past a -1.8 tide.)

Looking south to Cannon Beach from Bald Point

Case in point: Indian Beach to Chapman Point, north of Cannon Beach. During this summer's very low minus tides, especially, you can easily walk the beach all the way from Indian Point (the south end of the trail over Tillamook Head) and around Chapman Point to Cannon Beach--which means you can actually walk the beach from Tillamook Head to Arch Cape. But to walk that entire stretch (9? 10? miles) before the tide blocks you from going around Silver Point, even on a low minus tide, you might want to be on Indian Beach an hour or more before the limit of low tide in order to get around Bald Point, Ecola Point, Chapman Point, AND Silver Point. I would, anyway. Nice run of minus tides coming June 29 to July 7 and again July 12 to 19 (but not quite so low).

Looking north to Ecola Point and Indian Beach from Bald Point

Crescent Beach: The trail down to Crescent Beach (in Ecola State Park) is being rebuilt at this time. Doesn't look like it will take very long to finish, but the trail is closed during the project. (No one's there on the weekend, but it's steep and pretty dangerous and I recommend staying off it even if no one's around.) So either walk from Indian Beach all the way to Cannon Beach on a minus tide or plan to walk the park road to Cannon Beach after getting off the trail at Ecola Point.

Cape Sebastian, on the south coast: I hear from hikers in Gold Beach that the trail on the north side is in no better condition than it was when I walked it last. But it's passable. And they inform me that there is now a trail between the north and south trailheads at the top of the Cape, so you don't need to walk on the park road. Which wasn't a big deal, but there you have it. (I thought I spotted a trail there years ago, but when I went back I couldn't find it. Either it's new and I hallucinated it, or it's been there for awhile and I'm blind...)

I love to get updates to share with other OCT hikers; keep them coming.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Hike the OCT in Fall? Two guys' experience

Last September I got an e-mail from a James Viscardi who was planning to hike the OCT inn-to-inn beginning Oct. 8 with his friend Griff Owen. He wondered what I thought about his timing. As I told him, October is iffy: on the Oregon Coast it's a transitional month and can be hot and beautiful, but can just as easily be stormy--the ramp-up to winter.

I'll let James tell you how it went:

"We finished, but the weather was horrible. We walked into the wind the whole way, had 20 of 26 hiking days in the rain, and hiked through that bad storm that swept up from Mexico and destroyed property. As I recall the gusts were up to 60 mph. We had about four days of 20-30 mile winds leading up to the day in hell. The rain swelled those streams and rivers that were otherwise easily fordable. The Sixes River carved out a 4’-5’ deep channel, complete with seals. The inland hikes were slick and a couple of streams needed to be forded because of washed out bridges. The hike up Cape Lookout was an exercise in dead reckoning with about half of the trail washed out. We had three rest days planned but needed two of them to stay on schedule so we only rested in Pacific City. But all in all, it was good fun and a good exercise in problem solving." (Photo: at the wreck of the Peter Iredale, Day 1.)

So a couple of lessons here:

Al LePage of the National Coast Trail Association considers the OCT hiking season to be May 15 to Sept. 15. I would actually suggest not starting before mid-June; by then the rivers are typically at or close to summer-fall levels, which is as important a consideration as the weather itself. September can be good all month, but you're starting to tempt fate the later you go. James didn't realize (and I didn't mention it) that the prevailing north winds of summer end in the fall; in winter, the storm winds tend to blow from the south-southwest, right into your face if you're southbound.

But they finished and are glad they did it, or so it seems. Let me also mention that James (at right) is 67 and Griff 53.

What's your excuse??

Friday, March 20, 2015

You deserve a gold star--at least now you can get an emblem for your hiking stick

The oddest moment of my entire OCT trek came at the end. After 23 long days of hiking south from the Columbia River, I walked out of my campsite at Harris Beach State Park, followed roads through Brookings and back to the beach, crossed the Winchuck River and reached what I estimated was the California state line--woo hoo, the end of the Oregon Coast Trail! Then I walked a few steps back to the welcome center at Crissey Field State Recreation Site to wait for my ride home. I didn't seriously expect a brass band to greet me there, but I did think I might find a register to sign--like the summit register at the top of some mountains--or at least a little souvenir of some kind, like a fabric patch, commemorating my completion of the OCT.

But no one at the beautiful new welcome center there seemed even aware of the existence of the OCT. No register, and no patch, no emblem. Not even a "Hey, congrats!"

Not a BIG disappointment--I mean, truly, the trail is its own reward. But it did seem an odd ending to such a monumental effort, on such a spectacular coastline, given all the effort that has gone into building and maintaining the trail.

