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.


  1. Thank so much for this info! I've wanted to backpack on the Oregon Coast, but it is hard to know where to stay. For me, backpacking and staying at a large state park campground don't go together. I love the state parks and stay there often, but would love to know options for backpacking spots.

    1. Yeah, it is different, not the usual backpacking experience, quite different from, say, the PCT. Some people doing the OCT do avoid developed campsites. Some parts of the coast/OCT are more remote than others. I tend to feel like if you buy in to doing the OCT you probably want to buy in to staying at developed sites when you can, just because there are limited places to camp/bivouac and because you really want to avoid taking a crap in the dunes. Just too many people using the beach.

  2. Thank you Bonnie for all your efforts. Ill be going over your post with our meet up group this week. Im In hopes there will be enough interest to actually accomplish this adventure over the summer!

  3. Hi Bonnie
    I'm through hiking the OCT this July. Having a list of overnight options would be great.

  4. My next post gets you halfway down the coast; I'll get you to California shortly...

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  6. This is AMAZING.
    I am switching plans on the fly for three weeks from now from an Oregon pct SOBO hike to the oct because of fires.

    Your info is GOLD.

    Thank you so much!!!

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