Enter James Viscardi, who at age 67 hiked the OCT end-to-end  with a partner last October and lived to tell about it (more on their trek in a future blog post). James apparently felt a little bereft with no badge or emblem or gold star of any kind to commemorate his accomplishment, so he had one made, and you can get one yourself. It's a metal badge to attach to a hiking stick, 1.25 inches by 1.75 inches in brushed silver, gold, and bronze. It was made by a Portland company called Creative Resources Awards & Engraving ( or 503-206-6161). Since he has already paid the set-up charges, he tells me that other hikers could have their own badge made for about $10. He used double-stick tape to attach his, but he says you could talk with Create Resources about adding tabs to tack it in place.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Another great source of OCT information

I happened to run into Al LePage in a Eugene, Oregon, post office last week--it seems we are going to be neighbors! Al runs the National Coast Trail Association and is in the process of moving his home and office from Portland to Eugene. Al probably knows more about the Oregon Coast Trail than any living human and is deeply engaged in expanding it and improving it.

More to the point for 2015 OCT through-hikers, his website,, has some good information including--NEWS FLASH--details about arranging rides across Tillamook Bay and the Umpqua River. Visit his Plan Your Hike page ( for details. Now if we can only get someone to start offering a ferry service across Coos Bay!

It's worth perusing Al's site for updates before you set out on a thru-hike on the OCT.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"What stretch of the Oregon Coast Trail do you recommend I hike?"

This is the time of year I start hearing from prospective OCT hikers, and often they want a recommendation about where to go. Sometimes the questioner is a neophyte backpacker. Frequently he or she wants to know what is the most scenic stretch. Hmmm. There is no simple way to answer this question. The new edition of my book (cover at right) will offer better guidance, but it won't be available until fall 2015. Meanwhile I'll try to summarize my recommendations here.

One, although the OCT is not a wilderness trail, unless you have some experience backpacking (and possess the skills and spirit of self-reliance that implies), I recommend sticking with day hiking. There are many challenges involved, including timing of the tides, uncertain campsites, sometimes very long distances, etc.

Two, where you go is dictated somewhat by what kind of shape you're in and how far you can or are willing to hike in a day. Distances between developed or even rough but legal camping spots (or even motels) are far on parts of the Oregon coast. If you're thinking you don't need to be in great shape if you're only doing a three-day stretch, you may be wrong. Again, day hiking is a great alternative, especially if you have two vehicles and can arrange long one-way hikes.

Three, there is no stretch that is not incredibly scenic--no part of the coast that is better than another! Seriously. I will say that the dunes, between Florence and Coos Bay, get a little monotonous with no dramatic headlands to break things up, but it's still sweet to be able to hike so far without encountering a road or town.

Four, how comfortable are you with attempting to hitch rides across river mouths? Alternately, are you willing to call up charter boat outfitters in advance and negotiate a fee to be carried across river mouths and stick to the schedule you arrange with them? If not, avoid the big bays or you'll be walking a long distance (unless you call a cab).

Here are some more specifics, north to south, that might help you choose where to undertake a backpack trip on just a portion of the Oregon Coast Trail:

Any part of the trail from the Columbia River to Garibaldi could make a fine short trek, but study my blog and plan where you are going to spend the night (camping options here are somewhat limited).

Between Pacific City and the north end of Lincoln City you can't avoid doing some (or a lot of) road shoulder walking. On the other hand, I would not recommend bypassing the hike over Cascade Head (regardless which route you choose).

Between the south end of Lincoln City and Devil's Punchbowl you will be walking on the road shoulder a fair amount. Much of that is a side road (at Otter Crest), however, and not busy (almost like walking on a paved bike trail), and you can eliminate some walking alongside US 101 if you can hitch a ride across the mouth of Siletz Bay with a recreational boater.

Between Gleneden Beach (south of Lincoln City) and the Siuslaw River at Florence there are no big bays/river mouths to go around; Yaquina Bay (at Newport) and Alsea Bay (at Waldport) are quickly crossed on scenic bridges, and ditto for the Yachats River at Yachats. This stretch is not very remote, however, and there is a fair amount of unavoidable road walking between Cape Perpetua (south of Yachats) and Heceta Head (north of Florence), although Cape Perpetua is stunning.

The Oregon Dunes are remote and lovely but, as I mentioned, a bit monotonous, and there's the Umpqua River to cross in the middle (and Coos Bay at the end); either prearrange a ride with a charter boat operator or plan to take your chances hitching a boat ride.

Then we have the wild south coast! From Seven Devils State Recreation Site (or Whiskey Creek just to the south) to Humbug Mountain State Park, you can walk a long way with no road or town encounters or major river crossings but for a brief stretch at Bandon and Port Orford, although camping options are, as ever, somewhat limited, and the last several miles of beach between Bandon and Floras Lake are a tough slog.

The stretch from Humbug Mountain to Gold Beach is very scenic but includes a fair amount of road walking. I love the stretch from Gold Beach to Lone Ranch Beach north of Brookings: only one fairly brief stretch of walking on the highway shoulder (south of Crook Point) and an incredibly beautiful and varied coastline. From there to the end of the OCT at the California border you're mostly on road but for a short beach stretch just north of the border.

I hope that helps!